An Inspiring Story Of Two Rural Edupreneurs

It has been 8 months since the academic session started. Baluram has not yet paid the school fees for his three sons and one daughter and now he is requesting the school principal if he can pay it in kind – he has no money but has just harvested wheat and he can drop a part of his harvest at principal’s house. The principal has no idea what he would do with 100kg wheat – it would not even cover 25% cost of education he is imparting to four of Baluram’s kids. But he has no option – neither can he throw Baluram’s kids out of school nor can he reject this offer.

School Building
School Building

This incident is not new for Mr. Ravindra Sharma, also popularly known as Pappu Bhaiyya. In 16 of his life in educating rural kids, he has come across many such cases. Ravindra Sharma started Vyankat Vidhya Vihar, named in the memory of his father, 16 years back with his wife Maya Sharma in a rented house with just two rooms and 20 students. Before this school, the kids in his village had only two options – go to government school 5 km away with highly questionable quality of education or drop out and start helping their families in making livelihood.

Kids waiting for their bus trip
Kids waiting for their bus trip

Today, Ravindra and Maya Sharma educate more than 480 students till class 8th with students coming from around 15 surrounding villages. Around 60% of students are from farming community, rest are from tribal areas with occupations like digging, pottery, sweeping and – hold your breath – stealing. Ravindra and Maya Sharma have been trying to provide a high quality education to these kids at just under Rs 100 per month and may I say, they are trying really hard.  Two years back Maya had to send her husband off for 6 months to do some other job and make some money for the family; they have a son and mom to take care of. Ravindra sold pesticides for 6 months and used the money earned to cover the salaries for the school

School bus
School bus

staff. Later he sold his family possessions, borrowed Rs 5 Lakh from Bank of India and some more from family and friends and build this structure that houses the school today (see pictures). The school even has a bus now that makes three rounds to pickup and drop students (please note, Rs 100 / month covers transportation charges as well). While browsing through the school files I note that they achieved 100% result in last academic year. Sounds impressive.

Investment lined up - fans, painting
Investment lined up - fans, painting

I also note that only 60% of fees was recovered in the last academic year. However, they had to pay teachers salary in full and on time – the total staff stands at 19 – 14 teachers, 1 driver, 1 conductor, 1 cleaner, Ravindra and Maya. Today Maya handles the daily chorus of school including the academics while Ravindra tries to bridge the cash flow gap. I am still struggling hard to understand the economies.

Drinking water facility
Drinking water facility

Ravindra and Maya are not from IITs. They are not even very well-educated in normal terms. Ravindra had to drop out due to family reasons and Maya is still pursuing higher studies – she had to take two breaks; one for her marriage and one while giving birth to her son. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters today is that they have changed lives of more than 1000 kids in last 16 years. And this number is going to increase manifold in coming years. What also matters is that their model is working – albeit with a lot of hard work.

The inspiring story of this couple raises two important questions  –

1. Can we create more of Ravindras and Mayas in other parts of the country to solve the real problem facing our country?

2. And can we make their lives little easier in this journey by using some innovative finance model?

What say you?

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3 Ideas To Bring Change In Education At BOP

Why are there not enough good schools catering to economically weaker section of the society? We all know the reasons – There is no financial incentive for an entrepreneur to open a school in area where people cannot pay. Compare this fact to metros and tier-2 towns where hundreds of new schools are coming with fees range of 15K+ / annum. These schools are either run by politicians, real estate guys or well-known companies [no surprises, schools are profitable model specially if you have access to real estate and cheap source of money]

Here are 3 ideas to solve this problems

1.  The Education Fund – This fund is raised from people who look for social return on their investment. This is not donation but an investment that earns zero % interest or very low-interest rate and invested for a long-term (typically 10+ years). The Education Fund invests this money in instruments providing decent returns and since the investment duration is for a long-term, there is some guarantee of return, lets say, it is 10%. This return is used to fund the education of deserving students. Number of students who can benefit is directly proportional to the amount of money that can be raised and rate of return that can be earned on this money. Using technology enabled learning, lets assume that good quality education can be imparted with the cost of around Rs 5K per annum per student. That means, we need around 50K as principle amount deposited for each student. Now someone can ask – why complicate so much. If a person is purely interested in social ROI, why should he care about this complicated model and not just donate 5K every year? For following reasons – 1) It will save you hassles of writing cheque every year. 2) Probably, there is higher chance of finding an investor than a donor 3) The same 50K will impact lives of students for many years – which would otherwise need a solid commitment and discipline for such a long duration.

2. Guru Dakshina – In the age of Gurukuls, students did not get free education. It was kind of loan which students needed to pay back once the education was done. It was called Guru-Dakshina. Similarly, we can have a model where the payback comes when students pass-out and are employed. For few initial years this inflow would be zero [ as someone said, education is a very long-term investment]. After few years, we have a flow of cash, which makes it more self sustainable. 500 passing out students can fund 500 new students. This will also bring accountability on the education system – if we cannot make students employable, in a practical world, we have failed.

3. School in a Box – To bring down the cost of education. With such a large population and so little money, there is no other option but to cut the cost of education. Can good quality education be provided at such a low-cost. Technology and standardization may come to rescue. Lets say we have School in the box concept (phrase borrowed from UNICEF’s) – a completely standardized set of curriculum based on digital media and learning management system. If this can enable us to cut out dependency on good teachers and world-class infrastructure. In such scheme of things, can the cost of opening a new school be brought down? Can we build a good school with Rs 1million instead of Rs 10million.

No new idea comes without a problem. The first idea is not scalable, the second idea is cash flow negative for many initial years and the third idea needs a lot of investment and research to create such a concept. May be, if all the three ideas are applied together, these problems can be nullified. In any case, it is very difficult to say unless a solid research is done by getting on the roads. Hope one day we see these models working.

Education Fund
Education Fund Ecosystem

Good Corruption, Bad Corruption and Ugly Corruption

Corruption - Money talks
Corruption - Money talks

The whole India is shaken today. The fight between Anna Hazare and Government has taken an ugly turn. Both the parties have different perspectives to deal with corruption and no end in sight for a mutual consensus.

While watching all this action on TV and on Facebook, I tried to remember incidents when I had to pay bribes or extra money to get things done –

– To Ticket Inspector in train to get a better berth for family
– To an agent to speed up my driving license
– Again to an agent to get vehicle registration transferred

Well if you think in one way, what is the harm being done to nation by these kinds of corruption? In fact it actually helped in moving our economy faster. The berth would have gone vacant had I or someone else not paid bribe to the TTE, so system became more efficient. The TTE got extra income which he probably spent on his kids’ education. Similarly, by paying money to the agent to get things done from government agencies saved my day to spend more productively on things I am good at. Also the agent is making his living by greasing up the system. The “agent” economy in India is a big one today providing livelihood to thousands of people.

This, in my opinion, is good corruption. Corruption which speeds up our nation and makes it more efficient. There is a kind of capitalist shade to this corruption. You can buy “getting things done”.. without harming the nation / government exchequer.

Bad corruption is about –

– Influencing a judgement or criminal procedure
– Use of government power to get favorable deals  (eg. mining licenses)
– Issuing two passports or fake licenses
– Frauds in balance sheets / annual results

This kind of corruption promotes unfairness and loss to the nation, impedes the growth.  And then there is ugly corruption – systematic corruption done at higher levels by politicians and higher officers.

So my point is – bring out bills to hamper bad and ugly corruption but let the good corruption stay in place. Or may be give it some other name and make it legal. Some people might say that there is very subjective line between good and bad corruption and who is to decide this line. There are simple questions to ask
– Is this corruption creating loss to the nation?
– Is this corruption depriving someone of rightful right?
– Is my heart beating faster while doing this (does not apply for everyone)?

Is the answer is Yes – it is bad corruption. Don’t proceed. Jay Hind 🙂

What do you think? Is there anything like good corruption?

It Happened Because.. (The Art Of Rationalizing)

“Markets drop 29 points on below average monsoon prediction”

“Teddy Bear International’s Q1 profits jump 20% because of new strategy measures taken by the management”

“He failed because he did not listen to what I said”

“Katreena bagged first rank in her class because she attended TDH Tutorials”

“United Pokers Alliance lose by-elections because of anti-incumbency factors.”

“Sam G succeeded because of his x, y, z qualities”

“Great companies have BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)”

Why do we (and newspapers and authors) have to find a reason for anything that happens? Is it because it is very easy to rationalize any outcome. Sometimes we rationalize to justify our decisions (which are already made). While other times, we rationalize in hindsight (this happened because…).

While doing so, we forget about some basic biases we, as human beings, are infected with –

1. Fooled by randomness – Not every outcome need to have a reason. 50 – 100 points here and there in the stock index can just be noise. In success and failure, there is a luck factor.

2. Silent evidence – So, Steve Jobs is successful because he did xyz, but what about thousands of others who were equally talented and who did similar things but are not successful? What about companies who had BHAGs and all qualities of great companies, but failed? What about 1000s of Warren Buffets who lost their shirts in stock markets.

3. Complexity involved – There need not be just one factor involved in the outcome. However, the universe is so complicated that not all these factors can be factored by our human mind. To make out sense in this world, we try to rationalize and simplify it.

Now, here I am also trying to rationalize why we rationalize.

Letter to School Students – Making It Successful

Letter to School Students – Making It Successful.

The Story of Success
Outliers - The Story of Success

[The school, where I studied, turned 25 years last year and this article was published in the special magazine to commemorate the silver jubilee. Hope others find it useful too. This article is inspired from the book by Malcolm Gladwell]

Warren buffet is the richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $62 billion. But that is not exactly what my point is and what I am going to write about. The fact that stands out is that he has donated more that 85% of his hard earned money of his entire life without any pains to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation making it the largest charitable donation in history. He is a happy man living in a modest apartment with a very constrained lifestyle. He has what he needs. He has fulfilled his duties towards fellow human beings. In other words he is successful.

Similarly there are people like Vishwanath Anand, Ratan Tata and Sachin Tendulkar who have been successful in their respective domains. With a population of over 6 billion people in this world, I am sure, there are thousands, if not millions of people with similar abilities as these people. What is it that makes them more successful than rest of the people? I think the three main factors that make the difference are luck, grit and ability. We do not have much control over the first factor but let us be optimists and believe the wisdom words “fortune favors the brave”. I am going to discuss about the other two factors – grit and ability – and converge upon a very simple theme of connecting the these dots.

Ability is one’s personal trait that gives one an extra edge in achieving something. For example, a person with muscular physique will have a competitive advantage in boxing or weight lifting against a person with a lean frame like me. On the contrary, a person who is good with numbers will do better than an average in engineering. I believe that everyone in this world is born with at least on exceptionally good ability. The key is to find those set of abilities what you are good at. Next comes the grit.

One needs to nurture the ability to make it extra ordinary. Sachin Tendulkar had an ability to hit the ball at the right time with right force. He honed his skills with thousands of hours of practice and became what he is today. Buffet started investing when he was eight [some say he started when he was just five which is little hard to believe] and has been practicing for whole his life. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, started doing his practice in programming when he was in eighth grade. Here’s what he says “It [programming] was my obsession. I skipped athletics. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get twenty or thirty hours in”. Twenty or Thirty hours a week in eighth standard! Abraham Lincoln practiced law for twenty-five years and handled an average of more than two-hundred cases a year. These people did not give up when problems came but faced it with courage and conviction. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was sacked from the very same company he founded. He did not give up – he worked hard and returned again to helm of Apple. He was also diagnosed with cancer once but he again fought back and is now celebrated as an icon for introducing his design innovations [much famed iPods, iPhones, Macs etc] to this world.

In summary, I think these successful people identified their strengths and goals early and worked very hard to connect their strengths with their goals. Luck favored them. Let us all define the terms of success and start working towards it studying the footsteps of these wise people. However, we should also remember one important thing – we should define criteria for our success based on what we want to do and not what others expect us to do. So, although we should study the lives of these great people, we should create the path of our own. My best wishes to all the students for a successful future and everybody associated with Jude’s on completing glorious [and successful] 25 years!!

Learnings from Mr. Salman Khan

For people who don’t know the other Khan, (I am not talking about the well-known actor Salman Khan, not that the actor Salman Khan has nothing to offer to learn), here I am writing about Salman Khan, also known as Sal Khan, from Khan Academy. Sal Khan started making videos for his cousins who were finding it difficult to understand Maths. He was working as a hedge fund manager then. One day he quit his job and started spending full-time developing these educational videos and sharing on YouTube. Today he has more than 2000 videos available on his site. That was Mr. Khan’s introduction in short. If you want to know more about his, please visit Khan Academy’s website. Khan Academy has now become very popular and Mr. Khan is enjoying immense brand equity worldwide.

Videos provide an ultimate learning experience to students, sometimes even better than the classrooms. Students can go through videos at their own pace – rewind, forward, go as many times as they want through a lesson. Mr. Khan has also come up with a novel learning management system where students can evaluate themselves after watching the videos. The key objective in his LMS (learning management system) is that students should keep trying on one concept until they learn it completely before moving on to another concept. In our conventional education system, students progress through their classes if they secure, say 70% marks. However, do we provide driving license if one knows how to drive a car only 70%?  Mr. Khan has also come up with concept of badges to provide continuous feedback to students.

The great work done by Mr. Khan is truly admirable. However, apart from learning Maths and many other subjects from his videos, there are some lessons of life which can be learnt from Mr. Khan’s life. Here they are –

Start small – Imagine making more than 2000 videos one at a time covering diverse set of subjects. Anybody would get overwhelmed by such a thought. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” said Martin Luther King and that is what Mr. Khan started with. I am not sure if he ever thought about creating such a vast library of content.

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention (said John Burroughs)- What was Mr. Khan’s intention in the beginning? To help his cousins struggling with maths. Indeed a good intention. Was it to change the world using videos? I doubt. But then he kept working and sharing his work. His smaller deeds have turned big now.

Content is king – Instead of focusing on fancy softwares and tools, Mr. Khan focussed on creating easy-to-understand content. I have met students who find it easier to learn from his videos than what they learn face to face from their teachers. He has used no fancy animations in his videos but has delivered his lessons just like a normal teacher goes about in a classroom.

There are many more. Watch this video –

Why do you want to start a company?

Mauka Singh: I smell big opportunity in this idea of mine which I can execute very well. Man, I am going to change this world and make lot of money.

Rocky the rockstar: Yaar I cannot handle this shit anymore. I want to create something better.

Jignesh Shah: Dhando samajh mein aata hai mereko. Aur mereko wahi karna hai.

Pratap Bhanawat Singh: Papa ka sapna tha to expand this empire. My new company is going to do just that.

Pappu Panwala: I will sell pan and cigarettes and earn my livelihood sirji. No other option. Besides, it is not a bad option.

Jonny Picturewala: You know, I love making movies and you know I can make better movies than what these dumb guys are making today.

Peter MBA: Starting with 20Lacs and 20% increment per annum will make me a millionaire in so and so years. I will start this company and get $5 million VC funding and start paying myself obscene kind of money next year.

David Engineer: My job sucks. All jobs suck. WTF, I want to be my own boss.

Raghu Romeo: Kuch karna hai yaar life mein..

Udar Sharma: I would create an enterprise providing end to end solutions in education and this will in turn help create thousands of jobs for my country. I am going to grow manifold and pay tax to the government and keep helping my country.

Ram Prasad: So much poverty around yaar and nobody is targeting these poor chaps.I will show the world that I can serve the bottom of pyramid and still grow and make profits.

Jockey Singh: I want a more challenging role and I think I have more potential than what I am doing. I think doing a company will let me unleash my potential and create value around me.

Dhanraj: Major paise banane ka aur kya legal tarika hai?

Saharika: Why should I tell you?

Miharika: Saharika started. Thats why.

What is your reason? Do you need one?

Disclaimer: All names are fictional and so are all the stories.

Wrong Investments

We often come across literature motivating us to work hard, always believe in oneself and never give up unless we achieve what we are working for. Such stories would then be appended with examples of how successful people have worked hard and achieved success. Working hard is good. But these stories do not tell about 99 others who keep working looking down and fail. Fallacy of silent evidence. It is important to realise that sometimes things are not just meant to be the way you are trying them to be. It might make sense to take a pause, think and decide if it would be good to change tracks and invest on something else.

Working hard is good but not enough. Look at the Opportunity cost. There might be something else you love more – working on something else, playing with your kids, spending time with family etc. Also don’t fall down for “sunk cost fallacy” making you think “I have invested so much time (and money), I cannot let it go down the drain”, even if you are stuck in the dead-end.

Realize early. Move to the right tracks. Sell the dud stocks even if it means booking losses.

[thinking out loud (after making lot of wrong investments)]

Another Movie Marathon

Someday you wake up with a plan. someday things just happen. 31st December was one such day. It started with the morning 10 o’clock show at INOX with Tron Legacy. Followed up by Richie Rich (1994) in the afternoon, animated Cars in the evening and Twilight Saga and LOTR (probably for the 25th time) in the night. Here are short reviews.

Tron Legacy – I am not too much into sci-fi movies and don’t watch many of them. In spite of that, I find them to be so similar to each other. Tron Legacy was no different. Matrix was the movie, rest many of them are just hangovers with programs and grids and users. To give some points, it had few good 3D effects.

Richie Rich – Fun movie to watch with family but gets too dragging by the time it ends. Nothing new in the story but a good timepass.

Twilight Saga – I had been holding off myself from watching vampire movies. And after watching this movie, I think I was rightly so. A girl loves a Vampire and then there are werewolves and confrontations between the three parties. The marathon was taking its toll, I dozed off in between.

LOTR – The Return of the King – My favourite of the trilogy and one of the favourites of all the movies. Wonderful story (read the book), fabulous productions, amazing war scenes and Aragorn. Enough to keep you awake even when you are watching it nth time and it is 3 o’clock of the happy new year morning.

Next movie marathon wish-list – Social Network, Wall Street 2, Dhobhi Ghat, a good war movie and a good animation movie.

Two Stories About Culture

Two companies were born on the same day with dreams to change the world – Clouders Inc and WWaalls Inc.

Company A

Employees for Clouders Inc found the following sheet along with the offer letters they received –

Our organization inspires entrepreneurial culture where creativity is valued over conformity, cooperation is believed to lead to better results than competition, and effectiveness is judged at the system level rather than the component level. The key elements of our culture are

* People and empowerment focused
* Value creation through innovation and change
* Attention to the basics
* Hands-on management
* Doing the right thing
* Freedom to grow and to fail
* Commitment and personal responsibility
* Emphasis on the future

We blend this with our constructive values built on four pillars – Achievement, Self-actualization, Humanistic-Encouraging and Affiliative. Constructive cultures urge members to work to their full potential, resulting in high levels of motivation, satisfaction, teamwork, service quality, and sales growth.

Company B

Founders of WWalls Inc. had not studied the business formally and were not aware about what organization culture stood for. Nevertheless they listed down some points –

What are our priorities? Our strategy is to delight customer by providing mind-blowing services and sell our products if they want them. Our strategy is not to sell products to maximize profits. All priorities shall be driven from this strategy of the organization.  It is important that strategy is imbibed into the organization. With clear set of priorities defined, members can prepare checklists for themselves and take better decisions which are in the best interests of the organization.

– How are people rewarded? Solely on the basis of performance. Number of hours or number of weekends put in does not matter. Even the processes are not that significant in evaluating the performance. Although, it is difficult to judge the performance, we shall strive to be as good as possible in evaluating. Good people shall be rewarded with a fat paycheck. No stock options, no fancy promotions. Only fat paychecks. If they wish, they can buy the stock of the company with the paycheck received. More results == fatter paycheck. Simple formula. We just need to get better at calculating the results to arrive at that fat paycheck. People who do not deliver are asked to leave.

– How are people managed? Managers shall manage people by context and not authority. “Customer is shipping the product tomorrow, we are in deep shit and we got to be moving this somehow today” is better than “Work your asses off, I want to get it done today”.

– What are the rules of the organization? Ideally, there shall be no rules. Just one dictum “Act in the best interest of the organization”. Practically also, there shall be no rules. Just one dictum. No leave policy. No dress code. People are free. Just deliver the results and act in the best interest of the organization. In case you make an important decision, inform others in case you think it has to be known to somebody. In any case, you decide everything based on your priority and one dictum.

– What are actions taken for people development? People are responsible for their own careers. Organization just provides company of the best people to work with. No formal training to develop individual. People we hire are smart enough to develop themselves.

– Are these set values permanent? Nothing is permanent. We will keep working on this set to make it better.

What Happened later?

Ten years later, one of these companies was world leader in its category. The other one was struggling to cross $5 million mark. Which one do you think was the successful company and which one was dud?

Disclaimer: All companies are fictional and any resemblance to existing companies is just a coincidence. Thanks to wikipedia for reference.