Bart Peterson is the newly appointed chief executive of the Indianapolis (USA)-based Christel House International (CHI, estb.1998), a global non-profit that runs six exemplary free-of-charge K-12 schools for 5,154 poor children in the US, Mexico, South Africa and India.
In India, Christel House provides free English-medium education, nutrition monitored meals, healthcare facilities, college scholarships, career counselling and behavioural sessions to 1,500 socially underprivileged slum children residing in the vicinity of its two centres in Bangalore (estb.2001) and Atal Nagar, Chhattisgarh (2016).
Newspeg. Peterson was in Bangalore in February on his first international site visit after he was appointed CEO of Christel House worldwide by founder-chairperson Christel de Haan, a pioneer of the holiday time share business who sold her closely held company RCI Inc in 1996, and invested a substantial share of the proceeds ($825 million) in CHI. A US registered global children’s charity, CHI’s mandate is to “transform the lives of impoverished children around the world by breaking the cycle of poverty and building self-sufficient, contributing members of society”.
History. An alum of Purdue University and Michigan Law School, Peterson served as mayor of Indianapolis (pop. 867,000) for two successive terms (2000-2008) during which he facilitated the establishment of 17 charter schools in the city. Charter schools are a unique American phenomenon — failing government schools “chartered” to experienced private sector educationists and NGOs. Indianapolis’ first charter school was given the green light by Peterson in 2001. Currently, there are 7,000 chartered schools in the US. To encourage educators and NGOs to promote these schools, in 2006 Peterson co-founded the Mind Trust, a voluntary organisation to develop education entrepreneurs.
After his second term as mayor ended, Peterson served nine years with Eli Lily & Co, the global pharma multinational, as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications prior to taking charge as global CEO of CHI on the invitation of Christel de Haan last October.
Direct talk. Visiting Christel House, Bangalore (estb.2001) which has 857 children tutored by 69 teachers on its muster rolls, Peterson is delighted with its progress. “I am overwhelmed by the transformation I have witnessed in students here. Last year Christel House, Bangalore students averaged 98.36 and 96.72 percent in the class X and XII exams of the Karnataka Secondary state board, and 95 percent of class XII school leavers are enrolled in higher education. Our alumni now comprise doctors, engineers, accountants among other highly qualified professionals, who are confident, hardworking, responsible and ethical, invested with a passion to give back to their communities. Christel de Haan’s prescription of addressing the root causes of poverty through holistic education, nutrition and healthcare of underprivileged children has clearly worked,” says Peterson.
Future plans. With similar reports from CHI schools around the world, de Haan and Peterson have drawn up plans to expand the trust’s operations worldwide. “A school in Jamaica is set to be launched next year. However, India is the most attractive destination to start new schools in the coming years,” says Peterson.
Sruthy Susan Ullas (Bangalore