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Designer and education reformer Kiran Bir Sethi spoke about what led to the creation of her unique formal for building humanity within young people, focusing on empathy, ethics, excellence, elevation, and evolution.

Power to Empower: Kiran Bir Sethi on Educating Changemakers

November 2020 – Kiran Bir Sethi is a designer, educational reform activist, and vibrant social entrepreneur. In 2001, she founded the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat. The Riverside School is globally recognized for its profound pedagogical practices which centralize student wellbeing. As part of our Power to Empower podcast series, Kiran spoke with Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson about what led to the creation of the Riverside School and her unique formal for building humanity within young people.


In a lively and warm discussion, Kiran shares that she was inspired to start the Riverside School after becoming a mother and witnessing, from a parent’s perspective, the impersonal nature of her son’s school. To Kiran, education was meant to be compassionate, she states that “the purpose of education [is] to make our children humane.” Focusing on child identity and agency, Kiran eventually went on to develop the original 5 Pillars of the Riverside School curriculum: Empathy, Ethics, Excellence, Elevation, and Evolution. In 2009, this framework evolved into FIDS (Feel, Imagine, Do, Share). As Kiran implemented these frameworks, she maintained one constant: “you must start with empathy”.


Kiran launched the FIDS framework throughout India, utilizing the perspectives of students to transform systemic problems in secondary education. In doing so, she emphasized the importance of maintaining public interest and keeping the public good at heart. Kiran believes that innovation not only carries a great deal of responsibility, but response-ability. While launching, Kiran devoted time to respond to every person who was interested in her idea; she argues that this response capacity, along with allotted space for autonomy, helps people establish “idea fidelity”.


Throughout her endeavors, Kiran has been a champion for personal agency, identity, and connection. She attributes her ability to empower to a sort of selflessness, an ability to recognize when the focus has to be on the idea and not the creator of the idea. In a series of hearty laughs, she also credits her success to her ability to keep learning, her “inane optimism”, and her sense of humor.

This podcast series is inspired by the Vital Voices: 100 Women Using their Power to Empower – edited by Alyse Nelson with artwork by Gayle Kabaker and published by Assouline.


Listen to her episode here:


This post was written by Annalysse Mason.