Unnikrishnan Kurup (Unni) stays approximately 6,100 kilometres away from India, in Finland, a country known to be the happiest country in the world.
Keeping this attribute in mind, and having spent more than a decade in Finland, Unni has decided to export some of the country’s good practices to Kerala, his hometown. For this, in February 2019, he launched Venture Village to incorporate and implement Finnish ways of learning with children back home in India. Having impacted the lives of 3,700 students across 25 schools in Kerala, the programmes developed by Venture Village have helped these kids understand the environment, as well as waste management systems, better.
An engineer by qualification, Unni was a resident of Kerala until 2010, before he moved to Finland for work. He began working there as a consultant with Nokia, and eventually went on to co-found a start-up with some of his Finnish colleagues. “While my bread and butter comes from the company I co-founded, Venture Village is my way of giving back to Kerala,” he tells The Better India.
Unni founded Venture Village with his friend Dr Anup Jinadevan.
“Our focus points were educating children from a very young age in subjects such as sustainability, environment, work life balance, entrepreneurship, personal health and hygiene, to name a few. The teaching methodologies we used were mainly based on tried and tested Finnish ways of teaching like learning by doing, play and learn, and phenomenon-based learning for acquiring 21st century life skills,” Unni says.
While both Unni and Dr Anup have been funding the venture as of now, Unni adds, “We have designed this venture to be a for-profit-social-enterprise and have been seeing marginal profits as well.” So far the duo have put in close to Rs 20 lakh to get their venture going.
Drawing inspiration from the good
With two school-going children in Finland, Unni had first-hand knowledge of how well the country’s education system worked. “The manner in which some fundamental things are imprinted in the minds of students from a very early age caught my attention,” he says.
He says that some examples of Finnish teaching techniques include the children being given the freedom to choose elective subjects from as young as Class IV, and being taught behavioral skills, which includes social media responsibilities. “Some topics they discuss in class include bullying on social media and learning to identify fake news. Life skills include vocational courses such as carpentry/wood work, textiles, and cooking/baking,” he adds.
“While the subjects my kids study in Finland remain the same as India’s, it is the method of teaching that makes all the difference,” he says. Students are grouped according to the learning level they are at, rather than be grouped as per their age. Unni and his partner have tried to incorporate some of these features into all their learning plans for Indian students.
“The idea behind launching Venture Village was to be able to start inculcating various aspects of the economy, sustainability, working life, society and entrepreneurship in students from a young age,” he adds.
While the programmes were conducted all through 2019, with the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world in 2020, everything shifted to the virtual world. “Even though it was all moved to the virtual world, we wanted to retain as much of a hands-on experience as one could. The Green City programme, designed to encourage school children to understand waste management and sustainability, was conducted online last year,” Unni says.
Speaking of more factors that influenced the foundation of Venture Village, Unni says the Kerala floods in 2018, which left the state devastated, were also a trigger for founding the platform. The duo wanted to work on issues related to the environment in a way that could perhaps drastically reduce the chance of yet another disaster hitting the state. “We believe that many of the solutions to our problems lie in planning, understanding and implementing good systems,” he adds.
Both Unni and Dr Anup were involved in relief work and wanted to find a larger way of contributing. “Just coordinating relief work and collecting money and resources for people back in Kerala did not seem to satisfy either of us. We wanted to think big and implement ground level changes,” says Unni.
‘Catch them young’
Close to 3,700 students from 25 different schools in Kerala have benefitted from the programmes run by Venture Village. “While the idea remains to catch them young, it is also imperative that students are old enough to understand the issues at hand. Students from Classes VI to IX take part in these programmes,” says Unni.
For a student to enrol in one of these programmes via their school, it would cost Rs 4,000 for the entire year. “We do not intend to over-charge any student solely because we have brought these programmes from Finland. The idea is not to make money out of this, but instead bring about a systemic change in education in India,” he says.
Adithyan, a Class VII student at Devi Vilasom (DVUPS) School, who participated in the Green City programme, says, “I got to learn about some of the ill-effects of using plastic, as well as ways by which we can reuse the material around the house to ensure that it does not end up in the landfills. I also learnt how to make compost and have been using the same for the plants I grow.”
Theress Raison, a student of Class VIII, who undertook the Green City programme from Mary Land Public School, says the course taught her all about waste segregation. “I did not know there were so many ways of waste segregation even possible,” she says.
To ensure that the programmes being developed at Venture Village are authentic, both Unni and Dr Anup have enrolled for a Master’s programme in Educational Entrepreneurship from a University in Finland.
“It has been such an interesting journey. Just being able to understand the theoretical aspects of what we wish to implement has been enriching,” he says. When asked about some of the high-points that Unni has experienced in building this venture, he says that the feedback that they constantly receive from students is what keeps them motivated to work better.
What helps Unni work on Venture Village while working on his own startup in Finland is the work-life balance that the country offers, Unni says, “There is no spilling over of work on the weekends, which is a time that one spends with family or doing whatever they wish to.” The time difference between India and Finland also works to his advantage, and he is able to get on calls with his Indian counterparts at very decent hours, he adds.
In terms of plans for the future, Unni and his partner are looking to expand from Kerala to other states in India. Unni says, “We are looking to introduce shorter courses that kids can undertake during their summer break. This will be rolled out to schools across India.”
Rapid fire with Unni
What’s the one thing you miss about India?
Unni: The food, as well as and the order in chaos one finds in India.
What’s the one thing you would like to export from Finland to India?
Unni: Following the rules and processes.
One thing you’d like to change in India?
Unni: Inculcate respect for all jobs; however big or small.
Words of Wisdom
Unni: Follow your dreams no matter what. Be on the move both mentally and physically by constantly learning and doing new things. Keep in mind that success doesn’t happen overnight. Stay consistent!
(Edited by Divya Sethu)