Forty thousand dollars has become a symbol of hope, ambition and transformation for an Australian social entrepreneur making waves in the developing world.
The 40K Project seeks to transform the primary education system in India, afflicted by high student dropout rates and high teacher absenteeism in government schools.
From the ground up, Founder Clary Castrission has built a three-pronged social business recently lauded as the ‘One to Watch’ at the 2014 Social Enterprise Awards.
The business model is broken down into three streams:
- 40K Foundation runs an after-school education program for children in India – currently supported by donations and 40K Globe and 40K Consulting income.
- 40K Consulting works with young professionals in big business to promote the benefits of shared value.
- 40K Globe runs a one-month social entrepreneurship program open to tertiary students and career-breakers to learn about life in India with the goal of creating a useful, sellable product or service using only local resources.
It was while Castrission was studying law at the University of Technology Sydney that an academic encouraged him to get out on the ground in developing countries if he really wanted to change the world.
He has since seen his life change course as the result of a trip to an Indian village outside Bangalore in 2005.
“I went to India because it seemed like a cool place to go,” he says. “We made a very, very vague promise to build them a school.”
The estimated cost was $40,000. Five years and $400,000 later, Castrission had built that school, reaching an important milestone in his plan to bring better education to those most in need.
Social Change in the Lab
The organisation has risen from those roots and now aims to transform education in India through social business. It has a Bangalore office with 20 staff, along with a cohort in Australia.
Children are provided with tablets fully loaded with Maths and English learning programs.Castrission’s strategy to address education deficiencies has shifted. Knowing that if his program was to reach thousands of children building schools was not the answer, Castrission developed after-school education centres called ‘pods’ for kids living in poverty in rural Indian villages.
“India had been like a lab for us, training us in a way to look at social problems,” Castrission says.
The fact that the program’s impact is achieved overseas has brought some challenges.
“It’s an issue. When it comes to education overseas, Australian donors are more likely to invest in bricks and mortar. They’ve developed this concern about where the money goes. [With our program] it becomes slightly less tangible,” he says.
“There’s this disconnect between the needs and wants of Australian donors and the needs and wants of education in India.”
Castrission’s views on the role of donors has changed dramatically.
“As a uni student, I thought the only way to go for social impact was government or philanthropic funding,” he says.
“A fundamental thing I dislike about [traditional] aid is the idea of a beneficiary. When you’re going to a village with cash, they will tell you what you want to hear.
“Business gives you inherently more equality. You convert the relationship from beneficiary to customer.
“If we change the way that we look at them, from have-not to have-little, we can be more responsive to their needs.”
He draws two key lessons from the setup process:
1. Importance of scale
“If you can’t build a program for tens of thousands of kids, you’re wasting your time.”
2. Finding and retaining talent
“That’s something I thought the charity model didn’t lean towards. The Not for Profit model expects people to work for half [pay]. I needed to build a world class team and I knew I couldn’t do it on Not for Profit wages.”
Corporate Culture Clash
Of the organisation’s two fee-for-service streams, Castrission says 40K Globe has had the slowest uptake in Australia.
“The general consensus I’m getting is that it’s an Australian thing,” he says.
“We’re just not having corporate leaders wanting to put there brand out there and take the risk.”
There has been stronger uptake by corporates in Asia – where, Castrission says, companies have been exposed to potential ways to tackle problems of the developing world through business.
One such problem in which 40K has become involved is the influx of foreign workers into the region, where they are often forced to live in slums.
“Through our process, [corporate clients] have identified huge commercial opportunities through foreign workers. They’ve identified some great market opportunities through housing and training them,” he says.
“Our aim is the keep winning business in Asia. Takeup in Australia is a very,very long pipeline.
“It’s a culture of risk thing. The sad thing is that in Australia we’re lacking corporates who want to put their hands up and take the risk.”
Castrission also sees value for the corporate world through the concept of “innovation by restriction”.
“In a country like India, you’ve got restrictions everywhere,” he says.
What people are trained in, Castrission says, is “using these restrictions as an opportunity to build ultra-high quality, low-cost innovations”.
“When we started to get our teeth into the CSV space, we found it’s a great way to train corporate leaders in that restrictive innovation sense,” he says.
Yet, Castrission says: “There’s still a long way to go with corporates ‘getting’ shared value. What we come across is a lot of sustainability managers who have the best of intentions but no budget or mandate.”
An Australian Future
Over the next five years, 40K aims to educate 6,000 children and train 2,000 young Australians in building social businesses in India through 40K Globe.
Castrission says there is also the prospect of importing the model into one or two additional countries.
He has been spending time with two communities outside Katherine in the Northern Territory to explore the possibility of utilising the model in indigenous Australia.
“There are elements of our model that can be adapted to Australia – we find it quite disruptive to the way we’ve done things before,” he says.
“India’s taught us a process, not necessarily a product.”
In addition, 40K Globe is now run in 11 universities, where students receive academic credits for participating.
“Revenue-wise we’re well exceeding expectations,” Castrission adds.
“Where we would look for impact investment is to be more aggressive with our growth. We don’t need grants now. [Social enterprise] has given us autonomy.
“This was not a planned career path. It’s a lot about gravitating until you find your feet.
“Starting out I was very naive. It’s just been taking learnings at each step and having a crack.
“That 40K changed the course of my life.”
– See more at: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2014/07/40k-project-new-hope-education-india#sthash.w81AO914.dpuf