India-based social enterprise Avasarshala receives grants to grow their online offering
We often touch on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the global economy and job market. But perhaps we don’t consider as often the pandemic’s impact on the availability of opportunities for children. How are their future prospects affected?
According to the World Bank, “This different education service, over many months, has the potential of having a huge negative impact on students’ skills and economic prospects for the rest of their lives…this generation of students stand to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings.”
They also highlight the mounting pressure for parents during the pandemic itself reinforcing that “the unique nature of the pandemic places parents as first-line responders for children’s survival, care, and learning.”
One startup that’s tackling these challenges hands-on is India-based online opportunities platform Avasarshala who first crossed paths with Bridge after being selected to incubate in our Covid-19 The Leap: Solutions for Humanity cohort.
"We are rapidly moving into a skill based economy. Professional or personal development does not solely rely on education, degrees or courses that we pursue."
It’s safe to say the startup’s drive during the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed. The team, made up of Wife and Husband Ashwathy Venugopal and Sandeep S, have recently been awarded two grants to continue developing their opportunity based platform for children and parents.
We caught up with Ashwathy to learn more about their journey and take a look at their advice for other social entrepreneurs looking to apply for grants.
1. Ashwathy, you created Avasarshala to facilitate connecting parents and kids to online opportunities. How did you spot the need for a platform like this in the market?
Avasarshala is a concept that came from our own life experience and passion. Both my co-founder Sandeep and myself have been enthusiastic about extra-curricular activities as students.
Yet we did not get access to enough opportunities to pursue our interests with a focus and grow our talents or skills further. It was by chance that I secured a space in an International Leadership Program for Youth called Kectil based out of Atlanta USA.
It was a turning point in my life, but most importantly this is when we realized there are plenty of similar growth opportunities available not just for youth, but for school students as well.
When parents and students do not know where to look for these opportunities or how to apply for them in time- they tend to miss out on such life defining avenues.
We wanted to change that for students around us. This is how we set out to curate such avenues, make it all available in one space and help students navigate through opportunities to find the best suited avenues for them.
2. As a Youth Leader, why is social entrepreneurship such a powerful tool for building a more just and inclusive society?
Social entrepreneurship is a concept that is widely accepted, yet highly misinterpreted. This is a model for creating a change in the focus area chosen by an entrepreneur. This is not a space to be philanthropic, rather innovate to make an impact.
During my journey as a social entrepreneur as well through my interaction with others in this space, I have noticed a core value that makes social innovations highly impactful. Social innovators believe in the concept of sustainability.
Sustainable impact ensures that our innovation helps to create an impact not just today but extend the benefits to tomorrow and day after. I have chosen UN Sustainable Development Goals as a north star to aid me in creating a framework for my innovation.
We try to align everything we do at Avasarshala with UN SDG 4 (Quality Education), UN SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and UN SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).
As an education technology platform we focus on skill development opportunities for children to discover their own talents and interests and etch out a career that banks on their own super powers- irrespective of their background or gender.
3. What challenges have you faced whilst building Avasarshala as a social enterprise? How does the path vary from building a traditional company?
Fundraising can be quite tricky when building a social enterprise. Traditional investors often look for rapid and exponential growth and gauge success of the idea in terms of conventional startup principles. Impact analysis and social baselines may not be the parameters they look at.
For profit social enterprises are not eligible for Non Profit Donations as well. Until they meet the right investor, Social Entrepreneurs can lookout for several grants to kickstart their growth.
There is also an option to reach out to the right CSR partners. We have observed that more than any other type of businesses we need to ensure investor-enterprise match to take forward a healthy synergy while building a Social Enterprise.
4. During the pandemic, you launched the WhizKids Challenge 2020. How did you manage to respond so quickly to the urgent pandemic situation?
As the pandemic set in, we could see parents we work with, grappling to adjust to the new normal of working from home. A parent juggling between work and engaging kids became a common picture in most households.
We envisioned WhizKids to engage kids safely and effectively, allow an environment for peer learning, pick up some new skills and hone their own creativity- all while having fun. We got an amazing response from close to thousand families across 7 countries.
In 2021 we have relaunched WhizKids. We are getting great responses from families, as virtual summer camps for schools as well as family engagement programs for corporates.
5. Word has it you recently received two grants, congratulations! What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to find and apply for grants?
We are curators of opportunities. Just like how each opportunity helps for personal and professional growth, grants, fellowships and mentoring programs for startups and founders help to build a strong organization. We have been consistent in our applications for suitable programs.
You might have to face numerous rejections before landing the right opportunity. It is always a best practice to take note of your own application process, and keep a record of what worked and what did not. Such observations can help to replicate success in finding grants.
6. Avasarshala is a big advocate for the development of entrepreneurial skills amongst youth. Why should all young people learn these kinds of skills?
We are rapidly moving into a skill based economy. Professional or personal development does not solely rely on education, degrees or courses that we pursue.
It is always on what skills you have acquired, what interests do you have and how best you leverage your abilities to crack opportunities that come your way. This development is so much positive! A person’s background or access to resources no longer limit their growth.
At Avasarshala we have placed this value as a north star in all endeavors we take up. We curate opportunities to give access to aspirational avenues that leverage skills, abilities and talents of children and help them identify their passions early on in life.
Through our program WhizKids we present a gamified way of completing Challenges to pick up six key skills- Literary, Sensorial, Cultural, Math, Theatre and Practical Life Skills.
Through our project FlyHigh we inculcate entrepreneurial mindset in students by giving them a hands-on workshop on major concepts of entrepreneurship like Design Thinking, Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, Empathy Mapping and so on.
We leave them with a self guided workbook to practice these skills and try out the viability of ideas that come to their minds, on their own.
7.We are excited to see what’s to come for Avasarshala. What can we expect to see over the next year?
We are working on productising our program- WhizKids. Our goal is to make it available for schools and companies to host engagement activities for kids with us.
Best part is that we are working closely with children to create a product that they want and like to interact with.
At Avasarshala, we are building a platform for democratizing access to opportunities. We have been working with many Program Organizers around the world to partner with them and help to bring opportunities closer to deserving students of various demographics.
We will be launching programs that enable kids to not just access these opportunities but skill-up and make the most of such avenues.