Season of Giving is that time of the year when we remember the importance of sharing and caring. And while there are plenty of people who deserve recognition for their selfless support of our mission, one name stands out among others – Padma Rayan.
What inspires you to support our work daily?
Djokovic and children! I could not have asked for a better alignment of my Djokovic fandom and the mission of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, which is all about early childhood development and early childhood education. Children are the best! ECE research and grants management have been my world of work for nearly 20 years now. I have two (young) grown children of my own, son is a lawyer, and daughter is a pediatrician.
Why is investing in early childhood education important to you?
I have spent so much time visiting preschools in Duval County, Florida, where I live, and in some of the communities across the US, as part of my work. I cannot stress enough how important it is to give children the best foundation possible. Investing in children = investing in the future.
It is also based on research, and all of the research points to the importance of investment in early childhood education. The majority of brain development happens in the early years. ECE is so important for the emotional, intellectual, and social development of children. Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics and a Professor at the University of Chicago, through his research, has shown that $1 invested in high-quality early childhood education, has a return of over $7 to society, and leads to better school readiness, reduced poverty, skilled workforce, greater self-sufficiency, and better outcomes for the children and families overall.
Do you think that people, especially the young, are aware of the benefits of early years?
Parents/caregivers are children’s first teachers. Some of the young families are aware of the importance but I would say many of them are not aware of how significantly important the early years are. Society as a whole is only now gradually realizing the benefits of investing in the early years of childhood and early brain development.
NDF’s program, “Support Not Perfection” is a perfect one to bridge the gap between what the parents know and what they need to know and understand, without feeling overwhelmed. Parenting does not come with a playbook! The most important thing that parents/caregivers need to know is that with unconditional love and patience so much can be accomplished.
Did you go to kindergarten or preschool and what memories do you cherish from that period?
I went to preschool “millions of years” ago in Chennai, India. I do not remember anything and the only fond memories are what my Mom shared with me from time to time. I do know which preschool I attended – it is still there today! I had the best parents who believed strongly that education is the greatest equalizer and with a strong work ethic and good education, we can make things happen.
Share with us your life story – our readers want to know more about you!
I was born and raised in Chennai, a large metropolitan city in South India. My parents taught us the value of hard work and determination – am forever grateful for all that they did for my siblings and me. I moved to the US (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) in 1985 after I got married. I became a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in Pennsylvania. When I started volunteering at my kids’ school, I absolutely fell in love with teaching. I decided to quit being a CPA, and went to graduate school, got my Masters in Education, and taught elementary grades for about 4 years. It started my journey into the world of non-profit organizations especially those with a mission to serve children and families.
We moved to Florida in 2001 and I started working for a large non-profit which has a singular focus of serving children and families with an emphasis on early childhood education. The most blissful job ever! I straddled the world of grants management and program implementation/research – it is just perfect since it has allowed me to utilize my love for numbers and my love of program implementation / ECE research.
How did you come to be so generous and devoted to humanitarian work?
I would credit my parents for having instilled the importance of giving back to the community and they were so fond of children – who isn’t? I would love to do more. What I am doing is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to how much incredible humanitarian work is being done by so many across the world, ECE Champions are there within each community just like all the dedicated individuals of Team NDF.
What it means to you, as someone who is not from Serbia nor our region, to support the development of our small community?
When anyone goes to the home page of NDF, the first thing he/she will see are the words “Every Child Matters.” This is so universal and is a powerful statement.
Of course, I will be honest and tell you that my main draw to Serbia is Novak. Now after over 10 years and with this incredible alignment of my Novak fandom and the mission of NDF, it is so easy to support all the work being done to help children and families in Serbia. It will be a long way before I can understand Serbian but I am learning Serbian words and phrases every day!
Children of Serbia are citizens of the world as well. I remember reading about the work being done around the Roma community – simply tugged at my heart. I feel a strong connection with the values of NDF.
My dream is to volunteer during one of the Friendship Games. It is so heartwarming to see the unbridled joy on the faces of the children.
What are your impressions about our work – team, transparency, projects, communication with donors?
Based on my years of experience in the world of ECE, and exposure to the work of different non-profit organizations, I will say that the work done by NDF is top-notch.
The website has such good information for anyone across the world to access and utilize. “Support Not Perfection”, Schools for Life, Preschools across different communities of Serbia, and the resources allocated for research, Djokovic Scholars – all of these are great examples. Let me not forget the awesome theatre renovation project! It was so cool!
Jelena’s leadership and her commitment to research and review of data to determine the gaps provide such a strong basis for all the work being done.
The communication with donors – big and small – through social media, emails, and newsletters, is extraordinary. All of the blog posts are so well-written. In fact, I always share them with my colleagues. I get very excited when I receive emails from NDF with lots of good information about the work being done, update on projects, and about any of the new and exciting programs.
What is your ultimate vision – what kind of change will your support initiate?
I have so much confidence in the work and vision of Team NDF including Jelena and Novak, that I would support any of the efforts and projects. It would be terrific to see investments in Outdoor Classrooms as an experiment within a community in Serbia – wouldn’t that be cool? Overall, children have all kinds of grand and powerful dreams and by investing in them, NDF is investing in the future. I am so grateful and thrilled to be able to support your work. Hvala!
Thank you, Padma! Join her in this Season of Giving and help 100 children in Serbia to preschool education: https://fundraise.novakdjokovicfoundation.org/campaign/season-of-giving-2021/c379680