Entrepreneur’s Unique ‘Netflix’ Model Is Educating 1000 Kids Across India’s Slums
Ed-tech entrepreneur Bhunesh Sharma from Jaipur runs the Smile For All Society (SFA) NGO, which aims to help slum children access free education through a unique subscription model, much like platforms like Netflix and Hotstar
Around 18 million children live on the streets in India. Many have had no formal education or have dropped out in the early years of their schooling due to poverty and lack of privilege. Instead, they’re forced to beg for a living.
In 2015, Bhunesh Sharma, an ed-tech entrepreneur from Jaipur, came across a few such children at a traffic signal.
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“They approached me at the car window and asked for a pencil and paper. This unusual request surprised me, because these kids are mostly there to sell items or ask for money. Instead, they wanted help to meet their primary need for education,” he tells The Better India.
Bhunesh says that he immediately rushed to a nearby stationery shop and purchased pencils for them. “They were three kids, two of whom were boys aged four and eight years. The other was a three-year-old girl living in a slum in the vicinity. I reached out to their parents to understand their conditions and whether they were attending school,” he adds.
OTT model for education
He says he learned that the children needed educational support, so he offered to teach them for free. But Bhunesh was just a stranger who had randomly showed up at their doorstep and offered to teach their kids — so the parents refused. They also suspected he would direct them towards illegal activities.
Bhunesh says he did not give up and tried to convince their parents over the next week, until they finally agreed. “They were reluctant to send their children to study outside their locality. Hence, I told the parents that I would make daily visits and teach the children at home, where the parents could see them in sessions,” he says.
At the time, he was working for a startup and could barely spare an hour to teach them daily. Looking at his sincere efforts, around seven parents approached him to ask if he would teach their children. As classes continued, the number of students grew to 40 by 2017.
But Bhunesh soon realised that the children would flourish more if they attended school. “Many of them had dropped out. The parents could not seek admission in private schools under Right To Educate (RTE) due to a lack of documents. In many instances, the parents were unaware of how to follow the required procedures,” he says.
So Bhunesh availed a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh to admit the children to private schools and pay their tuition fees.
As the number of children in his classes kept increasing, Bhunesh started roping in volunteers. “My wife Neha also joined the cause. But when the numbers crossed 125, I realised that personal finances were not enough to support the children.”
In 2019, Bhunesh launched Smile For All Society (SFA), an NGO to seek monetary aid. Two years later, in 2021, he started an OTT-like subscription model to attract donors to sponsor education for underprivileged children.
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“The subscription model works precisely like any system such as Netflix, Amazon or Hotstar. People wanting to sponsor education for children can sign up for a monthly payment starting with Rs 500. The amount paid is directly spent on the children’s education,” he says.
Education for all
Bhunesh explains that the model entails complete transparency in the process. “The subscriber receives a receipt, including a description of the student benefiting from the money. A monthly review and performance report of the student is shared with the subscriber. It includes academic reports, attendance and other details. The subscriber can connect over a call or meet the student personally,” he adds.
He says that one volunteer is dedicated to every five students to monitor and share information. There are 4,000 volunteers investing time to teach children from 100 slums across India including Kolkata, Jaipur, Mumbai and Noida.
Supriya Srivastava from Noida, who is volunteering with the NGO, says, “I came across the NGO through mutual friends, and decided to volunteer to help the kids. The children in the slums are intelligent, but lack resources. Hence, I decided to give my weekends to teach the children.”
So far, the NGO has received 612 subscribers who are now sponsoring the education of over 1,000 children across 250 cities in India. “There are 35 schools on board, including some in remote tribal areas of Jharkhand and Odisha,” he says.
Bhunesh says that the NGO also helps in fulfilling document requirements and providing study material to the children. “My dream is to see every child from a slum access education. I believe that education can help bring a better life for everyone as it opens multiple opportunities,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu
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