The Champions Project – Unpacking Success

The Champions Project probes the challenge of female educational disadvantage in India, endemic despite several decades of concerted government attempts to address the problem. Rather than focusing on the well documented barriers to female educational attainment, the Champions project identifies and explores the experience of the successful few. This model of research is based on the positive deviance approach.

We endeavor to isolate key triggers of educational attainment by rigorously unpacking the experience of young women from non-literate/low literacy households who are enrolled in their second year of undergraduate degrees in government colleges – our “Champions.” We compare their experiences to those of young women from similar backgrounds who dropped out before transitioning to or during their secondary education.

Champions Maharashtra

Harvard FXB initiated the first phase of the Champions study in Maharashtra in 2012, in collaboration with partners at the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune (KSP). Data were gathered with 425 participants from across ten districts. In addition, 40 research participants were selected (two from each of 20 colleges) to participate in a writing lives workshop at the KSP center. Workshop participants prepared visual and written accounts of their life journeys, using games, group discussions, poster making, and letter and diary writing. The National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights, a government-funded human rights commission, provided material support and technical guidance.

Champions Rajasthan

In 2014, with generous funding from the Passport Foundation, the Population Foundation of India, and the Harvard South Asia Institute, the FXB team and partners at the Institute of Development Studies Jaipur, implemented an amended version of the Champions project in Rajasthan. Data were collected with 636 young women. The research team interviewed 413 Champions from 13 colleges across Rajasthan. Data from a comparison group of 223 young women, matched by age, parental literacy, and location but who dropped out during secondary school, were also gathered.

Results show that government support does not cover the financial and social cost of higher education (including expenses, lack of adequate access to safe, girls-only hostels, and transport). Instead, the primary triggers of success are family support, teacher mentorship, and personal resilience.  This is an important, novel and concerning finding. It indicates public failure despite the plethora of government schemes and commitments to girls’ education, and arbitrary access to support for young women intent on securing a higher education.

To learn more about project findings please see:

Champions Partnerships

In consultation with Harvard FXB the MV Foundation used the Champions methodology in a study with first generation girl students in upper secondary schools across Telangana

For more on Champions Telangana please see: