Naveen Pallayil (MyDilse.org): “Do Not Seek Praise, Seek Criticism.” [Exclusive]

Note of the Editor: This interview comes into a brand-new project by Oliver*| *Crowdfunders Crowdfunding Inside Out which aims to make a journey around the world to meet key market players and discover how crowdfunding is evolving in their countries. After the Italian reward-based platform Eppela and the Spanish equity crowdfunding platform specialised in life sciences, Capital Cell, Oliver* headed to India to meet with Naveen Pallayil, founder of the donation-based crowdfunding platform, MyDilse.org, whose mission is to partner with public schools’ teachers to help students succeed.

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The success of societies depends on the ability of young people to thrive amid relentless change, McKinsey contends presenting a new study on how to improve students’ educational outcomes.

This in turn depends on a few key factors such as students’ mindset which has been shown to overtake the environment where they are immersed.

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Source: McKinsey (2017) How to Improve Student Educational Outcomes: New Insights from Data Analytics. Available here.

Accordingly, teachers shoulder a key responsibility as educators continue to debate what matters and what works. Nevertheless, limitations of an environment risk to take-down even a student’s motivation.

We don’t know if Indian tech entrepreneurs, Naveen Pallayil, thought about this prior to establish MyDilse.org, a crowdfunding platform that aims of helping public school teachers to get the resources students need to succeed. So we met with him to know more about his project and what’s the role of crowdfunding in tackling this issue.

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MyDilse’s Logo. Source: Facebook

Oliver*: Hi Naveen and thank you for joining us. My first question is about your motivation in starting up this venture. You are a tech entrepreneur, so what inspired you to start MyDilse.org? Was there a particular moment? Or was it a series of events that you lead you to this initiative?

Naveen Pallayil: Hi Oliver* and thank you for having me. I started off by adopting public schools in nearby villages, reconstructing the classrooms, washrooms, study areas and helped them with study materials. Along the way I realised that a lot of personal time and the budget was invested but the impact was limited and there was a lot to still do and many children still to help.

My interactions with the adopted public-school teachers made me aware of one thing that the teachers in these schools are highly qualified and equally passionate to drive change. But they lack the support and resources. As simple as toilet facilities for female teachers and girls. That is when I decided to combine both my passion and corporate experience to create a platform to reach more and more teachers and students across India.

O*: Could you give us a brief introduction of yourself?  

NP: I grew up in a small village called Pullur in Kerala, my mother was a teacher in a government school and my father was in the military. With the responsibility to support three kids and the limited income from government jobs my parents could only afford a public-school education for me and my siblings.

Being educated through this system I understand the importance and impact of this not only on a student but also on our country. This motivated me to bring a change and help improve the situation however I can.

My fascination with Computers began ever since my childhood. I had a burning desire to understand how computer programs were created. I completed my school education later I was fortunate enough to get admission for a computer science program at The LBS Centre for Science and Technology (LBSCS &T) that was the happiest day of my life. Later I’ve attended numerous programs and acquired multiple titles on Information Technology offered by Tech Giants like Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon. I was even selected as a State Representative of ETA International for India.

O*: What sort of projects run on your platform? Do you have prior experience working on crowd funding platforms? Is it merely about assisting schools with basic teaching material? What about wholesale infrastructural requirements like toilets, etc? 

NP: As per my research there are about 15,25,642 plus public schools in India. Stated like Uttar Pradesh alone has about 2,55,970 public schools. These numbers look huge and reaching all these schools through the traditional model would have been ineffective and time consuming.

I come from a techno business background having 15-year career of delivering advanced solutions and implementing both technical and business strategies for multi-million-dollar corporations and it was essential to use that advantage to be successful in this vision. We build an online platform which is not restricted by location or timelines and is open to all public-school teachers in India.

As of now, we have active teachers from Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Karnataka etc.

MyDilse.org portal is very user-friendly and interactive which makes it easy for teachers to enrol and drive their request on their own. A teacher just needs to start a new project and describe the requirement or material needed, our team reviews the requests validates the cost on leading e-commerce portals and approves the project. This project is now available to all for funding, once a project is fully funded, we purchase all the requested items and ship them directly to the school using leading e-commerce platforms.

There are many active projects currently on our platform and more than 110 teachers have signed up recently.

 

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O*: What is the process a teacher must undergo to apply on your platform and acquire what he/she needs? Also, is the medium of instruction on the platform in English only? What about those teachers who aren’t as well versed in the language? Are you developing the platform in the vernacular as well? 

NP: Today the platform is developed in English soon will add support to all the Indian languages. We do have campaign managers and a support team who speaks different local languages to help teachers navigate through the process. In fact, our first level of support is managed using an Artificial Intelligence BOT called “Vidya”.

From a process standpoint it is very simple, and we have quick video links and FAQs on our portal to facilitate the teachers.

O*: How have you spread your brand to teachers all over this country? Who did you reach out to for the same? How many teachers have applied for funds on this platform? How much money has this platform raised? What targets are you looking at in the near future?  

NP: We are leveraging social media to a larger extent also once a teacher successfully gets a funding she then talks to other teachers in that school followed by word of mouth conversation to other schools and districts.

Apart from leveraging social media, we also run targeted Google Ads campaigns to reach out to the mass audience.

O*: Is this strictly a non-profit venture? Also, what lessons have you learnt from other crowd funding platforms? What’s special about your platform? 

NP: Yes. We’re a 100% Nonprofit Tech for Good venture.

Crowdfunding is just one of the feature our platform offers. Apart from crowdfunding our platform has following features:

  1. Offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a learning dashboard for a teacher that empower teachers to do their job well
  2. Professional networking
  3. Private and public chat
  4. Community section
  5. Groups etc.

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O*: How challenging was it to get teachers from so many schools on board? What were the other challenges faced (or being faced) on the way? 

NP: We are in an era of the internet and social media, everything can be bought and sold with the click of a button. And so is our portal, high-end technology and user-friendly but the challenge is first to make the schools and teachers aware of our presence and second to get them on the internet and social platform as most of the teachers in rural India are still not very acquainted with these resources or aware of the concept of crowdfunding.

Our platform works based on creating campaigns and then sharing these over social media to raise funds. Contacting these teachers and then training them on how to use social media and showing them the impact of crowdfunding and how it works was the first biggest challenge. To overcome this, we started contacting the premier management institutes in search of volunteers who can connect with teachers and help them create a campaign and execute the campaign on their behalf.

To start, a public-school teacher needs to register first by sharing the valid credentials. Some teachers don’t have teacher ID proofs which determine that they work at these public schools. In these cases, we ask for some other proofs which can validate their credentials like headmaster’s letter along with his/her ID Proof. If a teacher is not able to provide a valid proof, we don’t onboard the campaign. There is an internal check done to validate the school, headmaster and area of operation to ensure authenticity.

O*: What do you feel are the most-needed resources that will impact student lives most?

NP: Anything that makes learning tangible, whether it’s a Geoboard to help them explore various geometry shapes and understand basic mathematics concepts or some Floor Rugs so that they can sit comfortably while attending daily classes. Any resource however small or big that makes learning hands-on and easy is important. The issue today is not the awareness of what is needed, but how to get it and that is where MyDilse.org steps in.

Making these resources not only possible but available within a short-time.

O*: Every state’s Public-School system is different. What are some of the various kinds of requests being received from teachers? What is the most required infrastructure component in schools today?

NP: Requests start from basic seating facilities like rugs, chairs, benches to advanced teaching materials like laptops and projectors. Teachers understand the day-to-day necessity and open projects to support their cause. We have also seen many rural public school’s requests where they ask us to help build toilets as female students don’t come to school because they don’t have toilets. Even female teachers find it difficult to teach in such schools which further pushes parents to not send their girl child to an all men teaching school. For such requests we usually partner with local contractors or any MNC (i.e. Multinational Corporation) Donors who as part of their CSR activity help build this infrastructure.

O*: How did you tap into the crowd funding scene? Also talk about the engagement with corporates in providing technical support. 

NP: As mentioned earlier, the original concept was to help individual schools like other philanthropists, the idea was to help uplift them to be fully equipped to deliver high quality education even in Public Schools. This thought was slow, and the impact low, hence with the digitized approach I was able to do more with lesser time.

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While working on the idea, I interacted with a lot of folks inside and outside my working and social circle and the same pattern evolved. Everyone was committed to making a difference and wanted to help bring change to the society but didn’t know how to go about it. Supporting NGOs or participating in CSR activities done by companies was a good start but they couldn’t see the impact of their support. This encouraged me to further enhance my platform and make it available for everyone and anyone in India to come help and support as they can clearly see how and where their contribution impacts. They can talk to the teacher, support multiple projects, participate in discussions and do a lot more to be a part of the entire initiative.

Currently we are associated with the Philanthropic wing of some of the Tech Leaders like Google, who provide us with G-Suite and Ad Grants to promote the platform. Similarly, we are associated with NASSCOM Foundation’s BigTech, AWS, Smart Fifty (IIM Calcutta Innovation Park in association with Department of Science and Technology).

O*: What is the amount that has been raised across requests through crowd funding? 

NP: If you look at the kind of projects running on our platform, they don’t cost a lot, these are basic amenities that any student deserves.  We are trying to support a teacher provide best in class education to his/her students and at times that might just cost 20 books worth 500 Rupees; but will really make a significant difference to the student who receives it. Till now, we have raised a good amount of funds through our platform and we hope we are able to grow and keep changing the life of students everyday through our efforts.

O*: How do students/graduates of premier B schools benefit from the initiative? How many members are a part of the initiative across the country? 

NP: This initiative can help in developing Grass root level understanding of communities and graduates can develop skills related to Persuasion, Campaign Management, Content Marketing, Email Marketing etc. The research involved to connect with these teachers and the effort required to help them understand the concept along with ensuring the right content is being marketed is all real-life experience and not case study-based learning. Such level of learning and a chance to make an impact is extremely high and this opportunity excites most of our volunteers who join us as campaign managers.

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O*: As founder, I’m sure you have seen many projects come through MyDilse.org. What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve seen, as well as some of the most life-changing for teachers and students?

NP: It’s hard to pick, but I remember two projects. One called Rugs for my students and another one called Security for my students. It’s disheartening to see small children relay on old newspaper to sit and School teacher are struggling to keep their children safe from antisocial elements.

O*What has been the greatest learning experience for you since you started the initiative? 

NP: I think every day is a learning, each time I talk to a teacher and listen to their request or the hardships they face to do their job it’s a moment of inspiration to do more. Once a project is funded and delivered we usually get calls from teachers about how happy the students are and how the resource they received has changed and helped the students; this moment where you hear a happy teacher with their happy class is the most cherished moment for all of us at MyDilse.org.

Recently, I read a piece on Time Of India how a teacher from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh benefited from our platform:

Every time Priyanka Singh, a teacher at Upper Primary School, Barabanki, had to explain to her students complex scientific concepts that required colour coding to differentiate between ideas, she would wish for a whiteboard instead of the existing blackboard. She had tried getting donations for her school from locals but in vain. Then someone told her about an online fundraising platform for educators in India. She started a campaign for a whiteboard and to her surprise the crowdfunding for it got completed in just a week. “I now have a whiteboard. I even got a projector for them later.”

O*: What is your understanding of the public-school system through the experience of your engagement with them? 

NP: Indian public schools are seeing a systemic decline in enrolment. According to a recent article by economist Geeta Kingdon, 419,000 of government schools had total enrolment less than 50, and 108,000 schools with enrolment less than 20. Although the Indian public-school system has addressed the problem of access, it has failed to withstand competition from private schools. These failures of the public-school system call for an overhaul of the structure of schooling in India.

Physical access to neighbourhood schools is now a reality, with most of the villages having an elementary school within a radius of 3km. However, physical access does not ensure adequate learning. Ten years of an annual survey of education report surveys and national achievement surveys by NCERT have revealed a nationwide learning crisis. The first to exit dysfunctional public schools are those from better socio-economic classes, and the disadvantaged suffer. Studies have revealed that students drop out mainly because schools are not attractive physically and pedagogically. Better learning outcomes need functional schools—not just mere physical access.

I completely agree with the analysis of the author and have witnessed all this to be true with every interaction I have with these schools. We worked with one of the local schools in Telangana where we helped the school and helped with the construction of toilets for a better sanitation of the students and teachers. During the time the government of Telangana distributed free school uniforms to all the students. And we saw that the next day despite being provided with uniforms by the state government over 35% of the students were not wearing it. The reasons varied from parents selling it for money to using it to make pillow cases at home. Some of these parents only send their children to schools only to ensure they get food which is provided in the form of mid-day meals by the government as they can’t afford the cost of feeding their children twice in a day. They are not even aware of the impact or future the child will have if he is literate and educated.

O*: What drives you?

NP: I want to be able to think about the future and feel good about it. We are doing what we can to have the next generation get the best of everything possible, to be inspired by what is likely to happen, and to look forward to the next day. And that’s the underlying principle behind or project. I may sound ambitious or too optimistic, but our vision is to make the Indian education system world-class, there should be no differentiation in the ability to deliver the same job between a Public-School Graduate or a Private School Graduate. The day we reach this stage I will feel content and happy that I achieved what I set sail for.

O*: Any advice for aspiring Entrepreneurs?

NP: I strongly believe in the quote by Paul Arden:

Do not seek praise, seek criticism.

Instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’ you are more likely to get an honest, critical answer. A critique is as valuable as gold. And you should seek that from everyone you can, but particularly your friends. I do this every time when I meet my friends. It doesn’t mean your friends are right, but you at least want to listen wisely to what they say. Your goal is to be less wrong.

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