[TC-I Changemakers]: Interview with the founders of Siksha.org

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.
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