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Educating Vidya!
Text by Monisha Naik-Singh
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

Her father, Dr Shantaram Balwant Mujumdar, the founder of the renowned Pune-based Symbiosis International Educational Centre, imbibed in the young girl a feeling of 'international brotherhood'. Today, at the helm of the multi-crore flagship institution, 42-year-old Dr Vidya Yeravdekar dreams of integrating the existing educational system of our country with universities abroad. Verve catches up with the dynamic joint director on her own turf

She takes on this world on her own terms, playing an important role in the field of education and beyond its frontiers too. Dr Vidya Yeravdekar, daughter of Dr Shantaram Balwant Mujumdar, the eminent founder of the Pune-based institution, Symbiosis International Educational Centre (a deemed university), has stepped seamlessly into her father's shoes and is now at the helm of affairs of an organisation that has an annual turnover of over Rs 140 crores. This may seem a daunting proposition, but to this 42-year-old, running this multi-crore firm is just part of a day's work. Sitting calmly across the table, her intelligent eyes sparkling with life, Yeravdekar, joint director, Symbiosis, exudes confidence, strength and immense energy. This petite, graceful lady is undeniably the driving force behind the institute.

When she was growing up, Yeravdekar, the elder of two children, imbibed a zeal for social and educational work from her parents, especially her father. "Those years were truly wonderful," she muses. "We lived on the campus of Fergusson College, Pune, where my father was part of the teaching faculty. I still remember how a chance incident changed the course of our lives. It was during Diwali in 1970, when the college was closed for the holidays. My father, whose study faced the main hostel, noticed a young girl make her way daily to the boys' hostel. She would stand near a window and pass something to a boy within. A few minutes later something would be passed back to her. This continued for a few days and when my father could no longer conceal his curiosity, he questioned the boy about this unusual activity. The boy stated that he was from Mauritius and was suffering from jaundice. So, while everyone else had returned home for the holidays he, being unwell and a foreigner, had nowhere to go. The young girl was his sister who regularly brought him something light to eat, as he was unable to digest heavy food. The incident had a tremendous impact on my father. He realised that there was a serious need to do something for foreign students who came here in pursuit of better educational opportunities."

In 1971, Symbiosis, which essentially as the name indicates, signifies 'living together for mutual benefit', took root literally in their home, as Mujumdar (now chancellor of the institute) could not afford to buy land back then. Their house became a home to a swelling number of foreign students. Growing up in this culturally diverse environment was something that both Yeravdekar and her sister took to naturally. "Possibly, this is when my father unassumingly sowed the concept of 'international brotherhood' in our young minds - the idea seeped into our consciousness," she reflects.