Solution for low-income schools to help tackle the education crisis in India
418 teams comprising 1,186 participants from over 20 countries submitted apps
A LOW-cost blended learning solution developed in India took home the first prize in the inaugural DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia that attracted social entrepreneurs from across Asia who had been working on solutions that could make a social impact in their respective communities and beyond.
Zaya Learning Labs won a trophy and a cash prize of S$30,0001. Set up in 2013, the company has developed a solution for low-income schools to help tackle the education crisis in India, where nearly 60% of children do not complete primary school. [S$1 = US$0.80]
Its solution addresses what the team believes to be the root of this crisis – variability in teaching quality, poor infrastructure, limited attention for each student, and infrequent measurement of learning outcomes.
Zaya Learning Labs’ has developed applications, such as instructional videos, assessment questions, lesson plans and performance analytics. These are uploaded onto its proprietary ClassCloud, a portable device that acts as a WiFi router, server, storage and battery pack. Teachers and students can access its content using any WiFi-enabled device.
Zaya Learning Labs has piloted this solution in schools around Mumbai, reaching out to some 600 students. It said it has also trained more than 100 teachers in workshops, for more effective learning outcomes.
Moving forward, Zaya Learning Labs will spread initially across India, before targeting other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in order to realise its vision of world-class learning for every child.
“In 2011, I took a sabbatical from my work as a software engineer in the United States to do volunteer work in various Asian countries,” said founder and chief executive officer Neil D’Souza.
“I saw that children from low-income families lacked access to quality, affordable education and decided to tackle this through Zaya Learning Labs. Moving from being an employee in a large organisation to a social enterprise entrepreneur was challenging, but worth it.
“I’m now pursuing my passion and have the potential to make real impact,” he said, adding that the company will use the prize money to expand the reach of its pilot programmes around India.
More than 400 innovative social venture ideas were submitted to the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia, its organisers said in a statement.
Zaya Learning Labs clinched the top spot, followed by Maya Universe Academy, and with Bodhi Health Education and Local Alike tying in third place.
“Our heartiest congratulations go out to the Zaya Learning Labs, Maya Universe Academy, Bodhi Health Education and Local Alike, as the inaugural winners of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia,” said NUS Enterprise CEO Dr Lily Chan (pic).
“They have demonstrated strong potential of turning a concept into a concrete business plan, with actionable steps of generating scalable and sustainable social impact.
“NUS Enterprise hopes that the winners, together with other participants, will see this competition as just the start of their career as social entrepreneurs who are willing to make a difference in this world,” she added.
The DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge was first launched in September 2013, to identify and support new social ventures that have the potential to generate scalable and sustainable social impact.
A total of 418 teams comprising 1,186 participants from over 20 countries submitted applications. Over the past eight months, participants refined and validated their business ideas, receiving guidance from mentors and advice from experienced social entrepreneurs.
Two rounds of judging resulted in six finalists being selected in May, with public online voting choosing the seventh ‘wild card’ finalist. All seven teams came to Singapore to pitch their business plans to a judging panel recently.
“We salute the finalists and congratulate the first batch of winners of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia,” said Karen Ngui, head of Group Strategic Marketing & Communications at DBS Bank.
“Being selected as the top 2% from a pool of over 400 entries over an eight-month period is testament to how talented these teams are and how far they have come.
“These young social entrepreneurs have impressed us with their passion, drive and the creative quality of their ideas. It is heartening to see so many young entrepreneurs determined to be a force for good.
“My colleagues and I in DBS look forward to mentoring and helping these social entrepreneurs further hone their business acumen, as we continue to nurture and develop the social entrepreneurship sector in the region,” she added.
Maya Universe Academy
The first runner-up received S$15,000 in cash prize. Maya Universe Academy is a network of schools in rural Nepal which provides education to children in exchange for volunteer work.
It is the first and only free private school in Nepal with a model which can be adapted and replicated in other developing countries in the long run.
Instead of paying school fees, parents provide two days of volunteer work at the school every month, such as working on the school farm or making handicrafts to be sold at a nearby market.
Maya Universe Academy offers a diverse curriculum that evolves to achieve the best possible outcome for each student, while also maintaining standards in accordance with Nepal’s national curriculum.
“We started a small community school in 2011 as a green tent pitched in the jungle, with the plan to enrol 10 students,” said Maya Universe Academy founder Manjil Rana.
“However, when 200 families showed up during admissions, we had to evolve quickly. As word of our vision and philosophy reaches neighbouring villages more applied,” she added.
3rd prize winners
Bodhi Health Education aims to improve healthcare in India by providing quality, skill-based medical education to community health workers. It created a scalable training solution which teaches complex medical topics to semi-literate women, using videos in regional languages.
Bodhi Health Education leverages on low-cost tablet computers (US$65), mobile phones and existing IT infrastructure at health centres to deliver its proprietary medical content, which has been developed and curated by a team of medical experts, supported by professional illustrators.
The training provided by Bodhi Health Education not only improves patient healthcare, it also benefits the health workers as they can perform their jobs more effectively, increasing the likelihood of higher incomes.
Local Alike is a social enterprise that promotes community-based tourism, with the objective of preserving local cultures while providing economic opportunities to the local community. At the same time, tourists benefit from authentic travel experiences.
Local Alike acts as a liaison platform between local entrepreneurs and tourists, ensuring both parties’ expectations are met.
The company has set up a web portal, created a local tour guide database and established strong partnerships with local communities. The latter includes helping to set up tour packages and self-sustaining community-based tourism development funds, which can be used for projects such as
improving infrastructure or environmental conservation.
Incorporated in 2013, Local Alike has worked with 10 communities throughout Thailand, bringing some 350 tourists to these regions, generating nearly US$40,000 in tourism revenue so far.
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