Absolute silence reigned over the cavernous hall in MoMA – New York’s Museum of Modern Art – which plays host to the Kravis Prize award ceremony. A mass of people waited to listen. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as Henry Kravis made his comments, handed me the check and stepped off the dais. Now it was my turn. It was only at that moment, as I stood facing crowd, that the enormity and the significance of the award hit me.

I was here representing Pratham, a vast network of young leaders throughout India who unselfishly strive to provide the country’s children with high quality education. The momentum generated from the strength of these individuals working together brought me to this stage in New York City, and thinking of all of their earnest faces, suddenly I no longer felt alone.

It was around this time last year that I went to New York City to receive the 2010 Kravis Prize in Leadership on behalf of Pratham. We had learned that we won the Prize some weeks in advance and recognized the experience as a big honor. But, many thousands of miles away in another part of the world, the Kravis Prize seemed distant and unreal.

After spending 16 hours on a plane, I arrived in the U.S. and had the opportunity to meet with Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis. We discussed our respective interests in a conversation that moved easily between anecdotes and identifying approaches to create change. Although I had never previously met Mr. and Mrs. Kravis, it was clear they both thoroughly understand and support our work in India.

Finally standing on the platform in front of a room full of distinguished guests at the Kravis Prize award ceremony, I began to speak. The thoughts and the stories poured out of me. The audience was rapt and the room was silent except for the sound of my voice. As I told the stories of our work in India, my thoughts went to the mass of young people from Pratham who have been with me for every step along the way. Pratham’s 15-year journey that was recognized and celebrated by the Kravis Prize could never have been accomplished without the ideas, dreams and experiences of so many outstanding and tenacious people who have inspired local communities in India to strive for higher quality in education. We owe so much of our success to their hard work and endless commitment.

This past March, as Vicky took the stage to accept the much-deserved recognition of the Kravis Prize, we at Pratham cheered her and the Escuela Nueva Foundation. Like ours last year, her moment of celebration was not hers alone. It undoubtedly is shared by many others from all around the world who believe that the world can be a better place when we all strive for a common goal.

Dr. Rukmini Banerji is the Director of Programs for Pratham and a senior member of the organization’s national leadership team.

Would you like to be a part of Pratham’s mission to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of India? You can donate to Pratham here. You can also volunteer with your local chapter or for Pratham USA’s office in Houston. To learn about all of the opportunities to get involved with Pratham, please click here.

The video below shows Dr. Banerji accepting the 2010 Kravis Prize in Leadership on behalf of Pratham at the fifth annual award ceremony in New York City.