Stones2Milestones

Stones2Milestones

The challenge

Aakriti is about four years old when she attends her first reading class. Her class is supposed to learn alphabets for the next few days. Aakriti finds that she is unable to read the alphabets. Soon enough the letters turn into words and words into sentences. Aakriti is now ten and is about to complete primary schooling. However, she still struggles to read. Now imagine the same example being repeated in hundreds of classroom across India. That is the extent of reading crisis that exists across the country.

Research also shows that children who aren’t able to pick up their reading skill at an early stage are unlikely to make up for this by the time they finish schooling. This predominantly happens because many school administrators and educationists fail to recognize that reading is a skill, not just a task1.

The Indian education system is also unable to provide adequate cognitive skills to ensure that our students are equipped with analytical skills which are needed as they progressed through their schooling. This was clearly illustrated by India’s performance in the 2009+ PISA rankings. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test that evaluates the education systems of the world by testing the cognitive and analytical skills of high school students. Students from two of India’s most advanced states- Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh participated in the test and ranked 2nd last only beating Kyrgyztan2. PISA considers level 2 as the minimum level of learning that a 15 year old should have and shockingly, 80% of students in both states were at or below level 1 in science3. This clearly indicates that India is not likely to make use of its demographic dividend4 and most students are ill equipped with basic reading, writing and cognitive skills-everything that a school is supposed to provide the students with. This recognition needs to be part of the education system and processes as poor reading abilities have a direct and long lasting impact on students’ learning outcomes that are detrimental to their future prospects

One possible solution

Stones 2 Milestones (S2M), a social enterprise based out of Gurgoan has done exactly that and has made it seem possible to identify that ‘reading’ in fact is a separate discipline and needs to be integrated in the school learning process. S2M was started by two enterprising individuals from Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad who wanted to start an organization that worked on ensuring that children got better at educating themselves. Enter Kavish, a person with significant experience in private equity and Jagriti, an educationist who specialized in content development and had already founded ‘Aura’ a not-for-profit venture in Baroda. S2M scaled up the efforts of Aura and much more, and now the organization has an all Indian presence covering more than 3000 students.
S2M uses a combination of different approaches to impact the way children learn. Their flagship program is Wings of Words, which is a reading skill development program that is offered to students from age three to seven (grade three) and is woven into the school curriculum. Schools are asked to allocate one class per day for this program and the school teachers are trained to deliver these sessions.

While Wings of Words focuses on reading, iMinds, their analytical thinking program aims to provide skills training and project oriented activities for children.

Apart from these individual programs, S2M also has unique programs for school verticals. They either transform existing schools or build new schools from the ground up. Their partnership with Deepak Fertilizers via Deepak Foundation is an example of the latter.

The partnership

Mr. C.K. Mehta, the chairman of Deepak Group of Companies, a group consisting of two of India’s leading fertilizer and chemical companies and Head of Deepak Foundation, the CSR arm of the Deepak Group, has always had the vision to start a school. However, while the foundation had previously worked in health, their work in education was sporadic and needs based. Having witnessed and understood S2M’s work in Baroda, they then approached S2M with the idea of starting a school. The foundation already had the land and they embarked on their journey to start a ‘Best Practice’ school. The idea was to tackle the problem of educational inequity by providing the services that are currently only available in expensive, elite international schools to a mid-income population. This school has been set up in Mira Nair road, Mumbai, despite it not being one of the most advanced areas in Mumbai . This partnership between Deepak Foundation and S2M was a consultancy agreement where both organizations were to jointly set up a school. S2M started this process in 2010 by meeting with the prospective school management and foundation for setting a vision and discussing what this school would look like. From there they went on to conduct a ‘Need Analysis’ in the community to get their perspectives on expectations from the school and school design. The next step was to actually design the building and constructing the schools systems and processes including induction for the principal along with logistics. S2M’s was involved in all the stages but since the school’s inception and opening in 2012, they are now focusing on building the capacity of the school and take on the monitoring and handover role. The school began in 2012 and is from kindergarten to class three.

Benefits of the partnership

To the corporate

The Knowledge Partner

Given that Deepak Foundation did not have prior expertise in education, forging a partnership with an organization that had in-depth knowledge of the education sector was an absolute necessity for the company. They found this partner in S2M and given that S2M had existing programs in pedagogy, the process was far more efficient for them. S2M’s expertise in training and capacity building also meant that in the long run, this would be a Deepak Foundation run school and they would have the expertise to do it well. It was due to S2M’s expertise and experience that the foundation was also able to articulate their vision clearly.

To the social enterprise

Capacity building for the organization

The partnership, which was S2M’s first with a corporate foundation and first in terms of setting up a new school, enabled them to build their own capacities in various aspects of this program starting from need assessment, logistics to enable learning, curriculum design to systems and process creation. It has also enabled them to understand the enormity of the effort and customization such projects entail and equipped them to respond accordingly by elevating the skill level and capacity of their s human resource.

Proof of impact

While S2M in the past documented their work, reach and their skills, this partnership and the school built under its auspices stand as the most obvious and powerful evidence of the organizations’ impact. This has helped S2M grow in stature and increase in visibility, setting them up to scale their programs in the future and approach other companies.

Lessons Learnt

Shared Vision

Ensuring that both parties have the same interests and objectives in the partnership cannot be overstated. There is a need to understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ clearly. For e.g. Deepak Foundation was clear in their goal of setting a best practice school and that matched S2M’s interests in setting up processes and a curriculum that aimed in bringing out the best from a child. Prior to starting this process, S2M came up with a laundry list of questions to enable Deepak Foundation crystallize this vision.

Trust leading to a mature CSR program

While having a shared vision is the beginning, having trust in each other’s beliefs and work is equally important. In this case, Deepak Foundation was well aware of and understood the work done by S2M, having observed them in action in Baroda. This trust also enabled them to give S2M complete freedom in the process of designing various aspects of the school. This has then lead to having a mature and sustainable CSR program.

Clarity of process

This is particularly necessary for both partners during the early stages of the discussion. While the corporate here didn’t have the clearest picture of the school, they were able to arrive at it by following a clear well-laid process by S2M. Similarly, S2M also benefitted from the clarity in terms of the Foundation’s financial commitments and role and responsibilities.

Conclusion

The partnership between Deepak Foundation and Stones 2 Milestones is an example of a successful collaboration between a corporate that is relatively new to the field of education and a social enterprise that had established programs but still growing. Deepak Foundation had the resources to build the school and Stones 2 Milestones had the expertise but more importantly both of them had the same vision; Deepak Foundation to build a world class school and Stones 2 Milestones- change aspects of the education system. This base enabled them to leverage their strengths equally and form a strong partnership. This clearly shows that being flexible in your approach and finding a partner with a clear vision is essential to create impact. The partnership terms also exemplifies how sustainability can be achieved over a long period of time.

 


  1. American Federation of Teachers (2004). ‘Waiting rarely works: Late bloomers just wilt’. American Educator. Washington D.C. [online] Available here
  2. Chhapia, H. (2012) Indian students rank 2nd last in global test – The Times of India. [online] Available here
  3. Pritchett, L. (2012a) Mr Obama, rest easy. Indian students have hit rock bottom .First Post. [online] Available here  [Accessed: 20 Aug 2012].
  4. First Post. (2012) Why is India wasting its biggest and brightest asset? First post. [online] Available here