Category Archives: Interviews

K.C Mishra: transforming India through the use of ICT and eKutir

KC Mishra (KC) is a veteran social innovator and Ashoka fellow, who has 30 years of leadership experience in areas like rural banking, microfinance, agriculture development, education and technology services. An Ashoka Fellow, KC has many certification and accolades under his belt. He is certified in “Innovative Organizational Model of Farmers” from Graduate Institute of Co-operative Leadership (GICL), University of Missouri, is an honorary trustee to Global Knowledge Partnership Foundation (GKPF), and an Advisor to BoP (Base of Pyramid) Hub.

In 2009, KC founded eKutir (eKutir Rural Management Services Private Limited), a socially focused venture engaged in innovating new products, services, and sustainable models of development at the BoP market. While eKutir is inspired by the Hubli Sandbox model philosophy, and is part of Action For India’s (AFI) Vision 2020 project whose goal is to create 20 Hubli type sandboxes by the 2020, it is different, because all its initiatives are for-profit.

Currently operating out of Odisha. It works in three areas: agriculture (Krishi Vikas), sanitation (Svadha), and social finance (One Acre Venture). It also operates a e-commerce venture called VeggieKart. Broadly, eKutir acts as an incubator that validates ideas, tests them in the field, iterates if necessary, and after validation, packages and releases them into BoP markets.

KC decided to choose the Hubli Sandbox model, because he believes that the Sandbox as a concept is a good initiative, that brings together young talent and ideas, where their ideas can be accepted, and they receive the required guidance. Since the Hubli Sandbox has demonstrated success in scaling, he believes, that following the model was a good idea. “Orissa needs good initiatives to create social impact. Lots of youngsters, have ideas, but need a forum to experiment, and need the help of experts take it to field. When AFI wanted to popularise the Sandbox model, I said yes,” says KC. KC has been busy popularizing the eKutir idea in among individuals who have ideas to solve problems of society.

One of the key things that eKutir offers is the strong mentoring, provided by a network of partners including: AFI, BOP Hubs (Singapore), Ashoka group and Headstart.
They have already incubated two ventures. “Svadha was formed when Garima Sahai resigned her job and wanted to do something in social entrepreneurship. Ekutir had a bunch of ideas. We incubated Svadha together and it is doing exceedingly well now,” adds KC. Svadha is a subsidiary of eKutir that works in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

The idea to form VeggieKart came from linking farmers to consumers. They adopted a new design and co-designed innovations, these designs and ideas in terms of product portfolio, price, packaging and last mile delivery solutions were validated in the last mile lab. It is doing really well, KC wants to replicate in India across the globe: already different organizations in Africa and even US have shown interest.

Through Krishi Vikas Initiative, eKutir offers ICT enabled tools to farmers for soil nutrient analysis, seed selection and farmer portfolio management. In addition, they support local farmers by setting up franchises and local hubs, and provide training to local entrepreneurs on agricultural advice and trade information.

The role of partners is very important at eKutir. They have 32 partners including foundations, think tanks, universities and corporates. Some of them include Unilever, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Intel, Ashoka, BoP Connect, BoP Hub, Grameen, Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) and Yunus Social Business.

The impact so far has been encouraging. “With agriculture, we are working with 1000 farmers, and by linking farmers to cities, we are encouraging more than 100 micro-entrepreneurs to sell directly to consumers. In sanitation, we are engaged with 126 entrepreneurs and have built 10,000 toilets so far, that impacts close to 50,000 people: We have touched 20,000 individuals through information and communication technology (ICT) for which we won a Facebook innovation award,” says KC.

eKutir is currently welcoming social entrepreneurs and offers full infrastructure support, human resources, legal advice, mentoring, supply chain support and investment help.

Please contact +91 674 255 5550 (http://www.ekutirsb.com) for more.

This article first appeared on the Facebook page of Action for India.

Meghshala, a school on the cloud that looks beyond textbooks

Here’s a fact.

In India, one in every five primary school teachers in India, lacks the stipulated minimum academic qualifications to teach a class. A group of intellectuals decide to fix this problem using technology. The result is Meghshala, which literally means ‘a school on cloud’. Meghshala is a charitable trust that creates thought-provoking learning experiences designed and delivered using cloud computing.

The problem that is that teachers and students in government and low income schools lack resources, motivation, and skills to be effective. This results in poor teaching outcomes with students not proficient in basic math, language or science knowledge and skills. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 report shows that barely half of children in grade 5 could read a grade 2 level text.   “The dire need for reinventing our teacher training system in the country got us to start Meghshala,” says Ullas Kumar, VP Education Operations at Meghshala.  The founders of Meghshala— Jyoti Thyagarajan and Sridhar Ranganathan—decided to equip teachers with advanced tools to create an engaging classroom experience for the students. Meghshala aims to accelerate student learning and ease classroom instruction by using technology as a medium.

The Meghshala team comprises of an enthusiastic bunch of eighteen people who have deep expertise in multiple fields, ranging from digital media and graphic arts to content writing and education. “Most of us have been teachers in government, private and international schools,” says Amrutha Murali, the implementation and partner manager at Meghshala. “The one common thing that binds us together is our innate drive to bridge the education gap.”

The name Meghshala aptly portrays the way this social enterprise operates. In Sanskrit, ‘Megh’ means cloud and ‘Shala’ means school, Meghshala, therefore, stands for ‘a school on the cloud.’ The name encapsulates idea of delivering thought-provoking learning experiences using cloud technology across different schools.

The charitable trust is currently based in Bengaluru, working with 15 classrooms and is planning to reach 219 classrooms, 520 teachers, and 6570 students in Karnataka by the end of this year.

Creative learning process

Meghshala believes in creating a classroom where students and teachers enjoy the process of learning. “Curiosity and fun are an integral part of any classroom,” says Ullas Kumar, VP education operations at Meghshala. “Our lessons are built to bring the ‘AHA!’ moments in the classroom for both the teachers and students.”

The unique initiative provides an adaptive learning solution called Teach Kits. This learning solution incorporates a deluge of multimedia content such as videos, images, real-life stories, activities and powerful questions. These Teach kits are hosted on a cloud-based learning management system which can be accessed by teachers across different schools. Through Teach Kits, Meghshala transforms prescribed list of topics into an exciting, informative and thoughtful curriculum.

“The virtual platform allows us to scale across borders and impact the maximum number of teachers,” says Ullas. “Our impact is gauged using data collected through phones and tablets used by our implementation managers.”

Meghshala trains teachers by supporting them with ‘virtual master tutors’ in class. “The support will be in the form of instructions which are customized to the level of the teacher,” says Ullas. “Teachers will also be provided physical support in the classroom to ensure better adoption of our material.”

The Meghshala cloud is populated with lessons on every chapter—from Grade 1 to Grade 10. All these lessons are taught with the skill of a master teacher, a person who has deep knowledge in the field of education or a specific topic. The units help students learn and recall facts understand the process, think about applications, analyze data, evaluate answers and envision creative solutions to authentic real life problems.

“Each unit will be informed by a set of basic values and ethical stances. Supported by our instructions, teachers will execute these lessons in class. Teachers will initially follow these instructions but will later be encouraged to customize and create new lessons according to their requirement,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala team encourages students to actively participate in debates, discussions, while showing powerful videos with relevant questions. “These kinds of activities help students hone and develop other skill sets,” says Amrutha.

Looking beyond textbooks

Meghshala has paved the way for students and teachers to look far and beyond textbooks. The Meghshala lessons give access and exposure to information to teachers and students which are not available in textbooks. The teachers who are working with Meghshala have been highly receptive and understand integrating technology within education is the way forward.

“The students enjoy learning this way. They like the videos and the activities the teach kits provide. They specifically ask the teachers to use the Meghshala lessons to teach,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala has conducted pre and post tests during its pilot project and witnessed tremendous increase in test scores. The company could see the growth in as less as four months. “Going beyond the marks or the scores, we see a huge change in the classroom atmosphere. Kids are engaging in discussions, teachers are conducting activities to improve understanding. It’s an engaging, vibrant learning environment we see,” says Amrutha.

Creating social impact

Unlike other reputed institutions that educate students with an individualistic approach, Meghshala aims at creating social impact by incorporating ‘learner profiles’ which push students towards realizing their responsibility towards society at large.

“For example, during the implementation of one of our Grade 8 Mathematics lessons on Simple Interest, the teacher delivering the lesson also created the space for students to empathize with struggling farmers and the farmer suicides prevalent in rural Maharashtra. The Teach Kit guided the teacher to ask powerful questions and propelled students to critically examine about the community around them. This whole exercise was completed whilst learning a basic concept of Grade 8 Mathematics,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala motivates teachers to create rich learning environments which in turn help where students become aware of existing social issues and collaborate to find solutions. The company makes an effort to inspire students to be a helping hand and bring what they have learned to their community and grow up to become responsible citizens. “We believe that a population gainfully employed in finding solutions to social problems will have positive impacts on the global economy and conscience,” says Amrutha.

Broadening horizons  

This unique initiative has received positive response from both the teachers and students in its partner schools. Meghshala aims to impact 100,000 teachers by 2020. The company further plans to expand its operations across the country and abroad. “In the coming year we are planning on expanding into Kenya and few other African countries,” says Amrutha. “We see our self as enablers of human resources. We dream that we can help set the stage for India to be a true leader of the global economy.”