November 29th, 2013
November 5th, 2013
By the United Nation’s measure, effectively 171 million people could be lifted from poverty in developing countries if basic literacy is met. Addressing the achievement gap among low-income students is perhaps the most powerful weapon in fighting poverty and improving quality of life.
Educators in emerging markets often voice concern that technology will make their jobs redundant. Despite this apprehension, new education-technology (ed-tech) solutions are demonstrating a convergence between old and new teaching methods. Many solutions are tackling some of the world’s biggest education issues, like addressing the achievement gap at the base of the pyramid by enhancing the role of educators rather than replacing the meaningful tasks they fulfil.
This gap is attributed to a number of root causes. Large class sizes, variability in teacher quality, limited measurement of student outcomes, and skill deficits currently thwart progress. Education technology is one of the ways in which organisations are trying to deliver low-cost, quality education to this segment of society.
Currently, the issue of accessibility remains a central challenge to providing quality education and content to areas where modern infrastructure is lacking. India’s 2011 census found more than 60% of the population to be living in rural and underserved areas. This has only exacerbated the disparity in educational attainment and quality of life between both ends of the economic spectrum. This challenge is amplified when users develop an aversion to using technology if they encounter difficulties when using it. Despite these challenges, much progress has been made in recent years. A range of social enterprises have dedicated their efforts to pursuing ed-tech solutions that eradicate a myriad of problems currently crippling education systems worldwide.
Despite progress, uptake of ed-tech solutions has been slow. General scepticism exists due to previous ed-tech failures, as do serious infrastructural hurdles regarding scarcity of power and electricity. There is also great hesitation to adopt ed-tech due to a false perception that teachers will become obsolete.
Nonetheless, there is a new generation of social enterprise dedicated to developing holistic solutions that overcome these challenges. In order to be successful, these solutions must address the aforementioned challenges. Technology must be easy-to-use so teachers can focus on student learning. In the mean time, it is important enterprises conduct robust pilots to determine what works best in these environments.
At Zaya, we are combining elements of traditional instruction and new pedagogy. We have created a lightweight device that harnesses interactive technology, whilst providing a blended learning approach and robust teacher training. The device works both online and offline, running for up to 10 hours on battery power, making it workable even in the most remote areas.
Social enterprise is a rapidly growing space, with many innovators focused on reform and improvement of education systems. As these enterprises grow and scale their impact, there is tremendous potential to bridge the aforementioned achievement gap for millions of children. Whilst this challenge is significant, it makes it an exciting time to be an educational entrepreneur in India.
Author: Atma Volunteer Georgia McRae works with our portfolio organisation- Zaya. Zaya is an ed-tech social enterprise that provides a network of Learning Labs for children at the BoP. She has a keen interest in learning about innovative solutions to development challenges and plans to commence her Juris Doctor in 2014.This post was first published on the Sankalp blog.
September 17th, 2013
Someone once said,“An entrepreneur without funding is a musician without an instrument.” Entrepreneurs, whether social or business, often find themselves unable to translate their ideas and passion into successful or impactful initiatives. Having worked with over 26 education non-profits and social enterprises, Atma realises that the vicious cycle of financial constraints, is a major deterrent in scaling these organisations. Atma Executive Director- Mary Ellen says, “Over the last six years, we have seen so many passionate social entrepreneurs with bold ideas for tackling the mammoth issue of education. Often times, all they need is someone to have a little faith and to give them the push needed to move from idea to impact.”
Whilst Atma has always provided non-financial support to our portfolio organisations, we understand that funding is an important piece of the puzzle. Keeping this mind, we have been actively working on connecting our portfolio organisations to potential funders. It is during this search that Atma began working with Paperseed Foundation in May 2013. A sister concern of Cell Mark, Paperseed supports education initiatives that can provide innovative solutions for strengthening education.
In September 2013, one of our portfolio organisations- Umang Charitable Trust was selected by Paperseed as a grantee and was awarded over 21000$ in grant funding. Umang is non-profit organisation that works with children with autism and learning disabilities. As a result of this funding, Umang has been able to increase their reach and impact through a new centre in Bhayander.
Executive Director of Paperseed Foundation, Aliyya Mattos visited us this week to identify more potential grantees. With our business planning workshop coming to a close, 7 of our portfolio organisations made their final presentations. It was a big learning for Atma and some of our portfolio organisations to get a funders’ perspective from Paperseed Foundation. Here is the week in photos:
Business Planning Workshop- Atma portfolio organisations make their final presentations.
Aliyya Mattos and Arti Aurora of Paperseed Foundation visit Atma portfolio organisation- Umang’s new centre in Bhayander.
July 5th, 2013
What is our impact? How has our work made a difference? Development organisations often ask themselves these questions. Over the years Atma has been assessing its work and impact through internally developed tools. However, in a bid to dig deeper, Atma recently piloted an impact assessment tool called Most Significant Change (MSC). This process involves collecting stories of change experienced by beneficiaries through interviews or discussions.
To pilot this technique Atma chose one partner organisation -Bright Future. With the help of an external MSC consultant- Ms. Andrea Farley, Atma interviewed the various stakeholders involved in the Atma- Bright Future partnership- Bright Future founder, program director, program officer, Atma partnership manager. The stories of change collected were then evaluated by an external panel to choose the Most Significant Change story. This story represents all the changes that Atma has helped bring about in Bright Future.
Nilofer Jailor (Program Officer, Bright Future)
“I completed my M.A in psychology in 2009 and I came to NRI (Bright Future)* in 2011- Kishor selected me to work on their school program which was called Bright Future . At that point of time we had only a vague idea about what we wanted to do -something in the area of career guidance and support. We planned our program accordingly, but at that time we only did career awareness sessions with students.
There were no real processes or structures in place before Atma. After Atma began to work with us in July 2012 we realised the importance of processes, documentation, reporting- Atma gave us a clear direction, more structure and helped with planning. Our program is now whole and strong and aimed at well-rounded development of children.
Now we are not just working with students- but also their teachers, parents, principals and the community. We are much more focused on outcomes now- for me quality of our programs is very important- no matter how many students I work with- 500 or 900 the quality of delivery should remain the same.
I have a lot of tasks at Bright Future- conducting life skills sessions, counselling, career guidance sessions, coordinating mentor meetings, parents meeting etc. which I found difficult to manage earlier. But I have now learnt how to manage my time and tasks. I have started prioritizing my work which has helped me to cope with my workload.
All the Atma volunteers who have come to Bright Future have been wonderful- they have been very involved in not only their work but have also taken the effort to interact with our students.
Maude was one such volunteer who came to work with us. She took all of our inputs and then creatively put together a great module. In fact both- the bright future and mentoring- modules have made my life very easy.
Today we can confidently speak about our programs to schools and parents. We just got permission to work with a school called Shivaji Vidyalaya where we will be working with 180 students from 9th standard. Hopefully by the end of this year we will have added two more schools. Last week we also launched our mentorship program with 40 engineering students and 7 mentors which is a major achievement for us.
The biggest change for me personally has been the improvement in my communication skills. When Atma sent its first volunteer to us- Tom- all of us had to work on our language because he obviously could not understand Hindi. I am so thankful to Atma for this as these interactions with foreign volunteers have helped me gain my self- confidence. All the changes that Atma has brought- the monthly planning, progress reports, documentation- have brought so much more structure to Bright Future.
All of this together has brought about a change in me- I find myself becoming stronger every day. Now wherever I go I ask people- friends, family or acquaintances to engage with Bright Future- whether as mentors or through funding. I don’t hesitate to speak to anyone about us. I can now wake up from my sleep even and talk about Bright Future. This organisation is in my head, my heart and just about everywhere.”
*Bright Future was previously called New Resolution India (NRI).
(L-R: Nilofer with Atma Volunteer and with Bright Future student at their Independence day celebration)
June 14th, 2013
Rags to riches. Its the kind of stuff that dreams are made of. A small town boy trying to make it big has often times been the central theme of popular culture stories and movies in India. Suraj Patro however belongs to the growing number of young minds in India who are foregoing this narrative to carve not just their own destiny but that of their entire community.
Suraj has taken this leap in his role as Associate Director of OSCAR. One of Atma’s NGO Partners, OSCAR strives to empower children with life skills through the medium of football.
Suraj knows the difference that role models coupled with constructive extracurricular activities can make in the lives of children from disadvantaged communities. At 14 years of age Suraj left his village in Jharkhand to live with his parents who were working in Mumbai at the time. Suraj’s mother worked as a domestic helper for a well-to do family in Colaba. His earnest nature and desire to study inspired generosity in the lady of the house and she offered to sponsor his dream to continue his studies. In exchange for this kindness, Suraj lived with the family and worked as a part-time errand boy and house help.
Studying in a BMC school in the city presented a formidable challenge for Suraj. Cultural shock coupled with prejudiced attitudes towards students from smaller towns and villages meant that he had to work twice as hard to prove his abilities. ” I was often discriminated against because I came from a village. Even the teachers dismissed me because of it. But I loved studying and I knew I had to prove myself.” So determined was his resolve that not only did he do well in his exams but eventually became many a teacher’s favourite student. ” I started participating in sports and other extracurricular activities. All the teachers began to appreciate me and my hard work” , he adds proudly.
Unfortunately for Suraj his benefactor expected him to work after school, allowing him little time to study or play. Tired of the restrictions and expectations, Suraj eventually ran away to live with an uncle and regularly “bunked” classes at college.
Life started looking up when he chanced upon a local NGO called Doorstep that engages youth from underprivileged communities through various extracurricular activities. It is here that Suraj had his first tryst with ‘social work’. ” It was a great opportunity for me to associate with the youth group at Doorstep. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in street plays and other community based activities. As a group we started multiple initiatives to address various issues within the community”.
The big idea came along when Ashoka Changemakers approached their group at Doorstep and offered to potentially fund one of their initiatives. Together Ashok, Suraj and Gaurang founded OSCAR- an NGO that provides high quality football training to underprivileged boys and girls in Mumbai to motivate & support children and youth to continue education and to nurture their talent.
Financial constraints that had not gone away however, meant that Suraj had to take up work in the private sector and step back from OSCAR. His heart though, never quite left. “One day I called up my mother and sought her permission to work in the social sector. I asked her if she would be alright with me not earning too much money. She told me I should follow my heart.” With his parents’ blessings Suraj came back to where he says he always belonged.
In 2011, he came on board as OSCAR’s Associate Director. “Its just a fancy title”, he adds shyly. “When I came back I found that Ashok had been doing great work and OSCAR had earned a lot recognition locally and globally. But his busy schedule of travelling meant that there were no systems in place. I started working on documenting our programs and setting in place schedules and policies that would help us run OSCAR more efficiently”.
“Ashok is a very supportive leader and he gives me freedom to express and implement my ideas. It was during this time that I realised how much I loved my work. We often worked late into the night but never got tired. That is when I knew I had made the right decision.”
Only 24 years old, Suraj wants OSCAR to be a pan-Indian organisation. “OSCAR’s young leader program in particular is something I believe in very strongly. I would love to help and encourage more youth through this program, the way the little youth group at Doorstep helped me.”
His dreams do not stop here. Next up-Suraj wants to start a project and help his village seemingly in line with the old adage that charity begins at home.
(Suraj , second from right, with the OSCAR team)
[This article is part of a blog series on second line leadership at Atma partner NGOs.]
May 24th, 2013
Check out this fun map of Atma and all the Atma NGO Partners. Which Atma NGO Partner is closest to you?
View Atma Partners in a larger map
May 15th, 2013
Canadian volunteer Emma Moore worked with Atma from December 2012- March 2013. She was placed with Atma Partners Sparsha and Sahyog during her volunteership.
” Almost two years ago I finished a degree in International Development – an ideal background, one would think, for a volunteership at an NGO in India. However, my three months working with Atma in Mumbai have been much more illuminating of the actual processes of development – of the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ – than school ever was. While my degree definitely taught me how to learn, I think Mumbai, and this experience, is teaching me how to appreciate, how to empathize, how to understand, and how to act.
I think it is easy to look at social problems, especially in India, and only see just that- the problems. Big, scary, devastating problems. It’s much too easy to feel overwhelmed, paralyzed and confused when confronted with these daunting challenges. In these dark moments what I feel most is helplessness – What can I possibly do to change anything? What I’m slowly beginning to learn is how to see the positives – the solutions, the growth, the sometimes tiny but important moments of change. Working with Atma and Atma Partner Sahyog really allowed me to see these almost-hidden glimmers of hope and taught me how to appreciate them for their real worth. The more time I spend in Mumbai the more I see these glimmers and it gives me faith that things are changing – sometimes slowly, but changing nonetheless.
India is almost exactly what I expected and true to the descriptions I’d been given. However, knowing about a place and experiencing that place are two very different things and I’m not sure that all the information, knowledge or advice was all that helpful in the end. I was often overwhelmed, surprised, awed, angry and confused by everything around me. I think this is a pretty typical reaction to India, and Mumbai in particular, and I don’t see my own experience as being particularly unique or different from any other newcomer’s. I guess what was truly surprising was not the poverty or living conditions. I had already read about these things, seen the statistics and the bleak photos. I was more surprised by the kindness shown to me, not just by my colleagues and neighbours, but by complete strangers. Women on the trains would make sure I didn’t miss my stop. Men on the street would stop to patiently give directions. It seemed like everyone I met offered to share their lunch with me. This was a beautiful and unexpected dynamic of Mumbai that often overwhelmed me more than the stark realities, because these were the things it was impossible to take photos of, to show in statistics. I guess you can’t quantify kindness.
My work with Sahyog made me privy to even more kindness. My role there was to help collect success stories (or significant change stories) with the goal of developing content for their website and social media. This was a job that was almost too good to be true. Sahyog is already doing incredible work, and my task was merely to find ways to capture this work and share it with others. Without my local guides, the ambitious, young women who work at Sahyog, I would have been completely lost. They gracefully navigated the hectic neighbourhoods, introduced me to our interviewees and simultaneously translated conversations. It was an amazing collaboration and an exciting process to be a part of.
A favourite moment stands out in my mind after a focus group we ran with current Umang participants, as well as graduates and staff. Beena asked the girls if they had any questions for myself or the other foreign volunteer. The usually shy girls were interested to hear how we were finding Mumbai, and in particular, how we dealt with challenges like language barriers, navigating and confusing train stations. This conversation really broke the ice with the group and afterwards girls approached us in nervous knots of twos and threes to practice their English and chat with us about everything from food to religion. It was incredible to think that despite all the seeming differences, we were all just curious young women hoping to learn something from each other. For me, this was a powerful lesson of what working in a cross-cultural situation should be like – learning from both sides and a discovering a solidarity, even a camaraderie, that transcended language or geography. In that room that afternoon I really felt like our backgrounds, everything that we think makes us who we are, didn’t actually matter.
However, this was just one of many lessons learned in Mumbai. I’ve learned so much from seeing Sayhog’s work on the ground – the way they forge positive relationships with the community, how they have invested in capable, motivated young women from the areas where they work, and how they are creating real change without forcing too much too soon. I guess what I realized most is that change – real, meaningful, sustainable change- doesn’t always happen loudly. It’s not always ushered in by a revolution, with parades or radical characters, and it’s not always glossy and sexy enough to end up on the cover of a magazine. Sometimes the most important change of all is in the everyday acts of brave people trying to do a little bit better. The people who are quietly taking the boundaries that have been laid out for generations, and pushing them just an inch, maybe two, maybe even three. It is a girl choosing to ride the train alone, a father deciding to send his daughter to school, a mother defying tradition to give her child a slightly better start than the one she was given. The most important thing I have learned is to stop waiting for a brilliant, game-changing idea or an all-knowing messiah-like political leader and to start having faith in everyday people making bold decisions. These are the people who are worth our investment.
In terms of whether I would do this again, I know I would. But I would hope to come back with more to offer. Seeing women work so hard to improve who they are and what they have to give, it makes me want to do the same. I hope one day soon I can return with a useful skill or expertise I can pass on to a similarly ambitious young person. I think Mumbai will be a difficult place to not return to, and the connections I have made at Atma and Sahyog won’t be forgotten easily.
Everyone talks about how rewarding volunteer experiences are, particularly ones in new, unknown places. My time in Mumbai has made me feel of lot of different things (frequently contradicting emotions) but what I feel most often is lucky. Lucky to have been born into certain, arbitrary privileges, but more so, lucky that I had the opportunity to see and even briefly be a part of the important work these organizations do every day. Their positive outcomes are not based on luck – they are based on hard work, dedication and commitment.”
April 16th, 2013
The New Great Eastern Textile Mills
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Atma Hosts its 6th Anniversary Fundraiser at the New Great Easter Textile Mills.
April 1st, 2013
A good education. Check.
Great job. Check.
One would imagine the story ends here. For Karla Kevin though, this was only a pit-stop before embarking on a journey down the road less-taken. Upon successfully finishing her Chartered Accountancy studies and exams, Karla decided to take up a 2 month volunteering opportunity with a local NGO (read: Atma) in Mumbai instead of indulging in a vacation of the sun, sea and sand variety. That this decision would change, influence and shape the course of her career was something even she had not imagined.
During her volunteership with Atma, Karla was placed with Atma Partner Masoom — an NGO that works to provide high quality night school education to the disadvantaged communities of Mumbai. The project required her to work on Masoom’s budgeting, investment planning and other finance related issues. She admits that this experience of being able to apply her skills in the social sector helped break a major stereotype - “I realised that volunteering is not always about teaching children.” Through her work she was able to strengthen Masoom’s financial systems. Strong organisational systems in turn allow NGOs such as Masoom to reach out to more beneficiaries.
This marriage between individual skill-sets and making a difference led to one of the many light bulb moments that Karla took back with her into the corporate world. “Even after I went back to working with Deloitte (having previously interned with them), my volunteering experience did not leave me. Here I was, working with a big brand in a reasonably well-paying job. And yet ironically, the numbers were just not adding up. On paper it all looked great but I often found myself wondering whether 30 years later I would have made a difference to anyone’s life? The thought that I was just another part of some giant machinery left me disillusioned.”
As fate would have had it, while Karla was struggling with the realization that the corporate sector was not her calling, Masoom was in need of a Finance Director. Taking up this job however was no walk in the park- “Although well meaning, the advice flying around at this point was far from encouraging. People thought that I was being far too impulsive in moving to the development sector. “ But as most dreamers do, Karla decided to go with her gut.
At 24, Karla heads Finance and Operations at Masoom. “I am lucky to be where I am, so early on in my career. It is extremely challenging and exciting not only to be so involved in the growth of an organisation but also to be one of the key decision makers. Here I have the opportunity not only to be a leader but a very happy one at that. At Masoom, Nikita (Founder & CEO) ensures that there is always room for everyone’s thoughts and opinions. This makes for a very open and learning environment . When a leader has the faith and confidence in you, you can’t help but believe in yourself too. This has been my biggest learning from her. I hope I too can encourage others to lead, the way she has done for Masoom’s second line leaders.”
( Masoom Annual Day 2013)
Fearless and bright, second line leaders bring the kind of energy infusion that organisations need to take their vision forward. “Karla is an extremely hard-working and proactive individual. Having been a volunteer with Masoom earlier, she was able to dive into her job role with minimum hand-holding. Her openness and ability to learn quickly have allowed her to go above and beyond what is expected of her. In a very short time, I have been able to handover a substantial amount of responsibility thereby allowing me to focus better on my job as a CEO. She is a great asset to Masoom and I am very thankful to Atma for bringing her in. I feel very secure today knowing that Karla and Pallavi will help to take this organisation forward in the right direction.” - Nikta Ketkar, Founder & CEO Masoom
So was the move from a fancy high rise office to the quiet by-lane where Masoom sits, worth it?
“Absolutely.” says Karla. “When you know where you want to be, why put it off? Working in this sector has meant meeting people who are fun, smart and passionate all at once. No one is dragging their feet here. There is so much that inspires you here. So much to aspire to. “
Echoing Abbas she says of her future, ” I am here to stay until I am needed. I just hope I can encourage a few more people along the way to join this movement of hard-work, passion and fulfillment.”
March 28th, 2013
Dear Friends of Atma:
In January 2012 I wrote to many of you and told you of our new and ambitious goal to reach 20 partners by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year. It is now April 1st, and we did it! (No kidding). 20 inspiring education NGOs in Mumbai.
Statistics about education in India tell a damning story:
- 20% of India’s poor have no access to education;
- 86% have no access to technical and vocational training;
- 45% drop out of school before eight grade
(Indian Philanthropy Report, 2012, Bain)
Luckily, statistics like these have motivated the amazing founders of our NGO partners to work whole-heartedly to find solutions to the challenges of quality education and actually provide quality education in Mumbai.
Big problems need big solutions, but we shouldn’t have to go it alone. That’s why Atma is working in these NGOs, because we know many solutions together will create the changes India needs in education.
Just like our partners Atma could not do it alone. It is individuals like you who make our work possible, whether through donations,connections, or moral support. The Atma International Chapters – in Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong are our ever present support and inspiration. It would be literally impossible for us to do our work without them.
A big round of applause to the whole Atma team- staff and volunteers, who whether, manning the phones and filing paper work, running workshops, writing manuals or traipsing through the furthest forgotten corners of our (not always) fair city have really made achieving this goal possible. Each and everyone of them should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments and the personal milestones they have achieved on the way.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge Atma’s 20 partners for their perseverance and willingness to grow their organisations to reach more children lacking the quality education they dream of. Their commitment and passion motivates us to push ourselves a little more each day.
Atma is named Atma (soul in Hindi) because it is these many people in their different capacities that will really create the change we need – united in our efforts. Thank you to every one who has continued to support Atma, and congratulations to all of our NGO partners!
Mary Ellen Matsui
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45-50% of children attending public schools in Mumbai cannot read or write a paragraph. 45% of children from Indian public schools drop out before standard 8. Despite the existence of hundreds of education NGOs in Mumbai, these abysmal statistics persist.