Every child deserves a bedtime story
Pitch us on your solution
teleStory, enables illiterate parents to read to their children for the first time in Mumbai, via basic mobile phones. teleStory combines mobile phones and modern cloud telephony with story books, to deliver audio lessons in 4 different Indian dialects to 5000 illiterate children and their parents. Every child deserves a bedtime story, and with teleStory they can.
teleStory is working to solve illiteracy in India, through a systems approach enabling parents to learn to read with their children for the first time, harnessing the social relationship between parent and child to prepare young children for school.
teleStory's platform and approach has been developed working for and with local opportunities, and our technology focused approach mean it can quickly and easily scale across any country and region.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Millions of children have never learnt to read because their parents cannot, whilst alternative solutions are not available to them due to language or lack of internet access. teleStory is working to solve illiteracy in rural and hard to reach communities through a systems approach empowering parents to learn to read together with their children.
750 million people over the age of 15 still can’t read or write a basic sentence. Children who are not read to by their parents may hear 30m fewer words by the age of 4. In this cycle, illiteracy is passed from parent to child, along with poverty.
Literacy has played a role in the spread of Ebola, child marriage, malnutrition and gender equality. It’s a problem we know how to solve and it needs to be ended.
Who are you serving?
teleStory is working with women and children under 5, specifically young girls, around Mumbai to promote literacy. Most of teleStory’s users live in remote areas around Mumbai or in slum settlements around the city. Most teleStory families live in poverty and are being served by some limited early childhood education facility by a local NGO, however, these have failed to address child literacy, as well as parental literacy. Due to affordability, families only have access to a basic feature phone, providing an additional barrier to any educational content women and children could engage with back at home.
Working hand-in-hand with a local NGO, Mumbai Smiles, we have been able to co-design content and our platform with our end users to ensure it is extremely accessible and content engages parents and their children together. We have experimented with different voices on our audio books, different content, different training modules and proactive lessons (i.e. automatically calling end users to remind them to read with their children) - all at the request of our end users.
What is your solution?
teleStory, enables illiterate parents to read to their children for the first time in Mumbai, via basic mobile phones. teleStory combines mobile phones and modern cloud telephony with story books, to deliver audio lessons in 4 different Indian dialects to 5000 illiterate children and their parents.
teleStory works in a few simple steps:
Call teleStory’s number and receive a call back immediately
Enter a book code of a physical book borrowed from one of 100 partner local Balawadi’s (nursery centers)
As the illiterate parent holds the book in front of the child, just like any other parent, the phone gives them the audio for the words on the page
The parent then presses 1 to repeat on the phone keyboard and 2 to go to the next page
We measure the improvement in literacy over time and keep children engaged through quizzes
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Our solution's stage of development:
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New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
We identified a key issue in the intersection between the 3.8 billion people still offline in the world today and the disproportionate lack of basic services accessible to these groups, despite them still having access to a mobile phone. This led us to pursue opportunities to provide powerful solutions through simple technology applied in a new way. Simultaneously, we believed that education levels won’t increase unless people are given the opportunity to learn through literacy.
Our innovation is in the connection of different dots within the ecosystem and applying proven technology in new ways through innovative distribution.
Specifically, this means taking innovations in education or designing solutions for users end-needs around information and creating a compelling user experience that can be delivered over SMS or voice. Through following a stringent design process we are able to understand nuances on the ground to build simple user faces, even for those who are illiterate. Our tech stack for SMS and IVR applications is mainly Twilio based.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
teleStory utilised three key pieces of core technology: Cloud temetry, real-time analysis and modular micro-services for delivery across India.
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Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
teleStory works by creating pre-recorded audio lessons that match to story books delivered through our library system. The audio lessons feed the words of the story to the parent, whom can then repeat the words to the child. To generate interaction between parent and child, we program in fun games and quizzes to help track the students’ progress.
The Theory of change is around building connection and vocabulary for parents and child by learning to read together. A world-famous study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley (1995) found that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. Studies have repeatedly shown that reading aloud to children is the best way to develop the necessary skills for future literacy. Sharing bedtime stories works wonders for expanding vocabulary, inspiring creativity and curiosity whilst building logic and many more skills.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
To date, we have provided basic literacy to 5,000 children and their parents (reading age of 4-5) around Mumbai and invested 50,000 USD into the early childhood education sector.
By the end of 2021, we aim to positively impact the lives of 1 million women and girls, either by providing basic literacy for the first time. Although this does not fully solve the 300m illiterate adults in India it is an important step along the way, we believe our inter-enerational approach helping parents and children together will have many more multiplying effects. We also believe that by focusing on the next generational of young girls we can make the biggest difference to the SDGs and continiue to mass scale after 2021.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Over the past few years, a significant amount of our time has been spent partnering with local NGOS, understanding the context of the problem through human centered design and completing field visits.
Our next mission is to scale teleStory from 5000 users to over 1 million to put a dent in the literacy issue of India and health implications because of this.
A significant part of this will be driving down our cost of distribution through telecom partnerships, developing a low-data android application and through increasing our revenue per user by partnering with corporates looking to reach our user base.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Our largest barriers to scale with teleStory today is our user acquisition because we are working with offline groups, who by definition are hard to reach, and secondly our cost of distribution, i.e. phone minutes from time end-users spend on our platform.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
For user acquisition - we plan to build larger partnerships working with Balawadi networks across India to immediately scale to millions of children at once
For our costs we plan to partner with a teleCom in India to support reaching hard to reach groups. We also plan to increase our revenue per end user by partnering with Corporates along specific topics (this is a proven model as corporates in India are required to give 2% of profits to end users).
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How many people work on your solution team?
We have a core team of 5 staff, with a number of additional partners and volunteers.
- James da Costa, London/ Mumbai, CEO: day-to-day operations and leadership of teleStory
- Callum Porter-Harris, Mumbai/ Nairobi, Advisor & Co-Founder: partnerships and strategy
- Kunal Sachdeva, Delhi, Head Developer: leads the development of teleStory applicarion
- Pablo Aguera Reneses, Mumbai, Project Manager & Partnerships: manages local partnerships and implementation
- 10+ student volunteers: support recording of teleStory books, setting up in new schools and teleStory awareness
- 4th Wheel, http://www.the4thwheel.com/ : Impact assessment partners who have previously worked with organisations such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Our team have a proven track record of developing community centered mobile applications across India and Kenya. For our work we have been recognised as Forbes 30 Under 30, spoken at multiple conferences (One Young World, World Innovation Summit on Education, UK Houses of Parliament) and teleStory recently won the Facebook Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2019 Grand Prize (55K usd in Facebook credits and executive mentorship). Additionally, James and Callum are extremily involved in the wider social impact ecosystem having programmed the worlds largest accelerator for 50 student teams at a castle in UK with the Hult Prize Foundation.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
Project Baala, Partner: Awareness, Education and Provider of sustainable menstrual protection to over 20,000 girls across India. We are working with Baala to explore developing children's health information books to distribute to all of their local communities across India.
Mumbai Smiles: local education NGO around Mumbai. We are working with Mumbai Smiles to distribute to children across Mumbai.
What is your business model?
At a price of 100 rupee (1.35 USD) per user per month, paid in phone credit or at a local Balwadi, teleStory makes a margin for each user on the platform - either paid for by the end user or an NGO partner. teleStory also leverages its platform for local advertising partnerships into hard to reach offline users.
In the future, our core focus will be to partner with corporates to distribution information through story books and reach remote users.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
In 2019, we plan to run a crowd-funding campaign over Christmas to turn our 55,000 USD Facebook credit into 100,000 USD cash to support our operations into 2020. In addition, we aim to bring in sustained revenue through partnering with corporates to reach remote users.
Why are you applying to Solve?
We are applying to Solve to take teleStory from a proven technology innovation in the field to a solution that provides long-lasting transformation change.
In particular, we are excited to receive support on a complete needs assessment and a customized partnership action plan to i) understand the full impact of teleStory direct and indirect ii) plan appropriate outreach to partners who can support on teleStory content creation and distribution.
teleStory would greatly benefit from awareness from global media and social media, to put illiteracy and its impact on early childhood education on the global stage. Having been part of a number of different social impact communities, the opportunity to meet like-minded entrepreneurs to share experiences whilst simultaneously receiving input from investors and experts is an unparalleled chance to increase the impact of teleStory.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to partner with corporates and NGOs in India to co-create childrens content for teleStory's platform.
One example could be creating children's books with a company such as Unilever around health and the importance of washing hands.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
teleStory would use the prize to support our work with women and girls around Mumbai, around three particular ideas:
Exploring how the literacy improvement of mothers teleStory is enabling could lead to employment opportunities
How we can continue to work with girls to set them up for success as they start school
Create children’s books putting women and girls at the center of the stories