“I realize architecture is not just about building houses......”

….So says Riddhi Shah (27), a 2017 recipient of a Margaret McNamara Education Grant and candidate for a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts.


Riddhi is specializing in City Design Development at MIT where her objective is to look to the gap between architecture and planning in the public space, specifically at the relationship of an entire physical space and its effect on children.  In particular, Riddhi wants to study how “physical infrastructure restricts children from pursuing easy childhood activities like playing and studying.” 

This is an extension of the work she has done in India where she observed that children from ages 4 to 9 being watched in mobile daycare/crèches at developers’ construction sites used those facilities primarily to make bathroom visits and to take meals, not to learn. These crèches, provided for the protection of children against safety hazards of construction sites, are often too uncomfortable to facilitate the children’s sitting through lessons with no work space and seating on the ground.  This led to Riddhi’s design of the “Kumej” – a knapsack which turns into a desk for children.  Kumej is a combination of the Hindi words for chair (“Kursi”) and table (“Mej”).

Riddhi won a National Student Challenge for her design which has undergone many revisions with prototypes being tested at NGOs and local schools such as Holy Mother School in the Malad Malwani slum in Mumbai.  Once production can achieve economies of scale, the Kumej is expected to cost USD 10 per unit.  Riddhi’s hope is initially to partner with real estate developers and NGOs to distribute Kumejs to mobile crèches/daycares and street schools in urban centers.  She hopes that their proven success in this setting will allow her to approach local governments to reach out to rural schools where, according to a recent UNICEF/World Bank Group study, an estimated four out of five children live in extreme poverty in a country which houses a full 30% of the world population of children living in extreme poverty.*  At current estimates of India’s population of 1.34 billion people, the number of  young children in India aged newborn to 9 years old is likely to be as high as 267 million … a very large proportion of whom are cared for in the crèches, street schools and rural schools targeted by Riddhi’s product.

Since “school plays a major role in shaping a child’s future,” Riddhi’s long-term objective is to continue to develop and implement design plans to improve education in developing and crisis countries by making the educational environment more comfortable, welcoming, and healing at the grassroots level with minimum resources.  She is likely to be successful; as one of her referees puts it, Riddhi shows “exceptional promise as a socially-engaged architect.  Kumej is the best example I have seen in several years of design’s ability to promote social wellbeing.” 


Riddhi’s studies and efforts provide a testament to the enabling work of MMEG grants and the amplification effect of supporting continuing education for our recipients. Her work and that of the 300 plus recipients of Margaret McNamara Education Grants provide benefits in real terms in grantees’ home countries.  As Riddhi says in her application for her grant, “I realize that architecture is not just about building houses.  If architects can divert some of their attention to rural areas where the majority of the population lives, simple and powerful innovations will definitely help in transforming the rural life.  Design can help create more engaging spaces to help a child’s mind develop freely.”

Brigid Holleran

*Ending Poverty: A Focus on Children, UNICEF and The World Bank Group, October 2016.

The invention idea Kumej is filed under pending Indian National Patent 3522/MUM/2013 (Equally owned by: Ami Matthan, Avinav Venkatachalam, Riddhi Shah and Vishesh Kehtawat)

MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair, Tues Nov 14 - Thurs Nov 16, 2017

The Margaret McNamara Education Grant (MMEG) Annual Arts & Crafts Fair,

Tuesday November 14 through Thursday November 16, 2017, 10am – 4pm each day,

World Bank Main Complex (MC) Building (Glass Lobby and Preston Auditorium)*


The MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair will open to WBG staff and the general public (photo ID required to enter) from Tuesday November 14 through Thursday November 16. This will be the 34th annual Fair. While many WBG staff members may have seen the words “Shop for a cause!” plastered around the World Bank, and while many of these staff, and visitors from outside the Bank, have certainly flocked to the Fair over the years, you may not know why this Fair is held, the history behind it, or its unique place at the World Bank.

Here are a few facts to motivate you further as you shop!

·        Since its inception in 1981 through this year, MMEG has disbursed $3.1 million for 351 education grants to women from developing countries pursuing university studies. In FY17, we awarded 33 grants to exceptional women from 21 different countries, divided almost equally among three continents: North America, Africa and Latin America.

·        MMEG is an all-volunteer organization. We receive ongoing support, in-kind and otherwise, from the World Bank, the World Bank Family Network and dedicated MMEG and WBFN volunteers. Funding for MMEG grants comes essentially from two sources. First and foremost, direct monetary donations from World Bank Group staff and retirees, private individuals and a few external foundations for which we owe grateful thanks; and secondly, fundraising activities, the biggest of which is the Annual Arts & Crafts Fair. The Fair has generated valuable revenues for MMEG for over 30 years and is a significant way in which we fund our mission. In 2016 and 2017, Fair income accounted for an average of 22% of total grant funding.


As we know it today, the Fair is a bustling, festive event. It is colorful, animated and often exotic. Items sold range from spectacular jewelry, silk scarves, fancy hats and clothes to gourmet chocolates and tableware. There is a gourmet table where hungry shoppers can enjoy snacks from all over the world – samosas, Turkish boreks, sushi, savory and sweet pastries and sandwiches are some of the goodies on sale. One of the first tables that shoppers see as they come in is MMEG’s treasures table. Items sold at this table are all donations made to MMEG – by MMEG and WBFN volunteers, as well as from the Bank.  There is something for everyone!

The Fair is the brainchild of then MMMF (Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund) Committee member Carla Scearce. Carla’s idea led to the holding of a bazaar in a church in Virginia in October 1984. Items left over from this first bazaar were then sold a couple of weeks later at the World Bank. The bazaar and sale netted a total of $7,600 for the MMMF, substantially more than any previous event. The bazaar grew exponentially the following  year, and in 1986, it became the "International Arts and Crafts Fair'' and was held in the World Bank’s H Building Auditorium.  The Fair has been held every year since then. In 2009, with the closure of the World Bank’s H building offices, the Fair moved to the Preston Auditorium in the MC building. This move gave the Fair access to a bigger, more open space that was easier to find and provided easier access for the general public, substantially raising the profile of the event.


Today, the Fair is MMEG’s main fund-raising activity. In addition to the funds it generates for grants, it significantly increases MMEG’s visibility in the Bank and with the public. It is a fun and productive event that motivates volunteers, creates camaraderie, and even long-lasting friendships. To quote Caroline Berney, who took over chairing the Fair from Carla Scearce in 2002, the Fair is “more than the sum of its parts”. It is a big event that cuts across many offices of the World Bank:  the President’s Office, the General Services Department, Bank moving, security, fire safety, and cleaning staff all contribute to making it a successful event. The Fair would not be possible without any of these actors and we owe them our sincere thanks!

Organizing the Fair is a challenging, cooperative endeavor that brings together some 50 to 60 MMEG and WBFN volunteers every year.  These include: the organizing Fair committee, “runners” to collect and tally sales receipts during the event, salespeople to man the gourmet and treasure tables, and helpers to set up, take down and clean up. Georgine Ahmad, Fair Chair from 2010 to 2014, notes that the Fair is “a real enterprise”. It is a huge job that requires extensive preparation and multiple backup plans.

All of these efforts are geared toward one goal: raising money to fund education grants. The money raised comes from a percentage of sales from vendors, flat fees for vendor participation and sales from MMEG-sponsored treasure and gourmet tables. Last year, proceeds from the Fair funded 8 of our 33 grants. To make our goal and results more concretely tangible to visitors to the Fair, most years one or more grant recipients are invited to attend the Fair to meet vendors, shoppers and volunteers. This year, two 2017 grantees will be attending:  Singmila Shimrah, a PhD student at George Mason university who is working on peace processes in armed conflict, and most particularly the challenges of women’s participation in the peace and dialogue process in the Naga conflict; and Veronique Taylor, a nursing student at Trinity Washington University, who is committed to working with women and children to make healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding unhealthy relationships and bad habits such as drinking, smoking and drug use.

We warmly invite you, WBG staff as well as friends and holiday shoppers outside the Bank, to visit the MMEG Annual Arts & Crafts Fair. It is a great place to browse during your coffee break or lunch hour, pick up unique holiday gifts before the rush starts, or even spoil yourself with something beautiful and unexpected. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet two MMEG grantees.

And above all, shop for a cause!

Support extraordinary women to achieve extraordinary results! 

Sincere thanks to long-time Fair Chairs Caroline Berney and Georgine Ahmad for providing historical context and background on the organization of the Fair.


*  World Bank Main Complex (MC) Building, 1818 H Street, NW, Washington DC 20433.

Providing Comfort on a Park Bench: The Power of Human Contact

This story of inspirational women is not from a grantee, but from one of their countries.  “Grandmothers” have been trained to address some mental health issues in Zimbabwe, where only 13 psychiatrists are available to serve a national population of 14 million.

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“On any given afternoon in the capital of Harare and nearby cities, an elder woman can be found on a bench outside a clinic, listening intently to another person’s stories. She’s affectionately called a “grandmother”… for her role offering comfort, encouragement and a ready ear,” for those who may feel (in Western terms) depressed. The women are also trained to recognize who might need more advanced care at a health facility.

Dixon Chibanda, one of the psychiatrists who co-developed the program to hone  “mental health care down to basic human connections”, made medical concepts accessible in laymen’s terms, and enlisted women to create “friendship benches” where problems could be resolved at community level. Research shows that social support methods can help treat mental illness.

The Zimbabwe story also reminds us that education continues beyond universities, and that women of all ages continue to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

posted by Reiko Niimi