The reason why Pravaha Foundation is spending Rs.2 crores (US$243k) for chess
Pravaha Foundation is doing some phenomenal work in Indian chess by supporting 6 talented youngsters - 5 girls and 1 boy. They are Vantika Agrawal, Savitha Shri, Shubhi Gupta, Saparya Ghosh, Charvi and Ilamparthi. The Foundation has committed to spending Rs.2 crores over a period of 2 years. Why are they supporting chess, and what is the thought behind it? Sagar Shah had the chance to speak to the director and trustee of Pravaha Foundation - Vinoda Kailas. Find out all about it in this article.
One year ago, the Chess Olympiad began, and we are still seeing its ripple effects to this day. This time, the Pravaha Foundation, an NGO founded by Mytrah Group, has decided to sponsor six talented Indian players and help them grow in their chess journey. This includes well-known names like Vantika Agrawal, Savitha Shri and also young talents like Shubhi Gupta, Saparya Ghosh, Charvi and Ilamparthi. People at Pravaha have many other exciting ideas to help grow women chess players and we had a chance to learn all about it, their vision, goals, working method, and more.
The birth of this idea!
Pravaha, which has majorly focussed on the education field up until now, has now entered the chess world and we were curious as to how this came into being. Vinoda explains that the main goal of Pravaha for the last five years has been to direct combined funds, assets, and skills towards tangible progress in social advancement. They believe that the role of an entrepreneur is not only take from society but also to give back to it in the best possible way. For years, they have been focusing on the growth of young, talented individuals, giving them the right push in the right direction, and chess was always at the back of their minds. They knew if they were to move into some other areas after STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, that would be chess. The reason is that they feel that chess is an activity that harnesses the potential of some of the brightest minds in the world, and thus they want individuals reach to their goals.
The catalyst that helped this vision come true was the Chess Olympiad that happened in Chennai last year. Like many Indians around the world, members of Pravaha were excited for it to happen in India. Within the Olympiad, they had a chance to be introduced to Arjun Erigasi, one of the top and most talented grandmasters who hail from Telangana. One thing, led to another, and after watching Sagar's interview with Arjun's father, they had an idea of the hardships a chess player and their parents face while taking their child to the next level in the game.
While many are aware that chess is an extremely complex sport; what many people are not aware of is that it is also a costly game. When a player is at a lower level, it is relatively easier to improve, but as they grow, the monetary funds that are needed for their training, playing tournaments, hiring coaches - the cost increases exponentially, and unfortunately, not every parent has the resources to manage that. Learning about this Vinoda started researching the sponsorship programmes and other aspects of the game.
Digging into the depths of it, they found that it is hard for women players in India to get a sponsorship; there are not many players who have had that opportunity. Being a gender-neutral group and feeling that chess is one too, Pravaha decided to sponsor young, talented women chess players and provide them with the support they need for their growth in chess. Having big dreams for women in chess, Pravaha picked five talented girls and one boy for the same.
It has been roughly three to four months since the group started sponsoring these talents, and we have already seen a lot of progress in them. Vantika Agrawal (Elo: 2428 and a LIVE rating of 2440), who has been in great form, scored a phenomenal score of 3.0/3 at the end of Vezerkepzo GM, which was held in March 2023, and gained 14 Elo points. After scoring her final IM norm in the Six Day Budapest Spring GM, she gained a whopping 26 Elo points. She also performed well at the Fagernes Chess GM and Menorca Open 2023 and had a jump of 20 Elo points after beating many strong players. Very recently she showed another strong performance at the Biel Masters, scoring 6.0/9 and gaining 12 Elo points to pump up her rating to 2440.
On this Vinoda says, " I think Vantika has surprised us the most. It was actually the perseverance of Vantika's mother that pushed us to sponsor her, and barely a couple of months into the sponsorship, the kind of growth that we have seen is fantastic. At one point, we had India Number 3 and 4 as both our girls, so that was great!"
Savitha Shri achieved her 1st IM norm and WGM title at the Fagernes Open 2023, and then went on to achieve her 2nd IM norm at the Norway Chess Open, 2023. Currently, Savith has a WGM title, 2 IM norms, and stands with an Elo of 2426.
Vinoda tells us that she stays in constant touch with the girls regularly and also follows their games and results. After both girls got selected for the Asian Games, she messaged them congratulating them on the same. For Pravaha, sponsorship is not just about bringing them money but also being on this journey with these champions. "The reason why we got into this is that we believe there is a lot of opportunity for chess in India, and within that, our vision is that we want to see these girls not necessarily in the top 10 of both men and women players in India, but also see them way up there in the world championship as well. We want to be with them during their highs and lows."
The Next Generation: Shubhi Gupta, Saparya Ghosh, Charvi and Ilamparthi
On being asked why she chose these individuals, Vinoda says that this is the combined decision of Pravaha and MGD1. Sreekar Channapragada and Manu Gurtu, the founders of MGD1, advised her regarding the players. They wanted to sponsor two girls and had a sponsorship amount in mind, and they went with Savitha and Vantika. Later on, knowing that in chess the earlier you accomplish something, the more time you have ahead to further build upon your achievements, they decided to support four other younger women chess players as well and decided to choose these girls from all corners of India: north, south, east, and west.
Shubhi, being one of the strongest young players in North India, was chosen as one of the candidates; Saparya, being from Kolkata, was picked from the east side; and Charvi was a natural addition to the batch, considering that she was only 8 years old and has tremendous talent. There was still one spot left for a girl, but at the same time, they learned about the story of Ilamparthi. His journey and potential floored them, and since he was not having a stable sponsor, they decided to make an exception and choose him. All the children are doing extremely well. Ilamparthi became an IM and is on his trip of 6-7 back-to-back European events.
Future plans for the chosen ones
30 years ago, India had very few GMs, and today we have 83. The foundation wants to repeat the same story for women in chess as well. "Have as many women GMs as possible". To achieve that goal, apart from sponsorship, they aim to provide these talents with some spectacular training opportunities as well. "We are having conversations around conducting chess camps for our top women talent in India. The conversations are still underway, but if that happens, that would be great for not only our girls but also for other young talents in Indian women's chess."
When we asked Vinoda what her inspiration was for this, she said that growing up, Viswanathan Anand has always been an inspiration for everyone, and his name was always attached to chess.
About Mytrah group and Pravaha
Mytrah Group, a leading distributor in the renewable energy market, is where the funds come in for the Pravaha Foundation. The company is based in Hyderabad, India, and was started by Ravi Kailas (Chairman), and Vikram Kailas (Vice Chairman) around 2011. The company followed the principle of the TATA model, believing that "as entrepreneurs, we do not take resources from the environment around us, and it is imperative that we all give back to society." Keeping that in mind, along with Mytrah, they started the trust Pravaha. Through Pravaha, the people associated with it do their part in giving back to the country and society. The goal of the company is "Eduvolution", to bring about a revolution in the education field.
"India is such a large country, so to do anything at a large scale, collaboration is necessary... Whether it is our education initiatives, where we partner extensively with organisations like IIIT, IIT, and IISC, or we also work with a large group of institutes, or NGOs that are working in the educational space, I would say Pravaha itself is built through collaboration, and that’s what we are looking to do even in chess. We have already collaborated with MGD1, and as the training plan progresses, I am sure we will be building some amazing collaborations in the world of chess too."
Working in the renewable energy sector, the company, Mytrah, has achieved a lot in a relatively short amount of time, and being true to their values, they have done a lot for the growth of young people in honing their skills through Pravaha. Now, they have entered the chess world and have decided to provide a scholarship of Rs. 2 crore for six talented and young chess players for two years.
64 Squares is the initiative through which Pravaha is sponsoring all these young talents. Working with a professional organization has helped them make the right decisions in choosing these talents, build a connection between their parents and them, and more. Since they are new to the world of chess, collaborating with MGD1 has helped them be aware of all the needed information.