I am a 30-year-old professional born in Romania, Eastern Europe, and I have lived in India for almost five years now – in the real India surrounded by local people, not in one of the tourist destinations. During this time I have worked in the fields of marketing, business development and operations in five states: Rajasthan, Assam, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. And my work spans across four sectors including income generation for rural weavers, rural healthcare, waste management and education. Here is my story.
India, an endurance test:
Why India? Because India is hard. I came to Jaipur in 2011 for an international internship with AIESEC, a student-led global organization. And I chose this country because India to me, the second daughter of a middle class family in democratic Romania, was far more different, difficult and incredible.
Additionally, India is a hub of social innovations and it is here where I learned what I want to do with my life – that I want to develop myself as a social entrepreneur. I got inspired by jugaad – which I define as the use of limited resources to create intelligent solutions for urgent problems.
In Rajasthan, I worked in the marketing and branding sector with India’s largest exporter of handmade carpets. I collaborated with Harvard Business School teams, met weavers across villages of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and discovered the trend of social entrepreneurship: how to use market forces to drive social impact in people’s lives.
Two years later in Assam, I collaborated with a local ophthalmologist to obtain an investment of Rs. 70 lakh for his eye care company. We created the business plan and won national recognition for a hub and spoke model of eye clinics in the villages around Jorhat. We also offered cataract surgery services at prices three times less than the market price.
This is because many people in the villages have to spend two to three times more than someone living in a town just to reach the eye care doctor for a simple pair of glasses.
I came to Bengaluru in 2014. It was time for me to take an operational role in a very difficult sector: waste management in Telangana. As a Frontier Market Scout, I joined a social enterprise with the mission to transform waste into organic fertilizer for farmers to revive their soil condition. It was one of the most challenging experiences in India thus far. My role was to improve operations and bring in operational standards that would increase efficiency. I sat on landfills with young women who start their day at 6 am to collect recyclable materials. They had been in debt for years after taking informal loans from scrap dealers for their children’s education.
This way, during the last five years I had the chance to work closely with some of the most underprivileged people in the country – waste-pickers in Telangana, rural women in Assam, and weaver families in rural Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
One thing I noticed is that many of them are parents who aspire for a better future for their children. Most of them aspire to send their children to a low-cost English-medium school. This was when I decided to start working in the field of education.
The world is facing a global learning crisis. Four in 10 children in developing countries fail to learn the basics by the time they finish four years in school (UNESCO, 2012). We have to stop talking about how many teachers or schools we need and start talking about how much we need children to learn, and how we can enable teachers to help children learn in limited resource settings.
A few months into my time in India, a chance encounter with my manager’s cousin–Anil Bishnoi, who just happened to be an Android developer – planted the seeds for the partnership that would eventually become vChalk.
And after three years in India, I was ready to start my own entrepreneurial journey.
In 2014, inspired by our research of a proven solution at scale, we decided to take the first step towards our venture in the field of education. We at vChalk are trying to solve one of the most urgent problems in education – children are in school but not learning. It is a journey towards a sustainable model that can enable teachers to help one million children in schools catch up on basic English and Math skills for learning. The model has already gained recognition from NASSCOM, Global Social Venture Competition and others. You can follow vChalk’s story on our blog.
Our solution relies on classroom support for the teachers who take remedial classes. This is where technology can make a huge difference. We are crowdfunding for the team to develop an Internet free tech piece of our model so that any teacher can know what activities to do with the kids every week. We are also crowdfunding to serve 2,000 kids in this school year and you can contribute for the same here.
India is now home for me and the journey that lies ahead is fulfilling and challenging at the same time. Helping children to be able to learn is an amazing work. Perhaps the best thing I can do with my years to come.
– Daniela Florentina Gheorghe