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2011 FINALIST Tara Akshar+

“Delivering a scalable solution to adult illiteracy through a highly innovative programme using sophisticated learning techniques and memory hooks, through minimally trained, computer-aided instructors. It enables almost anyone to read, write and do simple arithmetic with more than 95% success rate in just seven weeks of 2 hour classes daily.�


Assessment Summary from the BFI Review Team TARA Akshar is a unique adult literacy program launched in 2005 that seeks to produce functional literacy in 100 minutes a day over a 30 day period, and has gotten excellent results. It was initiated by the Development Alternatives Group (DAG), a not-for-profit enterprise headed up by Ashok Kohsla, who holds a Ph.D in Experimental Physics from Harvard. In 1983, Kohsla abandoned his pursuit of a scientific career to focus on issues of environment and development. A comprehensive strategist, he created a social enterprise that successfully combines science and technology with sustainability practices to deliver education, training, and entrepreneurial opportunities to the rural poor of India, so they can raise their standard of living while also protecting ecosystems, conserving resources, and reducing carbon emissions. DAG’s work spans a large range of services and products. These include programs that bring the risks of climate change to the immediate attention of communities in central India’s semi-arid regions and train them in community-led pollution monitoring, adaptation, mitigation, and carbon neutrality. DAG also spearheads R & D of affordable machinery for rural markets, including energyconserving machines that produce high quality, affordable roofing tiles and pavers, compressed earth blocks, fired bricks, recycled paper, handloom textiles, cooking stoves, non-wood briquette presses, and biomass-based electrical generators. TARAhaat, the entity delivering the literacy program, is one of several market-based social enterprise arms of DAG. It has been focused on “bridging the digital divide between rural communities and the mainstream economy.” For example, The Lifelines Project uses mobile telephone technology to connect poor farmers across 1,500 villages to critical agricultural information though volunteers. TARAhaat has also been involved in a rapidly growing effort to create local, franchised “tele-centers”. With 200 in place so far, these centers bring information technology to rural villages, particularly to youth, and offer customized services such as community development and vocational and business management training. Over the past 5 years, the capable TARAhaat team has rolled out the TARA Akshar literacy program to more than 60,000 people (mostly women) in over 270 literacy teaching centers across some of the poorest, most illiterate areas of North India, with excellent results. They are aiming for a major scale-up effort in partnership with India’s Department of Education, which had been slow in recognizing the power of this new approach, but is on its way to becoming convinced. DAG and its Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA) affiliates are taking a comprehensive systems approach to addressing rural poverty in the context of sustainability. TARA Akshar not only represents a pragmatic breakthrough with enormous potential to leverage the impact of the DAG’s holistic strategy, but it could be a hugely important Trimtab toward transforming the lives of 100’s of millions of India’s illiterate women.


WEBSITE: http://taraakshar.com/ VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2mHjBF8GyM SOURCES: All Sources are either on the CD provided or can be retrieved online via the link provided.

Source Number 1:

http://www.taraakshar.com/frame1.html Source Number 2:

http://www.taraakshar.com/TaPressEnglish.html Source Number 3:

http://www.indiagovernance.gov.in/bestpractices.php?id=490/ Source Number 4:

www.khosla.in


Entry Application Tara Akshar+

Team: George C. Varughese, President Col. M.S.Ahluwalia – Chief Project Manager   Mr. Irfan Khan – Project Executive Mr. Pushpendra – Trainer and Mobilizer   Ms. Pragya Tiwary – Evaluation and Certification   Mr. Rakesh Khanna – Senior Advisor (Management)   Mr. Victor Johnson – Senior Advisor (Creative) Summarize your proposal in 50 words or less. Delivering a scalable solution to adult illiteracy through a highly innovative programme using sophisticated learning techniques and memory hooks, through minimally trained, computer-aided instructors. It enables almost anyone to read, write and do simple arithmetic with more than 95% success rate in just seven weeks of 2 hour classes daily. Describe the critical need your solution addresses. Despite several decades of programs to introduce literacy among adults, more than 50% of the women and girls in many poor countries, including India, cannot read, write or count, preventing them from participating fully in the social, economic and political processes of the modern State. Explain your initiative in more depth and its stage of development. Please include the inspiration, and/or underlying principles informing your initiative. The TARA Akshar+ program is an initiative of the Development Alternatives Group, a social enterprise dedicated to accelerating sustainable development in the global South, particularly India. Eradication of poverty, stabilizing the climate and conserving biodiversity all need active citizen participation, which requires empowered individuals and communities, capable of acquiring the knowledge they need in a rapidly changing world.   In the four years since DA initiated development of TARA Akshar+ it has trained more than 57,000 women to read, write and make simple calculations across 7 of the most illiterate states in India. A remarkable feature of this programme is its extraordinary pass rate: more than 95%. This is due to highly effective and standardized teaching methods using computers and entertaining heuristics, a solid delivery system, extremely short duration of courses, and convenience of location, timings, etc. TARA Akshar + is able to deliver complete literacy and numeracy in just 98 contact hours over a period of 49 days by using a totally new mix of advanced memory techniques like memory hooks through animated movies and strong learning reinforcement mechanisms. Specifically, it uses:   • "Laubach Method", which associates each letter to the shape of an object, the name of which BEGINS with that letter.   • Innovative visual imagery and video gaming concepts.   • Cartoon animations, flash cards, games and easy to recall story lines.  


• A combination of aural, visual and kinesthetic memory techniques to aid letter-sound retention. • A careful combination of numeric and literary study.   • Only high school graduate instructors, trainers and quality monitors.   • Constant monitoring of quality of delivery and literacy outcomes.   • High numbers of willing learners because of convenient locations and timings.   • Reaching out to people in difficult and remote areas through the use of laptops. How does your strategy and approach respond creatively and comprehensively to key social, cultural, economic, ecological, and technological issues which shape the condition you are seeking to transform? Why is your strategy a breakthrough and what makes it a preferred state model? Numerous studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between economic, social and political development and the level of literacy of the population. Developing nations with high illiteracy among women also have high rates of female foeticide, infant mortality, maternal mortality, etc. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills they cannot get jobs or income, can get exploited by businesses and moneylenders, and cannot fully appreciate the value of educating their children. A vast majority lives below the poverty line. Illiterate women remain the poorest of the poor even when they play an essential role in their economical development of their families and the communities. The Census of India counts more than half the women as illiterate.   TARA Akshar+ provides the solution to the above need by enabling women and girls to become functionally literate in a very short period and in a manner that they retain the skills learned permanently. Aimed at the literacy of Hindi speaking adult women and girls in rural India, the programme has met all the challenges in this domain successfully and proved the effectiveness of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools in the development sector. Indeed, it has opened up possibilities for other types of courses delivered in a similar manner.   This strategy or the programme is a breakthrough because of its ability to provide the biggest challenge of eradicating poverty and building communities. Bringing modern technology, such as the laptop, into the village has a huge impact of familiarising remote economies with the opportunities such technologies can bring. The programme can be adopted under state sponsored programmes for a large scale implementation – or indeed be funded by corporations, foundations and even individuals.   TARA Akshar+ is now widely recognized be the most cost-effective method to deliver literacy and numeracy skills to Third World villagers. Compare and contrast your initiative with at least two leading initiatives addressing the same critical need. In comparison to these initiatives why is your proposal more likely to effect change and make a distinguishing impact? There have been several initiatives by governmental and non-governmental agencies in India to address the critical need of literacy. None has shown the success of TARA Akshar+, mainly because of its radical difference from all these initiatives in the methodology used and the delivery mechanism. TARA Akshar+ also has more potential in making an impact than other initiatives mainly because it uses:   1. Highly innovative teaching mechanisms for speed and retention of learning.  


2. A complete package from teaching to testing, including strict quality control. 3. Entertaining and efficient use of the learner's time and attention.   4. Use of modern information technology has enabled to reach remotest locations.   5. Delivery times and locations to suit the clients.   6. Learners get individual attention due to small batch-size of 8 to 10 learners. The other initiatives have lacked on all the above mentioned points and hence have not been able to get the desired result and outcome. These initiatives also do not have a defined implementation approach and quality control mechanism Describe your implementation plan. What are the priority milestones you intend to achieve in years one (1) through three (3)? The implementation is done through a robust three-tier quality control system that includes:   • A Delhi-based core team will administer the whole process.   • Below will be district-level Master trainers and Monitoring Coordinators who in turn will supervise the teaching personnel below them.   • At the base level are instructors who will be responsible for teaching the learners. There will be one instructor per centre. The program cycle will be implemented as per the following schedule:   a. Identification of Target Clusters   b. Identification of Centres' Locations   c. Identification of Local Trainers   d. Training of Local Trainers   e. Mobilization of Communities   f. Readiness of Individual Centres   g. Training of Women on TARA Akshar+   h. Documentation and Reporting In the next three years, it is expected that the programme will be fine tuned in both software and methodology and will meet all the requirement criteria of National Literacy Mission, Govt. of India and will be implemented in all the Northern states of India, which account for more than 60% of the country's illiterate women. It is estimated that by the use of this programme in coming 1 to 3 years more than one million women and girls will be made illiterate. Please provide details regarding the team and/or partners you have assembled, the team’s experience and qualifications, and your ability to execute your implementation plan. If applicable, include details about external validation and/or support your strategy has received to date. TARA Akshar+ team has the experience for implementation. The programme has a team of 250 instructors available at locations. The core team experience and qualification are:   a. George C. Varughese: specialises in programme planning and management, environmental planning and its impact, natural resource and information systems management, policy formulation and construction management.   b. Col. M.S.Ahluwalia: is the Chief Project Manager of TARA Akshar+. He is vastly experienced in the training field.   c. Mr. Irfan Khan: is post graduate in mass communication and has successfully implemented various projects.   d. Ms. Pragya Tiwary: is post graduate in Hindi language and has worked with


Doordarshan as a creative head and language expert. e. Mr. Pushpendra: is a graduate and handles all the training, implementation and mobilization activity.   f. Mr. Rakesh Khanna: has more than 35 years of experience and is in charge of building partnerships, networks and is a member of the strategic team. He completed his B.Tech. in Electrical Engineering from IIT Delhi in 1971.   g. Victor Johnson: is a trainer of practitioners, and instigated delivery centres in both the UK and the US, instigated a succession of software programs and was also awarded the prestigious Editors Choice Award by PC Magazine. What are the primary obstacles that might prevent your initiative from being realized? How do you plan to overcome them? The primary obstacles that might prevent this initiative from being realized and plans to overcome this are listed below: Major Obstacle:   • Cost of tailoring TARA Akshar + to local dialects   • Resistance to change among vested interests in community   • Feudal System /Gender Bias   • Competition from employment/income opportunities during course   • Lack of Support from Local Administration   • Lag time for training of specialized trainers/experts   Plan to overcome:   • Defined processes for continuous cost cutting innovations in place   • Shift to alternate low cost technologies   • Strategy in place for regular sensitization and mobilization of community   • Extension of geographic footprint of the programme   • Tie-ups with other organizations with relevant programmes/products   • Create a pool of experts   • Development of in-house expertise for various trades What range of funding is needed to bring your project to fruition and from where do you anticipate funding will come? What is the total annual budget and explain how your initiative will financially sustain itself? The average cost in Northern India of teaching one woman how to read, write and do simple arithmetic is US $90.   To teach the 1 million women (current Phase 1 target) would cost US $9 Million.   Till date the programme has been rolled in 7 north Indian states through support by various Governmental, Non-Governmental organizations, corporate houses and private donors. During these years TARA Akshar+ has a developed a functional monitoring and evaluation team at Delhi and a group of trained trainers, monitoring coordinators and instructors.   The current Award would enable us to train another 1,100 and would provide the results and credibility needed to mobilize the much bigger amounts needed for reaching the target of one million women. The programme will largely depend on the grant for the first year primarily for infrastructure, mobilization, tie-ups and a business model. The programme intends to set up financing mechanisms to support.


Interview with Rakesh Khanna and Ashok Khosla of TARA AKshar Delivering a scalable solution to adult illiteracy through a highly innovative programme using sophisticated learning techniques and memory hooks, through minimally trained, computer-aided instructors. It enables almost anyone to read, write and do simple arithmetic with more than 95% success rate in just seven weeks of two-hour classes daily. In four years, Tara Akshar+ has trained more than 57,000 women to read, write and make simple calculations across seven of the most illiterate states in India. Could you clarify the roles of the different organizations that TARA AKshar brings together in this project? What is your role in this organization? Ashok: I’m the founder, I’m chairman of the board of most of these organizations, I used to be president and George has taken over for me, he is now president of Development Alternatives Group (DAG), and I’m now chairman of the board. There is one entity, and that is DAG Group, the flagship group, and that is the only entity that is registered as a non profit. So, being that flagship it sets the tone, it does the research, develops the innovations, but in order to get them out, to get them into the third world, we have to set up entities under the companies act, because as an NGO, you can’t operate as an NGO very well in these places. You can’t raise funds, you can’t get into the marketplace, and there are many things that are very limiting as a civil society organization. So what I did was set up organizations that had different jobs to do and complemented each other, so DAG is the non profit innovation engine. DAG’s job is to develop new ideas, new concepts, new ways of solving problems, and the second is to work in the field as kind of a community based organization to do the things that give us information about how people really live, what they need and so on. So we have a lot of field projects, which are classical NGO projects, work that is done on the basis of project funding. As a not-for-profit we cannot do anything that actually makes money because then we would lose our status. We are quite heavily funded by government, we’re the largest NGO partner with the Swiss government, by foundations, which have supported us very, very, generously in the early stages. We’ve worked with Ford Foundation and many others. TARAhaat has a franchise network of kiosks all over the countryside and it sells these basic courses. One of our colleagues is an Englishman, Victor Lyons, who is a bit of a genius, bit of a maverick, a very, very interesting fellow who basically invented this magical formula for teaching people to read and write in a language they know. And it’s a very sophisticated piece of heuristics which uses a computer software which morphs the shapes of letters and words into shapes that people recognize, and uses about eight or ten memory books in order to teach someone, even a totally illiterate person, within literally 35 days, to read a newspaper (15 words per minute), how to write a poem or a letter. And this program has been incredibly successful. The British government a few


years ago gave us a million dollars to try it out and test it, and we were able to build up a program to teach something like 60,000 women how to read and write. Four years later we came back to test them, and the attrition rate was less than 2.5 percent. So it’s quite a “To tell you the truth it’s remarkable thing and it’s largely due to the been a very hard fight work that Victor Lyons and my colleagues who with the government of took it over, and refined it, and tested it, and refined it some more. India, to get the ministry So what is TARA Akshar? Ashok: It’s the program, the software and the product. It’s not the company. Tara Akshar is a division of TARAhaat. It belongs to DAG and is implemented by TARAhaat. Have there been any noteworthy achievements since your application was submitted?

of education, the ministry of tribal welfare and all the other people who are dealing with illiteracy to notice us. But in the last three months we’ve persuaded the key people to have a look and do all the testing themselves, choose the women themselves, monitor it completely, and it turns out that these six batches have been an incredible success, in some cases 100 percent pass rate, its majorly convincing, its something they can’t ignore.”

Ashok: In the last three months, the numeracy course and literacy course have been very well meshed together. They’ve been integrated in such a way that you can save time, and reduce the basics of learning down to 49 days. So its been tested through and we’ve been able to do several courses since then to assure that. Where the real breakthroughs are occurring right now is actually convincing the government of India that this is truly a unique program for teaching illiterate people how to read and write, and this has taken us really more than four or five years. It was easy to convince the British government to put in money four or five years ago, but to tell you the truth it’s been a very hard fight with the government of India, to get the ministry of education, the ministry of tribal welfare and all the other people who are dealing with illiteracy to notice us, because they have very strong opinions about their own products, and they didn’t really want to see ours. But what has happened in the last three months is we’ve persuaded the key people to have a look and do all the testing themselves, choose the women themselves, monitor it completely, and it turns out that these six batches have been an incredible success, in some cases 100 percent pass rate, majorly convincing, it’s something they can’t ignore. How many people were involved in these government tests and what is the government’s response to these results? Ashok: In each state there were two batches each of 30 women, completely illiterate, chosen by the government testers, and we implemented the course. I have to tell you it’s very difficult dealing with the government, but they seem to have really appreciated the results. We have received quite a bit of it in writing already, so formally this will be


completed by the government of India in Delhi in mid-February or early-March. They have to now completely rethink their program because we’ve come in with something that’s so different they have to deal with that. In addition to that, we learned a few days ago that a state government has also approved a project for 21,000 tribal women, women who are really at the periphery of society to be trained with this course, so that’s basically the approval that we have received, so now we have to go down there and start that up. Who is providing funding for these? Ashok: All of these are funded at the same rate as we asked for in the application. The government of Andhra Pradesh was given this money by the government of India. You use the term “complete literacy” as an outcome of 98 contact hours as well as the term “functional literacy”. Is complete literacy different than functional literacy? Ashok: These are government defined terms, we just adopt them to be able to communicate with them on their own terms. My understanding is that complete literacy and functional literacy are actually identical terms, there’s no real difference. The idea of the word “functional” is that people know how to read and write but they don’t understand, they know the alphabet, but they don’t understand what they’re reading. Complete literacy is when you have real comprehension. The government of India use certain tests to evaluate whether you are illiterate or not, and we let them use their tests to determine if they are literate, we let them test people, if they don’t pass them, we take them over and teach them again. I would tell you anecdotally, they will be able to read in 49 days as well as a kid who has finished 4th grade in the US. We have our way of evaluating, they can read newspapers and basically understand. I’ve seen women read 14 to 22 words a minute, and they are able to add and subtract and multiply and divide up to three digits. Your approach involves the application of video gaming concepts. Could you describe these concepts and who developed them? Ashok: It is actually radically new. When you and I learned the alphabet and we were told A is for apple, B is for boy, C is for cat, and there was no relationship between that letter and the shape of the

“When you and I learned the alphabet we were told A is for apple, B is for boy, C is for cat, and there was no relationship between that letter and the shape of the object. Well, we found objects that look exactly like the letter and began with that letter. I’ll give you an example. The first letter of the Hindi alphabet is like a k, it’s shape is like ears, and ears in Hindi begin with a k, so we put two ears into a shape that looks like k. Then what happens is we can do this with all 36 letters and whoever is reading this gets it carved into their brains, into their memories, in literally four to six days, they know the entire alphabet.”


object. Well, we found objects that look exactly like the letter and began with that letter. I’ll give you an example. The first letter of the Hindi alphabet is like a k, it’s shape is like ears, and ears in Hindi begin with a k, so we put two ears into a shape that looks like k. Then what happens is we can do this with all 36 letters and whoever is reading this gets it carved into their brains, into their memories, in literally four to six days, they know the entire alphabet. So the frequency with which we’ve done this thing, the efficiency with which we’ve done it, we tested it and retested it, and we found there are specific things that the brain does in order to retain this, so there is a very sophisticated psychology behind these memory books. The second part of this is its entertainment value, we use stories to get the attention of people which basically makes it difficult for them to go away, it’s like Sherazade (It’s a reference to the tales of the 1001 and nights, they want to come back the next day to find out what happens in the story). It really works. We never have any dropouts, I mean, can you imagine, 50,000 women, and the total dropouts are less than one percent? How you achieve such a high level of quality control and monitor post-training outcomes? Ashok: There is quality control in the delivery of the courses; we have a whole army of people we work with through locally based community organizations and NGOs. We work with them as our partners and use them to identify people that will take this on. One of the key elements of this program is that it’s designed for a massive scale out. In India there are 350 million women who cannot read or write, so we wanted to develop a mechanism that will be delivered on a very large scale. This means that we couldn’t have very sophisticated teachers, we would have to have ordinary teachers, so we developed a program with teachers who have passed the tenth grade in high school. Now basically, we take a tenth grader and teach them for approximately six days, how to conduct this course, give them cue cards and other things to use during the course so that if they forget they can get the information. So now, in order for that to work, we have actually got a very large investment in quality control people who are inspectors who go and check that these kids are delivering the course properly. So in the delivery we have a very strong monitoring framework to make sure that the course is being delivered well, and because mobile phones are very cheap now in India we are able to monitor the entire network of these several hundred units in Delhi, and then we’re going regional. After the course is completed, what kind of follow up do you do? Ashok: The follow up is something that we’ve been designing recently because what we’d like to do is to have reading clubs in the places where we are designing this. To set up small reading clubs where we can deposit comics and books on hygiene and health and cooking and other things that people want to read, and we are preparing these. According to your application, “the census of India counts more than half the women as illiterate.” How many people is this? You say that your program is “aimed at the literacy of Hindi speaking adult women and girls in rural India”. How many people is this?


Ashok: Well according to the government of India, which may be an underestimate, it is about 55 or 56 percent of the adult population in Northern India, so about 55 percent of about 350 million people. Half of them are young, so if you leave those out it will come to about 250 to 300 million. You state that “TARA Akshar+ is now widely recognized as the most costeffective method to deliver literacy and numeracy skills to Third World villagers”. By which independent third parties have you received such recognition? Ashok: We can send you a couple of URLs that document this. What is happening right now, the test that is happening right now may skew the results. When I said widely, widely is what intellectuals and what the British government say, the key client we have to convince is the government of India, and that is what is happening now. Akesh: Just to add to this, part of what we need to do in the use of our application, is we want to build up the groundswell because at this time no other program talks about the end result. Everybody talks about the number of people who have started it, but not about the end results, so I think the more the groundswell, the more help the more action is going to improve what you just asked about.

“Indian villages are very conservative, they don’t want men teaching women, so whenever possible we employ girls and women to teach. That’s not always feasible because they can be far away, and they have to travel, and the constraints of being a young women in India are really quite horrendous. So, in the beginning we used a combination of men and women to teach, but once these women have been taught we’ve found that in every class we get two or three leadership quality women who take over very soon.”

How does the use of information technology work in the remotest of areas that do not have electricity? Ashok: It’s not easy, but this is one of the reasons we use laptops, because they have built in batteries and so on, and they are charged with UPS, (uninterrupted power supply), which in turn is charged at night if there is electricity from the grid. If not, we buy a diesel generator pumping energy into the UPS. It’s difficult, let me tell you, there are energy logistical nightmares that we are dealing with. Please explain more about the aspect of your implementation plan that relates to training of women in TARA Akshar+ and the role women will play in your plans to expand the program. Ashok: Well in Indian villages, societies are very conservative, they don’t want men around teaching women, so whenever possible we employ girls and women to teach. But


that’s not always feasible because they can be far away, and they have to travel, and the constraints of being a young women in India are really quite horrendous. So in the beginning we used a combination of men and women to teach, but once these women have been taught we’ve found that in every class we get two or three leadership quality women who take over very soon. If you look at some of the stories on Youtube, and I think we sent you one, of a woman who was crippled, almost immobile, she is now a big leader in that village, everybody comes to her and she is in the local government, and she is a teacher. Rakesh: This question is important also if we combine this with the last question about laptops. The whole beauty of this is that it brings it into their backyards, and brings it in small batches, which allows the next generation of instructors to get the best out of it. I think the focus is women because the women impact the whole family. You mention by this time the programme will be implemented in all the Northern states of India and one million women and girls will be made illiterate at a cost of $9,000,000. How much has already been invested and how much more will it take to achieve this milestone? Ashok: Well there are two answers to that last question, hard cash in terms of developing it, delivering it, testing it, bringing it to this stage, would be in the order of 2.5 to 3 million I would imagine. That means that at the end of this we were not just developing it we also delivered it to a fair number of people. At the moment if you were to add up all the cash we spent, it would be in the order of 3 to 4 million I would guess. Now, that is not a very fair statement since high level people like myself and Victor Lyons never got paid anything at all, you know this is a labor of love, and I’m also a volunteer in a sense. In essence, this is three or four million if you don’t have kind of real market costs, so if you were to pay proper costs, we have a product that has an investment of something like 7 or 8 million. Tell us more about your sources of funding to date and the level of funding from the British government. Were they the primary source of funding? What is the financial model going forward that will support the scale up of TARA Akshar? Ashok: No, but they were a sizeable one in that they put in about a million. Cash money came from foundations, such as the Ford Foundation. USAID put in quite a lot of money, but not just for this, they gave for the development of it. A company in the wind business that wanted us to teach women in their area also gave a grant. TARAhaat has put in a huge amount, a fair amount of it was just buried, people working on Tara Akshar were being paid for doing other work, this was overtime work. Ninety-five percent of our products are affordable to people who actually benefit from them, people who make houses get very cheap housing products from our machines and so on. This is one product that the end clients just cannot afford. For example, asking a really poor woman to pay 90 to 100 dollars for learning how to read is not a high priority for her, she’s not able to put it together. So this is one of the few, if not the only product we have, where we’re trying to pay for it by selling the concept to a company or foundation or government for the benefit of their people, for learning. Now, when I say a business model, the model of TARAhaat, is that our costs will be “covered by somebody”, our basic costs of delivery have to be covered. In this case it would be primarily I think


the government of India. They have a commitment to teach everyone how to read and write, and we are in the process of convincing them that it is their responsibility to pay for this. Rakesh: Just to put it very simply, our funders should be the government of India, they have a mandate, it is the responsibility of the government. The problem is that it takes government a long time to get together to agree to do this. We are hoping that we don’t lose the momentum we have, so we are looking for partnerships, foundations to continue to do what we’re doing, while the government takes it time to make it work for them and support the work that we are doing. It has taken four years to reach 57,000 women. How realistic is it to make a 17.5X increase in three years while maintaining rigorous quality control including the challenges of training and adapting the programme to accommodate multiple dialects? Does your organization have the capacity and “We ran into a wall the experience to scale a programme so whenever we had decent rapidly? Ashok: The million women will be one dialect. Every new dialect will need us to bring in Victor Lyons to help us figure out the next one. We have a model for scale up. It’s very simple. The logistics is really a decentralized system in which very important work is done by local Community Based Organizations; they are looking for this kind of support, it’s like franchising. Our job is to create these franchises, and each one is replicated by 60 women, the model is in place and we’ve already been able to expand and contract at will. Is the business model that you’re developing among these organizations a common practice in India where people build a couple of different vehicles in order to produce a variety of services and outcomes? Is it a common methodology or are you charting new territory?

jobs but the people who needed them couldn’t have them because they can’t read or write. Tara Akshar is just the first step of taking it through a place where people can determine their own lives and futures, and in terms of women, how many babies they want, what kind of lives they want, health they want. So it’s not just a question of jobs and money and income, it’s also a question of control over their own lives.”

Ashok: We started 28 years ago with this as a business strategy. We’re pioneers, not just in India, probably in the world. DAG is a social enterprise of the Schwab Foundation Group, we got the Stockholm Challenge award. So this model that we developed is pioneering. I know not of many anywhere in the world who have this combination of the different types of enterprises in the NGO sector under one conglomerate, of the kind of work that we’re doing with this, we don’t know any others. Right now it’s not a common one but we hope it becomes more popular because it is the only way we know of fulfilling massive social objectives and being able to do it on a self-financing basis.


Can you elaborate on your vision and explain how this literacy program interconnects with your other programs? What happens after women are literate, what is your vision in terms of deeper education? Ashok: Yes, we do have a vision, we have a vision of a sustainable India, and our mission as an organization is to create a sustainable livelihoods. That’s the whole mission of DAG is to create sustainable livelihoods, which is basically jobs that are green that produce goods and services that people need for their day to day needs, that won’t destroy the environment. So we are in the business of creating jobs for men and for women, and the idea came to us to do this because we ran into a wall whenever we had decent jobs but the people who needed them couldn’t have them because they can’t read or write. Actually, we were forced to get into this as a means of bringing people to a level where the jobs are. Tara Akshar is just the first step of taking it through a place where people can determine their own lives and futures, and in terms of women, how many babies they want, what kind of lives they want, health they want. So it’s not just a question of jobs and money and income, it’s also a question of control over their own lives.

TARA Akshar- 2011 Buckminster Fuller Finalists  

Delivering a scalable solution to adult illiteracy through a highly innovative programme using sophisticated learning techniques and memory...

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