Our Founding Story

From a Moment of Obligation to a Lasting, Global Impact

Train platform school

Train platform school | India

In 1990, on a hot and dusty day in Bhubaneswar, India, Maya Ajmera stepped onto a bustling train platform. There she encountered 40 children sitting in a circle while a teacher held up flashcards and engaged them in simple learning exercises.

After the lesson, Maya inquired about the cost of operating a school on this model—one that brought nonformal education directly to children who lived and begged on the train platforms.

She learned that school operated on about $400 per year, supporting 40 children and two teachers. The school provided the children with education, clothing, and food. Perhaps most importantly, the school instilled in the children a sense of worth and empowered them to determine their futures. It was a simple, powerful model of grassroots change.

This “moment of obligation” led Maya to found The Global Fund for Children (GFC) in 1993, with support from Echoing Green, the premier fellowship for social entrepreneurs. Maya based her approach on the belief that small amounts of money, when given to innovative, community-based organizations, could make a real, lasting impact on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children.

At the core of Maya’s approach was a desire to foster global citizenship in children from a very young age using the power of children’s books and other media.

Maya with Children | India

Since 1996, Global Fund for Children Books has developed over 30 award-winning titles, with over 2 million copies sold worldwide. Proceeds from the first book, Children from Australia to Zimbabwe, supported the train platform school in India that inspired Maya to create GFC.

Under Maya’s seventeen years of leadership (1993-2011), GFC grew from a seedling vision into one of the largest networks of grassroots organizations working on behalf of vulnerable children. Over the years, GFC expanded its grantmaking model, incorporating services that help GFC grantee partners improve their sustainability, develop their networks, increase their visibility, and grow and deepen their capacity to positively affect children’s lives.

In 2004, GFC began awarding Sustainability Awards to reward exceptional grantee partners. This $25,000 capstone grant offers a special infusion of funds at a critical stage in their development. These partners are organizationally sound, with strong management, a broad funding base, and expanded budgets and programs. To date we have awarded $2.95 million in Sustainability Awards to 118 organizations. To honor Maya’s legacy, this award was renamed the Maya Ajmera Sustainability Awards in 2011.

From a moment of obligation emerged an organization with a wide global scope and impact. To date, we have proudly invested over $25 million in over 500 grassroots organizations in 78 countries, serving over 7 million children.

A celebrated social entrepreneur and award winning children’s book author, Maya’s work and life story have been profiled by such media outlets as CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Financial Times, NPR, and many others. To learn more about our founder, Maya Ajmera, check her wikipedia page or her personal website.