Have you ever had an idea that you believe could change the world? Ever wonder how to get started, whose support to enlist?
Not long ago, Rohit Pothukuchi, an IB graduate of Kodaikanal International School in India, was asking himself the same questions. Now a lawyer in New York, he is on the cusp of launching Verdentum – a nonprofit social network that will connect and empower teachers and students to do good in the world ─ all over the world. We were intrigued and invited Rohit to introduce his projects to the global IB Alumni Network. Outside of Verdentum, Rohit is interested in research on legal citation practices in India and is an Affiliate Student Research Fellow, Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession.
The idea for Verdentum began to take shape during Rohit’s days as an IB student. He was encouraged to volunteer and became involved in a small recycling program that linked students at Kodaikanal with several public schools in India. He traveled with his classmates to meet other students and work together to plant trees or pick up garbage. Their efforts not only brightened the community’s appearance, but also brought together students going through very different types of educational experiences – to exchange insights, resources, political views and inspirations. This interaction caught Rohit’s attention and planted the seed of the idea that would become Verdentum.
Rohit recalled one project vividly, in which he and a group of students gathered to plant trees. “The interactions between students were so interesting,” Rohit mused. “Afterward, I thought, ‘why not link schools in rural areas with schools in urban areas, allowing students to talk about policy issues that plague the world today?’ It was fantastic to see kids from totally different worlds and totally different backgrounds connect with each other and talk about their government, their problems and their solutions. It was equally fantastic to get people to converse about these issues and I wanted to find a way to do it on a broader platform. I started thinking,” he said, “how could we involve more people and make more of an impact?”
Rohit worked on his idea throughout college. When he entered a law program at University of California-Berkeley School of Law, he garnered support from his network of contacts. In early 2013, he received an invitation from UNESCO to fly to Paris to speak at the World Summit on the Information Society of Review Committee Meeting. His topic was Using e-Science to Strengthen the Interface between Science, Policy and Society. He focused on the social network he had named ‘Verdentum’. All that it needed was the right tool to connect everyone and the right leaders to inspire action.
After his presentation, Rohit felt he had caught the attention of several officials in the audience. He encouraged leaders to come forward from institutions such as the United Nations and to propose macro-scale volunteer projects that could then be implemented globally by teachers and students around the world. It turned out to be a big step in getting the support needed to make Verdentum real.
How does Verdentum work?
In Rohit’s proposal, the social network operates on four different levels. To start off, a high level policy-maker introduces a program, project or policy issue to feature on the social network. Meanwhile, classes of students and their teachers ─ anywhere there is an Internet connection ─ join the site and create profiles. Each class is then paired with a class from an entirely different part of the world, their teachers serving as moderators and mentors. After pairing, the policy-makers drive discussion and recommend student activities to make a noticeable impact within their own communities.
“Suppose you have a water pollution problem,” Rohit explained, “you can connect students in Uganda to students in Spain or Ukraine or Brazil to discuss the questions we’ve put together.” He continued, “policy-makers can promote an action item — if it’s water pollution they can ask students to go clean a local lake, and then almost simultaneously, you might have kids in 100 countries working together. This could be applied to any issue, whether it is water pollution, climate change, women’s rights, or HIV/AIDS [prevention/activism].” Moreover, the role of teachers in the process is critical. “Teachers have control over which projects they choose and what transpires for the students. It can be implemented for one group of students, a class, or in some cases an entire school.”
Rohit believes the project fills a void in the type of volunteer opportunities available for students. “A lot of individuals feel that they’re doing something that is very local but I think students want to feel part of a broader picture and more connected.” He adds, “If people talk about reaching millennium goals or solving global issues then I feel that at least in some small way Verdentum will help. We are trying to get kids at a younger age and help them work together on a large scale to address issues and open their minds before they go into university.”
Is Verdentum up and running?
Pilot programs are scheduled for August 2014. Rohit hopes to gather participants from selected schools in 30 to 60 countries to launch and he has good reason to be optimistic. Verdentum is already a member of the United Nations Academic Impact Program – a group of projects focused on innovation in higher education and learning. From the perspective of policy-makers and academics, this membership has bestowed a certain status on Verdentum. Its list of Advisors includes university deans, a UN Under Secretary, and CEOs. This summer, the Alumni Network will watch to see where Verdentum leads their first group of student volunteers.
Also, don’t miss our Q&A with Rohit about his experience as an IB student at Kodaikanal International School.