Kerala's Young Changemakers

by Shashikumar Velath | @VkShashikumar | Ashoka India
Thursday, 25 February 2016 14:41 GMT

A student police cadet in Kerala lends a helping hand to an elder citizen

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100 million children will change the lives of 100 million children across the world and in India by advocating for their rights.  That’s the new mission of Nobel laureate and Ashoka Fellow, Kailash Satyarthi. His “100 Million for 100 Million” online and digital campaign is designed to build an online changemaking community of 100 million child activists who will “petition when they see anything wrong happening to children in the rest of the world”. In this manner he hopes to operationalize a large-scale transformation in the lives of 200 million children by inspiring them to practice the changemaking skill of cognitive empathy, so that they can identify with and understand the plight of their peers and contribute to change by speaking up for those whose voices need to be heard by the global community. “They will inculcate values of global citizenship," he said.


Satyarthi describes this initiative as his “largest and most ambitious”. When asked about the trigger for this campaign, he said “fear, apathy and intolerance -- are seriously affecting human life today globally". The way forward he believes is to harness the natural creative problem solving skills of children to build a new generation of citizens who can change bring positive change within our societies.


Fortunately, Satyarthi already has team he can rely on to operationalize his vision – the Student Police Cadet (SPC). Founded by a deeply compassionate and empathetic Indian Police Service officer, P. Vijayan, the Student Police Cadet programme is now one of the main flagship youth initiatives of the Kerala Government, a Southern Indian state. Its massive success has spurred four other Indian states -- Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, and Rajasthan -- to replicate this programme at varying levels of implementation. Soon, this scheme is expected to be adopted nationally. In 2011, the National Police Congress recommended the SPC Programme for a nation-wide rollout.


The SPC scheme has shown tremendous results in reversing “fear, apathy and intolerance” by inspiring school children in Kerala to engage in active citizenship to bring change within their communities, inculcate Constitutional and democratic values inscribed in the Indian Constitution and become law abiding citizens with a clear understanding of and respect for the rule of law. “Our experience of the last six years show that this programme enables high school students to develop the skill of cognitive empathy for vulnerable sections of our society and build resistance to social evils,” said Vijayan.


Figures show that one-third of India’s population is aged less than 14 years, half of them below 25 years and 65% below 35 years. By 2020, the average age of Indians will be 29 years (for China and the US, it will be 37 years and for Europe it will be 45 years), and by 2030, over half of India’s population will be aged less than 32 years old. By then, India will be boasting of a working age population of 960 million. If this work force is properly trained and harnessed, India is going to lead the global economy from the front. This is the base philosophy from which Student Police Cadet (SPC) took off as a concept.



The SPC project is a classic illustration of how large scale change can be effected if the leadership of the project is jointly owned by many stakeholders, collaborating to build a team of teams which has a common purpose and mission delivery objectives. The team of teams implement the SPC project are Kerala Police, Education Department of the Kerala Government and several other Departments of Kerala. A core changemaking team of 850 teachers, 1500 police officers, parents and civil society members are involved in the training programmes under the aegis of SPC. This has helped in reducing the costs and ensuring an acceptable quality standard.


An independent evaluation of the SPC programme in Kerala programme by KPMG has found that more than 90% of the stakeholders – cadets (school children), teachers, and police personnel – considered the project objectives highly relevant, and the results effective.


  • 94% were of the view that SPC has boosted awareness of environmental issues, especially the need for preservation and improvement of public resources such as water, air, and forests
  • 27% agreed that participation in the programme had increased their communication skills
  • 98% of the respondents agreed that SPC was instrumental in improving their health and physical fitness
  • 33% percent agreed that the programme had improved their academic performance.
  • 95% of parents were of the view that SPC had enhanced the overall performance of their children and strengthening of their leadership skills


The SPC programme is currently functioning in 433 Kerala schools and 40,000 cadets (school children) are currently undergoing training living the motto every day of “We learn to serve”. The cost of delivering this largescale social change is an unbelievable 350,000 INR or 5,080 USD per school! This is an apt illustration of how a changemaker network of team of teams, whether in the government or in the private sector, can effectively collaborate at very low per unit cost to bring about transformative framework change. The leaders of the SPC project also tapped into resources of the Local Self-Governments, the Road Safety Fund and the Corporate Social Responsibility Fund.


However, to ensure the sustainability of this programme it is absolutely essential to mitigate the risks of merely relying on high levels of committed volunteerism from government officials and civil society institutions and members. Therefore, stable and sustainable mechanisms for resource mobilisation must be considered. This is where Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s “100 Million for 100 Million” can come into play because the SPC Programme fits in well with his vision.

Meanwhile, SPC is moving ahead strongly as a trusted catalyst for social change in Kerala’s society by adding another feather to its cap. “Our Student Police Cadets have joined hands with the Information Technology Mission of Government of Kerala to digitally empower all

Keralites,” said Vijayan. “Already over 13,000 people have been digitally empowered. The formal announcement of this project will be made by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, March 27, 2016.”