Rajeev Aluru to Lead Ekal Vidyalaya’s Houston Chapter

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Rajeev Aluru inherited more than an analytical and goal oriented mindset from his father. Growing up, he silently observed and absorbed his father’s philanthropic zeal from helping countless families to overseeing the construction of the town’s well known Balaji temple. Similarly driven, Rajeev is leading Ekal Vidyalaya’s educational initiatives as its Houston Chapter President. As he shares his plans for the nonprofit’s future direction, Ekal’s youngest president is clearly energized about his new role which he describes as “a divine opportunity that knocked on my door.”

A relatively new Houstonian (he moved from North Carolina in 2020), Rajeev, 41, outlined his vision for Ekal with the leadership in Houston. He found them highly receptive and with their  “invaluable guidance and his new team’s backing,” he is more than ready to put his plans into action.

Rajeev’s journey with Ekal began in 2014 in North Carolina when he accepted an invitation to a  fundraiser dinner from a colleague Ramesh Kalagnaman. Three things struck Rajeev that evening: the organization’s transparency, magnitude of impact and the effectiveness with which the funds were used. The event spurred his resolve to open the doors to opportunities which he had been fortunate to receive from “God and his parents.”

Rajeev became an active volunteer and developed a keen understanding of the foundational impact Ekal was making in rural India’s education. Today the Ekal movement,  started in 1989 with one village and one school, has the distinction of overseeing over one lakh schools offering free schooling, vocational training, digital competence, agricultural education and much more.

A native of Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, Rajeev had a middle class upbringing. He credits his mother for his academic excellence as she was determined to give her children the opportunities that were denied to her. This secured him several scholarships in school and college, and he graduated with top honors as a Mechanical engineer.

Situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, Rajeev’s hometown is prone to hurricanes. One of his earliest memories include a night where the family huddled in a car amidst lashing rains and high winds as their house offered little protection. He remembers his father’s vow that desolate night that “he would build something that would mean never doing this again.” Those words stayed with Rajeev and as he grew older, fueled his desire to be financially independent.

After earning his engineering degree in India, Rajeev enrolled in Auburn University, Alabama for his graduate studies. Impressed by his analytical skills and laser focused dedication, his professors encouraged him to work on his doctorate which was wrapped up in three years.

While concluding his research, he was invited to present his work at Fabtech (North America’s largest manufacturing conference) in Dallas. A global Aerospace technology company attended his talk and recruited him. Here, Rajeev led a global team for aircraft engine components which slashed their costs by half and were superior in performance. These groundbreaking products led to significant revenues for his company. His move to other stints was followed by high professional acclaim and included an Executive MBA program in 2019. In 2020, he joined Calpine, America’s largest generator of electricity based in Houston, where he heads the Analytics division and is responsible for optimizing assets worth $25 billion.

Underscoring the importance of education coupled with opportunity, Rajeev draws attention to that fact that 40% of the schools are self-sustainable in five years, a reflection of Ekal’s effectiveness. Simultaneously, Ekal is also tackling systemic issues such as corruption and female literacy at the grass roots level.  In an Ekal village for instance, villagers held local politicians accountable about the money spent on the village development. Equally heartwarming is the 50%  ratio of girl students in schools which will empower villages to be “economically stable and future strong.” The Integrated Village Development and Gramothan Resource Center programs, he emphasizes, serve up to 30 villages.

As we face a post covid world, Rajeev realizes the need to rewrite Ekal’s outreach strategies. His team is drafting a model to facilitate entrepreneurship, jobs, avenues to profits and an approach that will empower villages to a point where “they don’t need us anymore.” He intends to create a program to encourage donors to visit Ekal schools in India to witness firsthand how their contributions are benefiting millions of underprivileged children. While pointing out that Ekal is “winning on its own,” he adds that it could become more impactful by collaborating with organizations that align with Ekal’s mission and values. The organization will also leverage digital marketing to augment Ekal’s presence beyond the traditional fundraising events. The new president has an ambitious one million dollar benchmark for this year’s fundraising.

Rajeev stays in shape with an early morning run, loves travelling and concludes the conversation by revealing that he often turns to “An Ignited Mind,” written by the Late President of India Abdul Kalam to keep the inspiration flowing.

Rajeev’s wife Srilatha, a Software Applications Leader, is his pillar of support as are his sons Neeraj (13) and Vibhav (11). Both his sons, he proudly shares,  have already supported two Ekal schools from their savings – proof that the philanthropic gene he inherited is being passed down to the next generation!