Thousands of column inches have been dedicated to the state of India’s public schools. It is fair to suggest that most of the feedback isn’t good.
With crumbling infrastructure, a paucity of funds, lack of technology and the unavailability of basic amenities like classroom furniture, the capacity of students from the weaker sections to learn and acquire knowledge suffers.
While institutions responsible for public education have proven incapable of addressing these concerns, Dil Se Education Foundation, a Hyderabad-based non-profit enterprise is offering once helpless teachers a significant Tech for Good crowdfunding platform called MyDilse.org to address the needs of their classrooms.
Founded by Naveen Pallayil, a digital philanthropist and director of an American multinational company, the crowdfunding platform gives teachers the opportunity to request for any material they require for their students.
“I grew up in a small village called Pullur in Kerala. My mother was a teacher in a government school, and my father was in the military. With the responsibility of supporting three kids and limited income, my parents could only afford a public-school education for my siblings and I. Having undergone a public-school education, I understand what is at stake,” says Naveen, speaking to The Better India.
What inspired Naveen to take up such an endeavour?
It began with adopting public schools in nearby villages, reconstructing their classrooms, washrooms, study areas and helping them with study material.
“Along the way, I realised that a lot of personal time and the budget was invested, but the impact was limited, and there was a lot to still do and many children still to help,” says Naveen.
It is not as if public-school teachers are underqualified or not passionate to deliver change, but they lack the necessary support and resources. “That is when I decided to combine both my passion and corporate experience to create a platform to reach more and more teachers and students,” he says.
With over 15 years of experience in delivering advanced solutions and implementing both technical and business strategies for major international corporations, Naveen’s vision for this online platform is unrestricted by location or timelines and open to all public-school teachers in India.
“As per my research, there are about 15,25,642 plus public schools in India. States like Uttar Pradesh alone have about 2,55,970 public schools,” says Naveen. “These numbers look massive and reaching all these schools through the traditional model would have been ineffective and time-consuming,” he explains.
Today, MyDilse.org has 110 active teachers from Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat and Karnataka among others.
How does the platform work?
“The portal (https://mydilse.org/) is very user-friendly and interactive which makes it easy for teachers to enrol and drive their request on their own. A teacher only needs to start a new project and describe the requirement or material needed. Our team reviews the requests, validates the cost on leading e-commerce portals, and approves the project. This project is now available to all for funding. Once a project is fully funded, we purchase all the requested items and ship them directly to the school using leading e-commerce platforms,” says Naveen.
What do teachers generally request?
It starts from basic seating facilities like rugs, chairs, benches to advanced teaching materials like laptops and projectors. Teachers understand daily requirements and open projects to support their cause. No resource is too small or big, and in fact, MyDilse’s stated aim is to make these resources not only possible but also available within a short span of time.
“We are leveraging social media to a larger extent. Also, once a teacher successfully gets funding s/he talks to other teachers in that school followed by word of mouth conversation to other schools and districts. Apart from leveraging social media, we also run targeted Google Ad campaigns to reach out to the mass audience,” says Naveen.
Associating with the philanthropic arms of various tech giants like Google, which offers the platform G-Suite and Ad Grants facilities for promotional purposes, NASSCOM, Microsoft, AWS and assistance from IIM Calcutta’s Innovation Park has greatly helped Naveen’s cause.
MyDilse has also seen many rural public-school requests seeking help to build toilets as female students don’t come to school because they don’t have toilets. For such requests, the crowdfunding platform ties up with local contractors or any MNC donor, who are willing to partake with their CSR fund to build the necessary infrastructure.
How do teachers register on the platform?
Teachers from public schools first need to furnish valid credentials. Some don’t have the necessary ID, and in such cases, the platform seeks other means to validate their credentials like a headmaster’s letter along with his/her ID.
If the teacher cannot furnish the necessary credentials, the platform does not take his/her campaign onboard.
“There is an internal check done to validate the school, headmaster and area of operation to ensure authenticity,” says Naveen. No further details were forthcoming.
Despite the proliferation of the internet and social media, many public-school teachers, especially in rural India, are not on the internet or social media, and not to mention unacquainted with the concept of crowdfunding. Therefore, the biggest challenge before Naveen is to contact these teachers and train them to use and leverage social media and teach them about how crowdfunding works.
“To overcome this, we started contacting the premier management institutes in search of volunteers who can connect with teachers and help them create a campaign and execute the campaign on their behalf. This initiative can help in developing a grassroots level understanding of communities and graduates can develop skills related to persuasion, campaign management, content marketing, email marketing etc. This sort of learning and a chance to make an impact is extremely high, and this opportunity excites most of our volunteers who join us as campaign managers,” he says.
When asked how much money the platform has raised thus far, Naveen does not offer a real figure, but says “we have raised a good amount of funds.” He hopes that the platform grows bigger and continues to affect the lives of public school students in a positive way.
“If you look at the kind of projects running on our platform, they don’t cost a lot. These are basic amenities that any student deserves. We are trying to support a teacher provide best in class education to his/her students and at times that might just cost 20 books worth Rs 500 but will really make a significant difference to the student who receives it,” he adds.
What drives Naveen to further his cause?
“Each time I talk to a teacher and listen to their request or the hardships they face to do their job it’s a moment of inspiration to do more. Once a project is funded and delivered we usually get calls from teachers about how happy the students are and how the resource they received has changed and helped the students. These are the moments that validate MyDilse’s existence.”
Follow Dil Se Education Foundation and their recent initiatives on Facebook here.
You can visit the crowdfunding platform here.