Gray Matters Capital is an impact investing foundation set up by Bob Pattillo with a mission of facilitating education to create a more purposeful life for 100 million women by 2036. As impact investors, they see education and skill building as a catalyst to empower women and girls, socially and economically. In line with their focus on bridging the gender gaps in education and workforce participation, they also endeavour to improve the quality of education that is imparted in schools, as learning outcomes have a direct bearing on future employability.

They recently organised ‘Tales, We Win’, a three-day immersive leadership development program based on storytelling, to arm leaders in the social sector with inspiration, ideas and frameworks that can significantly translate leadership to organisational success. As media partner, YourStory was happy to facilitate some of the peer-to-peer learning sessions. We came back inspired by the transformations these leaders are driving. Here are their stories.

1. Putting technology in the hands of teachers in Colombia to help students escape the clutches of drug trafficking and violence

Juan Manuel grew up in Medellin, Colombia, in a neighborhood marked by drug trafficking and high crime rates. However, in the 10th grade he found a teacher who inspired him to learn and imagine a future different from his current circumstance. When he was 14, he got his first computer and learnt how to program software and also discovered that there were possibilities to earn money through technology.

Wanting to help children in challenged neighborhoods envision a better future for themselves, he created a company, Aulas Amigas, which translates to ‘friendly classrooms’. He wanted to use the benefits of technology to fill schools with inspiring teachers like his own mentor. His brainchild, TOMi7, now empowers teachers of schools that do not have access to technology, taking internet to their classrooms, demonstrating how the classes can be more interactive, helping the teacher, and also offering content to prepare the lessons.

This tool comes equipped with a processor and an operating system that allows teachers to qualify exams, scan notebooks, call list, and customize student study plans. Also, it is a digital board and device capable of enabling an internet-simulated environment without internet connectivity that students can use to engage with the teacher and each other.

2. Radicalising healthcare care delivery in Mexico with an innovative upskilling approach for disadvantaged women

Seeing her family struggle to cope with the needs of her grandmother who lived with Alzheimer´s Dementia, Ellie saw a gap in healthcare service delivery and built a team committed to better care through better people. Her nursing and healthcare college, Instituto Salus, empowers women from low socio-economic backgrounds to gain meaningful employment with senior service providers through an up-skilling healthcare education and training program.

Her 257 person team has developed a job placement application to match the qualified graduates of Instituto with the healthcare jobs available and owns both healthcare education and senior care businesses in Mexico. Salus has an annual revenue of $40 million pesos (US $ 2.12 million) and has impacted over eight thousand families.

3. Helping social and environmental startups around the world scale their solutions in Mexico

Creating change by providing solutions to the most critical problems can be extremely difficult. There are no roadmaps or a ‘one-size-fits all’ formula. However, there exist some ‘bright-spots’ and paths in some places which can open a wide range of possibilities for others. Connovo is passionate about finding these ‘bright-spots’ and scaling their impact by working with organisations across the world.

Connovo is the first impact venture-builder in Mexico. It develops unique partnerships with successful social businesses to scale their impact, through a tailored impact venture building process.

It is frustrating to see aspiring entrepreneurs “reinventing the wheel” developing solutions that have already been created somewhere else and losing precious resources such as time, energy and money. Connovo has designed a truly efficient process to scale the impact of ‘what works’.

They scout for solutions that have proven to work and bring together all the key resources that are needed to build a successful social business in a new context: a team of high calibre co-founders, seed funding, shared services, key connections and mentoring.

4. Enabling marginalised adolescents in India to re-imagine their identities, capabilities and futures

Voice 4 Girls is a social enterprise that enables marginalised adolescent girls in India to take charge of their futures by imparting critical knowledge, decision making power, spoken English training, and life skills through activity-based camps. Their flagship program is a 30-day intervention over a period of a year and the VOICE campers have enabled girls to cross over puberty with knowledge, information and dignity and at the same time enable them to dream big and look at the world with a new perspective. In addition to programs with adolescent girls, VOICE is also working with adolescent boys to make them gender ambassadors.

VOICE has many success stories of young girls who have gone on to pursue higher studies, delay early marriage and pregnancy. One of their incredible success story is that of Mansa’s, an adolescent girl who camp to the VOICE camp. She learnt that girls face many social and cultural expectations and went on to negotiate with her mother to continue her education. She has not only been rallying against child marriage in her village but has also written a book about the challenges faced by a girl. Mansa even addressed a UNICEF conference on educational programming for adolescents in Bangalore in 2014. She is now pursuing an Engineering degree as well as founded an NGO to continue her support for the poor.

5. Shifting the focus of education from academic excellence to awakening ‘human potential’ in every child

Chrysalis’ solution addresses the premise that education today does not encourage children to think. With the way the system is structured, it is possible that most schools in India are failing children by not helping them realise their innate human potential, not encouraging them to look deep for critical, analytical or creative thinking, nor asking them to look around at social or environmental happenings or look within to reflect.

Chrysalis, the Chennai based educational reform startup, is changing that. Its flagship product -ThinkRoom- is a student-centric academic programme developed in-house through 18 years of intense pedagogic research. It aims to help every school student to discover his or her potential, and replaces programmes and textbooks where the focus is limited to academic outcomes.

Today, Chrysalis employs more than 100 people, and works across 11 states, with over 2,50,000 students from 800-plus schools.

6. Working to create a nation of readers

Nikhil once heard of a little girl from Grade 1 who couldn’t read simple English words, and ended up copying the question instead of the answer as an attempt to cover her embarrassment. With English being a major international language, the ability to read fluently in English is a life skill that is crucial for academic success and to participate in the global arena. However, for several reasons, Indian children are trailing behind in their ability to read and comprehend English. That India ranked second last among the 73 countries that participated in the annual Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by OECD, is something that is hard to ignore.

Stones2Milestones’ goal is to change this for children in non-English environments. They focus on enabling the skill to make reading easy and also on developing the will to make reading enjoyable. As the window for this intervention is from ages 3 to 9, they work with schools, parents and teachers to locate the current reading level of the child and then navigate them to the desired reading level via an adaptive reading platform.

7. Imparting ‘life-changing’ fellowships to create the next wave of social intrapreneurs

Social intrapreneurs are becoming key players in the race towards a new kind of economy. These changemakers are supporting and leading the development of scalable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges – from health to education to environment. Unlike social entrepreneurs, social intrapreneurs are innovating from within an existing enterprise or organization. IDEX Accelerator’s mission is to create the next wave of ‘social intrapreneurs’ who will support, lead and advance the work of socially-focused enterprises around the world.

The IDEX Accelerator is a six-month fellowship experience designed for aspiring social intrapreneurs who want to take control of their career path while helping to address society’s most pressing problems. These young professionals are given the opportunity to work alongside social entrepreneurs across Bengaluru (India) and gain hands-on experience in addressing the needs of a growing enterprise, while earning a Professional Certification in Social Enterprise. It is currently inviting applications for its July 2019 fellowship program

8. Making education and scholarship opportunities accessible to all Indian students with India’s largest scholarship platform

According to a 2009-10 report by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, the total dropout rate for primary students in India stood at 28.86 per cent with the rate for elementary students at 42.39 per cent. Studies show that poverty, family, economic and financial circumstances play a significant role in influencing school dropouts. On the other hand there are over 2200 scholarships available in India and over INR 18000 Cr spent on scholarships and other education initiatives.

Buddy4study, a scholarship web portal helps students in matching and connecting to scholarships so that students can complete their education. It also helps corporates to launch and manage scholarships in a trasparent and scalable way, connecting to needy and meritorious students.

With over 16,89,990 ‘buddies’ onboard, and 65 crore scholarships disbursed to 60,000 students till date, the platform connects students with India’s scholarship ecosystem using technology. The Buddy4Study scholarship search engine helps students search for scholarships, while the AI-backed engine lets students create their profiles, find scholarships that match their profile, apply for all such scholarships, and even stand a chance to win. Buddy4Study has a student traffic of over 30,000 students/day and helps over 600,000 students every month

9. Helping students ace competitive exams with a one-stop online solution

In 2014, Alok Katiyar built a general knowledge app as a part of his Android learning project. Within a week, the app had acquired 5,000 new students. Many students however, could only read in their regional language. This opened up a new challenge for the founding team to provide study material in regional language and thus, their first Marathi app was launched in November 2014. By the end of 2014, MadGuy Labs had 120,000+ app downloads, and in 2015 the total users reached two million. This wasn’t just about numbers, these were people who previously couldn’t afford to study that were now taking on qualifying exams to get their dream jobs.

Available in Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu and English, this edtech start-up will be introducing test-prep materials for government exams in Bengali and Odia by the end of the financial year. With 65,000 active users and over 3000 paid users, Alok is working towards launching an AI-based teacher within the MadGuy Labs App that would not just mimic the experience of attending class in a coaching institute, but also add a touch of personalization for every subscriber.

10. Enabling system-wide improvement of Indian education using assessments

Half of India’s 1.2 billion people are below the age of 25, and quality education services are needed for India to tap into this human capital. While school enrollment rates in the country are high, there are challenges and large disparities in service quality and student performances, especially in government schools. As a result, low income families toil to send their children to low cost private schools, paying 10-15% of their household income as school fees. The quality of education imparted in these schools however, is questionable.

Gray Matters India (GMI) is a social enterprise that designs skill-based assessments that provide a “diagnosis” of student learning level in a a school or system. The “diagnosis” identifies learning gaps and allows for schools to implement changes that result in targeted improvement.

​GMI has been conducting educational assessments for the past 5 years with a team that demonstrates expertise in design, internationally acclaimed measurement models and data analytics. They organize diagnostic student assessments as a competition called the All India Critical Thinking Test to help students develop problem solving and critical thinking skills. They work with education solution providers, NGOs and foundations to help them measure the impact of their program on student learning outcomes. GMI also carries out comprehensive school assessments including assessment of student learning outcome, teaching quality, parent satisfaction, school leadership and learning infrastructure. Till date, their assessment solutions have impacted over 8,00,000 students, from 10,000+ schools and 15,000 teachers across 15 states.

11. Helping visionary edupreneurs with their first institutional investment leg-up

edLABS is Gray Matters Capital’s investment initiative that provides early-stage funding to ‘visionary edupreneurs’ to help them build breakthrough solutions for the Indian mass market. It focuses on solutions that address education gaps, 21st-century skills and the future of work.

Other than providing flexible financing up to USD 150K to help enterprises scale, edLABS provides access to advisory support, networks & scale. Since its inception in March 2017, edLABS has made ten diverse investments.

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