Edupreneur extraordinaire

The blue chip New Delhi-based e-learning company Educomp Solutions Ltd (ESL) plans to invest Rs.2,000 crore over the next four-five years to start up 150 primary-cum-secondary schools countrywide. Branded the Millennium Schools they will be promoted at an average cost of Rs.12-14 crore each.

"Even though India needs schools and a majority of parents have the capacity to pay, there is a dearth of good quality schools, since existing top schools lack scale. Also there is no proper intellectual property and infrastructure management in the existing school system. This is where we intend to step in to provide standardised high quality schools on a nationwide scale. With over 40 percent of Educomp’s business and efforts directed towards working with government schools, we understand the importance of equity and social responsibility in school education," says Shantanu Prakash, promoter managing director of ESL.

An alumnus of Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi and IIM-Ahmedabad, Prakash promoted ESL in 1994. Since then it has grown into India’s largest technology-driven K-XII education company with an employee base of 2,790 professionals. Currently ESL serves over 4 million learners and educators in India, the US and Singapore, delivering innovative technology-aided pedagogies and content to enhance student learning.

To be registered in cities across India by independent trusts and societies, the Millennium Schools will provide a unique blend of global best practices combined with the best traditions of the Indian education system with the added advantage of freedom to utilise the Millennium Learning System (MLS), Educomp’s proprietary learning system developed for schools.

Unlike most IIM graduates who opt for plum jobs in the corporate sector, Prakash was determined to take the entrepreneurial path ab initio. Starting his career in a "quasi-entrepreneurial education venture" he quit soon after to promote ESL in 1994, with the corporate objective of establishing computer labs in schools. With most school managements baulking at the prospect of investing in expensive computer labs, Prakash devised ESL’s unique BOOT (build, own, operate and transfer) model under which the company installs the required computer lab, builds the networking infrastructure, and offers content in exchange for a monthly fee of Rs.80-100 per student. "Within three years we recover our capital and opportunity costs after which we transfer the lab to the school," he explains.

Quite obviously financial wizards and pundits approve of the ESL business model. Currently the equity share of ESL (Rs.10 paid up) is quoted at Rs.3,968.75 (January 24) on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Looking ahead, Prakash intends to expand his operations to give ESL global reach. "We believe our products and services are globally scaleable, especially since the education that students get in the first 16 years is fairly similar around the world, particularly in maths and science. Moreover as an India-based company, we have the added advantage of access to huge intellectual capital including the largest number of teachers in the world who can generate content and provide distance tuition at very cost effective prices," says Prakash.

To this end ESL recently acquired Ask and Learn, a heavyweight education company in Singapore with a market share of over 60 percent. "This will serve as our gateway into the Asia Pacific region. Simultaneously, we are looking at acquiring other companies in countries such as Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Thailand. Our aim is to become the dominant player in the K-XII education space," says Prakash.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)

Gubernatorial educationist

Sited in the foothills of Mussoorie, in the village of Dandanoori Wala in Uttarakhand, Him Jyoti School, a free residential institution for girls from underprivileged backgrounds, is receiving rich encomiums for providing much-needed impetus to education of rural girl children. Promoted in 2005 by Sudarshan Agarwal, former governor of Uttarakhand and currently governor of Sikkim, this CBSE-affiliated class V-VIII school offers quality education, board and lodging to 92 girl students from across the Doon valley.

"I strongly believe the best way to empower women is through proper education. In village India, there is pervasive gender bias against girl children, with male children given priority in school enrollment. Through Him Jyoti we hope to provide girls quality education which will enable them to break the cycle of education deprivation and poverty to become productive citizens in their own right," says Agarwal.

Constructed at a cost of Rs.5 crore and spread across 10 verdant acres, 5 km from Dehradun, arguably the schools capital of India, Him Jyoti admits 30 young girls into class V every year for completely free education. Selection is based on academic ability and a minimum average of 60 percent in class IV is the cut-off. Moreover the parents’ income should not exceed Rs.8,000 per month and only one girl child per family is admitted. Most of Him Jyoti’s girl students come from nearby government primary schools. Once admitted, the school provides for all requirements — tuition fees, uniforms, books, stationery, toiletries, board and lodging.

A legal luminary, Agarwal has had a long and distinguished innings in the Indian judicial service beginning as a judicial magistrate in Punjab in 1956 and retiring as the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission in 2001. In 2003, he was appointed the second governor of the state of Uttarakhand which was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000. While resident in Dehradun’s Raj Bhavan, he set up the Him Jyoti Foundation to promote the eponymous school and to offer scholarships to meritorious students pursuing professional study programmes. Agarwal has raised over Rs.8 crore for the Him Jyoti Foundation.

Two years on, Him Jyoti School boasts contemporary classrooms, games facilities and a state-of-the-art boarding facility. Academic instruction apart, girl students are imparted training in knitting, craft, embroidery, drama and elocution. "We place special emphasis on equipping students with maths, English and computational abilities. Once they finish schooling, I plan to give some of the Him Jyoti scholarships to our school girls to pursue higher education. This will help them transform into role models and community leaders," says Agarwal.

With the success of his maiden education venture, which has taken off and is coasting, this fund-raiser extraordinaire is all set to roll out a new project. "I want to set up a school in Sikkim where girl students will be taught vocations such as tankha making and cloth and carpet weaving," he says.

Wind in your sails !

Natasha Pathak (Dehradun)

Aswasa angels

One of the numerous cruelties of the country’s crumbling law, order and justice systems, is that young and vulnerable children of convicted felons are left to fend for themselves and deprived of education — a deprivation which forces them into crime. This is a social problem which Joseph Mathew, founder of Corrections India (estb.1987), set out to address. Since then this Kottayam-based NGO not only provides counselling and de-addiction programmes in prisons in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it has also established Aswasa Bhavan, a home for the children of prisoners serving sentences in various jails in Kerala. Currently it houses 50 children aged between five-14 years.

Aswasa Bhavan is the dream fulfilled of Mathew, a qualified chartered accountant who promoted it in 1987 after winning a personal battle with alcoholism. Hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol, Mathew survived hospitalisation with chronic liver damage in 1982. "I was in a coma for 17 days, but miraculously returned from death’s doorstep. It was a turning point and I resolved to dedicate my life to humanitarian activities. In 1983, I started visiting jails in Kerala to counsel prisoners and realised that most of them feared for the future of their children. In 1987, Aswasa Bhavan became a reality," says Mathew who put all his personal savings into the project.

The following year he had a fortuitous meeting with Aneena, a postgraduate from the Udaipur School of Sociology. They were married in 1989 and Aneena joined forces with her husband to manage Aswasa Bhavan. In its 20 year history the home has helped rehabilitate 500 children. Currently its 50 resident children attend the neighbouring Corpus Christi English School. Spread across a ten acre campus, Aswasa Bhavan offers its wards a modest library, a debating club and sports facilities. "We also finance the higher education of our children. Some of them are pursuing MBA and nursing courses," says Aneena.

Given its excellent credentials, Aswasa Bhavan has been honoured by the Central government and several socio-cultural organisations. Among the honours: the Rajiv Gandhi Manav Seva Award for Service to Children (2003); the Sadguru Gnannanda National Award for excellence in social work (2007); and citations from the US-based World Malayali Conference and Illinois Malayali Association.

Encouraged by the success of their activism, the Mathews plan to expand the capacity of Aswasa Bhavan. "We want to build a spacious dormitory building at an estimated cost of Rs.20 lakh to accommodate 100 children. A proposal to start an English medium school in the premises of Aswasa Bhavan is also on the cards," says Joseph.

The force be with you!

Sanjay Pandey (Kottayam)

Dummies guide author

or over 12 years, Ranjini Manian, promoter-chief executive of Global Adjustments (estb.1995), a Chennai-based relocation and cross-cultural services firm, has been assisting thousands of foreign nationals and multinational corporations including Ford, Hyundai, Citibank and Nokia to set up shop and homes in India. Therefore when the 100-year-old US-based book publishing company John Wiley and Sons Inc. (estb. 1807) began a head hunt for an Indian author to write Doing Business in India for Dummies, Manian was a natural choice.

Doing Business in India for Dummies is the first book on India in the enormously successful For Dummies series initiated in 1991 with DOS for Dummies, published by Hungry Minds Inc, a company acquired by John Wiley in 2001. Today this prolific series of 1,000 instructional books on eclectic subjects, has over 125 million copies in print in a dozen languages. The unique selling proposition of the Dummies series is its down-to-earth style and light-hearted tenor, employed to simplify highly complex technical subjects and business issues.

Launched in Chennai in September last year, Doing Business in India has already chalked up sales of 3,500 copies in the US and 1,100 copies in India and is being marketed across Europe and South-east Asia. "Currently India is a hot investment destination and on the radar of major corporates around the world. My biggest challenge while writing this book was to simplify complex laws, rules and regulations, for which I had to do considerable research and invite assistance from experts conversant with industry, law and trade regulations," says Manian, a French literature postgrad of Elphinstone College, Mumbai with a diploma in the subject from University of Sorbonne, Paris.

Fluent in French, Japanese and Spanish besides English and several Indian languages, during the past dozen years Manian has expanded Global Adjustments into an end-to-end cross cultural services company with a clientele of 500 top level expatriates annually. Although she prefers to keep the financials of Global Adjustments confidential, Manian discloses a head count of 50 employees in branch offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore.

"In Global Adjustments as well as Doing Business in India, my prime objective has been to portray the best face of India to facilitate individuals and corporates wanting to do business in this country. Since global interest in India is rising, I plan to increasingly use the internet and electronic media to provide information," says Manian.

Right on, sister!

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

Global girl child champion

Founder of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), a San Francisco-based non-governmental advocacy group for women’s empowerment, Lawrence A. Chickering believes that educated women are the principal change agents in developing countries. "It’s well known that educated working women make huge contributions to the European and American economies. Around the world there’s no dearth of research studies which directly connect women’s education with national well-being and progress," says Chickering who founded EGG in 2000, with the aim of bridging the gender gap and pushing for quality education for all girl children.

A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, after completing his blue- chip higher education Chickering took the road less travelled and worked for over three decades in development economics, helping national governments to design and implement socio-economic reforms to provide the fruits of development to disadvantaged people around the world.

To this end in 1986, Chickering founded the International Center for Economic Growth (ICEG), which promotes economic reforms through affiliates in 117 countries around the world, including India. Later in 1993, he was appointed advisor of the planning agency Gosplan to evolve a strategy for economic reform in post-Soviet Russia. After a couple more years of accelerating economic reforms in Egypt, Chickering shifted his attention to the education of girl children and promoted EGG in 2000 with a seed funding of US $300,000 (Rs.1.2 crore) drawn from several charitable foundations. Since then the annual expenditure of EGG has grown to over $700,000 (Rs.2.8 crore), most of which is likely to be deployed on education projects in India.

"We are currently active in two states of India — Rajasthan and Uttarakhand — where we are involved with 100 pilot schools. Our programme aims to build capacity in traditional village and government bureaucracies to stimulate change in school management systems. Initially, our focus will be on 15,000 children in co-educational government primary schools in Rajasthan, and on girls who have dropped out of school," says Chickering.

Plans have been finalised to expand the EGG programme in Rajasthan in particular. "We have successfully developed a girls education model for government schools in Rajasthan. We intend to actively reach out to 10,000 schools within a short period of time. We are also working on developing suitable girls’ education programmes for four other states in India and in developing countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Tanzania," concludes Chickering.

EW is with you in this great cause!

Srinidhi Raghavendra (Dallas, USA)