Editor’s note: The following interview is part of an ongoing series for ThinkChange India where we interview social entrepreneurs firsthand. The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other Conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab. The featured social entrepreneurs this week are working to improve education in India and around the world.
A few weeks ago, we posted a guest post syndicated from Siksha.org’s blog (you can read more of their posts here), a peer to peer underwriter of annual, renewable, need-based scholarships and loans. ThinkChange India editors, Vinay Ganti and Santhosh Ramdoss had a chance to chat up with the co-founders of Siksha.org, Neil Patel and Kushal Chakrabarti. The following is a recap of the phone conversation.
Vinay Ganti: Thanks for taking time to talk to ThinkChange India. Tell us briefly about Siksha.org
Kushal Cakrabarti: Siksha.org came out from our fundamental belief that the biggest waste in the world is people who are continuing to be left uneducated. So, we created an online platform that would provide need based scholarships and loans for lower income people, using a peer to peer model. Think of us as the Kiva.org for education.
Santhosh Ramdoss: What is the mechanics of the process and how does the platform work?
KC: We partner with schools and Education related NGOs who are in direct contact with students going to school from low-income families. We do outreach to form partnership with these NGOs and Schools, who have contact with the students and can create a profile and upload it to the site. Thus, the student becomes available for the sponsorship.
SR: Who does the money go to?
Neil Patel: The money first goes to our local liaison partner, be they a school, NGO, or individual volunteer. From there, it depends on what the money is used for. Our school partners deposit tuition funds themselves, and disburse money for school uniforms and other personal expenses on a monthly basis to the students’ families.
VG: How do you manage these relationships in the ground?
KC: I spend a lot of time on the phone. Relationship that matters, we have begun with a small network of people who already know us and trust us. Most of Siksha.org is not technology, it’s actually the relationships.
SR: What are your plans for taking the model to Scale?
KC: It’s hard for me to give a concrete answer. There are a lot interesting questions. The right solution is to partner with schools and NGOs. Do audits in the back end and have a relationship in the front end. Have random audits and relatively accurate accounts. Also, we are thinking hard about our student to liaison ratio. To be scalable, we want to partner directly with people interacting with the students.
SR : What is the story behind Siksha.org? How did you both come about starting the organization?
NP: I was in India in Gujarat working with an NGO working with small-holding farmers. I also had the opportunity to visit two or three schools in rural areas. I had a decent exposure to the way in which government schools work. Around the same time Kushal and I started talking about our experiences and there was some crosspollination about education. It was really Kushal’s initiative,.
KC: Its hard for me to identify what the spark was. Its this article that I read in the NY Times about this Rikshawallah sending his kid to school, spending 20-30% of his annual income to send them to school. A lot of families can do this immense sacrifice – for every family that pulls together, there are many another that fall through the crack. That is immense potential being wasted if the parents cannot afford to send the child to school.
VG: Where is Siksha.org now and what are your immediate goals?
KC: We have been working on it for eight months now and we are in a private beta. Everything is working, but the focus is really now on working out the kinks. We are currently live in six cities in India. We are also talking to partners in Burma, Columbia and Mexico. The goal by the end of year is to hit 1000 funded scholarships. To go to scale, we need external money.
SR: Thanks for talking to us. Your model for sure holds immense promise and we will continue to track your growth here at ThinkChange India.