Asia Initiatives Learning Cascades
One-line solution summary:
Transforming learning for women and girls with the power of technology and social capital
Pitch your solution.
Through Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), our community currency for social good, Asia Initiatives has developed “Cascades of Learning” for crowdsourcing education and creativity for all women and girls. SoCCs are hyper local, and minted by helping one’s community and redeemed for education, up-skilling and healthcare. SoCCratic dialogues with girls and women help us understand the specificity of the hurdles that keep them away from formal and informal education. Participants help us create SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus. Girls in most of our projects are tutoring younger children to help them succeed in school. They redeem SoCCs for school fees and supplies, and to attend sessions in our Girls’ Resource Centers to learn computer skills, STEM and life skills. Companies also earn SoCC badges for Corporate Social Responsibility. Intersecting circumstances that prevent girls from getting educated include poverty, child marriage, and social mores are also addressed by SoCCs.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Asia Initiatives works with women and girls in poor communities in India, Ghana, Kenya and USA who face severe gender discrimination and other barriers to education and skills that can help them escape poverty and improve their well being. They are caught in the poverty trap due to severe gender discrimination, poverty and caste/societal mores. The girls in poor families across India are expected to help with household chores or care for younger siblings instead of pursuing an education. Due to insufficient protein in their diet, and about 70% of girls and women in our projects are anemic. Girls are often married off before they turn 18, and end up giving birth to babies who have low-birth-weight and consequent health issues such as physical and mental stunting. With many girls away from their parents to be in cities and near schools, teen pregnancies and dropping out of school are the major issues in our projects in Ghana and Kenya. When the girls do get to attend formal schooling, the education in poorer schools is inadequate in teaching employable skills that can help girls get jobs after graduating. School curriculums also lack education on reproductive health, financial literacy and life skills.
What is your solution?
Our 4 step process is designed and implemented in close cooperation with our local partners to ensure that women and girls get an education and improved prospects in their lives:
Girls teach younger children: Girls tutor children three or more years younger than them. Tutoring also gives girls a stature in the society along with self confidence, which is often a hurdle in girls seeking a better future for themselves.
Girls earn SoCCs for every tutoring session. Parents can also earn SoCCs for sending daughters to school, and taking a public oath against child marriage. Additionally, family members can earn SoCCs for planting trees, waste management and other social goods, to help their girls get an education.
Girls redeem SoCCs for school fees, digital and financial literacy, conversational English and other employable skills in after-school lessons along with the the SoCC Buddy program in the Resource Centers we have created.
Girls then go on to an empowered future. SoCCstars get grants to start micro-businesses. Formal Sector employers who employ five or more girls from our programs earn Corporate Social Responsibility badges.
The real innovation is that girls can get into the driver's seat to chart out their own future.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
We serve girls in urban slums and remote villages where the girls and women face extraordinary challenges in getting an education, fulfilling their potential, and climbing out of poverty. We recognize these interlocking problems of poverty, gender discrimination and child marriage. Our methodology of SoCCs ensures that we are focused on girls’ education, but also improve their social ecosystem to facilitate their education.
We listen carefully to the girls we serve, and use games and fun in our SoCCratic dialogues to help them tap into their own creativity, confidence and leadership skills. We strongly believe that the people who are closest to the problems are also closest to the solutions, so all SoCC projects are hyperlocal. SoCCratic dialogues results in the creation of SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus. Girls and women then exercise choice to choose social good and educational modules that are offered that best suit their own lives and available time. The networks built through SoCCs strengthen their social capital and circle of mentors. The family and community begins to value education view our girls and women with respect as they “earn” their education and help their community with dignity and pride.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Increase the number of girls and young women participating in formal and informal learning and training
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge and your selected dimension.
We seek to replace the rigidity of the current education systems with flexible alternatives to suit individuals, and can be scaled up to ensure education for ALL girls and women. Tutoring younger children to “earn” sets girls and women on a self-learning path. This Cascade of Learning is a game changer especially for children of illiterate parents. SoCCs also incentivize families and communities to help girls succeed. Availability of computers, the Internet and mentors in our Resource Centers, and SoCC Buddies around the world provide individualized educational support, and introduce them to online resources like Edx and Khan Academy.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?New York, NY, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Dr. Geeta Mehta, founder and president
If you have additional video content that explains your solution, provide a YouTube or Vimeo link here:
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new business model or process
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
SoCCs is transformative, and the first system of its kind to make social capital measurable and tradeable. Education is key to building social capital, hence our focus in helping girls and women in 15 projects in 3 countries break barriers to receive “demand driven” education.
Bringing social and ecological capital at par with financial capital will help women’s rights, including to education. SoCCs builds on that concept to help girls and women get education, skills and social networks needed to fulfill their potential.
While there are several community currencies in Canada, the USA and South America, these are not designed to harness social capital and support the education and empowerment of girls and women. When girls in poor areas do go to school, the education provided is top-down and gender biased, whereas with SoCCs girls are invited to take leadership in the design and implementation of the whole process, sometimes for the first time in their lives. SoCCs is also unique in incentivizing economic uplifting and community support for girls’ education without the sole reliance of money.
SoCCs projects are built from the ground up. This ensures respect for the local knowledge, culture, leadership, and sustainability of the projects. Our goal is to ensure that the education, dignity, and human rights of girls are respected and enhanced.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
We use persuasive technology for positive behaviour change to enable girls and women to access formal as well as informal education, job training and life skills. We crowdsource goodness and creativity.
All our projects start with SoCCratic dialogues and input gathered and analyzed through our SoCC App and Platform. Girls enjoy watching their collective decisions appear on the platform. Once SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus are decides, girls record their earned SoCCs on the App or Platform, or by simply swiping their unique QR Codes. SoCC managers support activities as needed. This data received is analyzed and the number of SoCCs for activities are modified to ensure that Key Performance Indicators the girls and women have set are being met.
Starting with SoCCs beta projects in a variety of socioeconomic, cultural and geographical settings, we have conducted detailed impact data analysis to refine the technology behind the App. We plan to include community reviews like at Yelp and leaderboards for online engagement. We are currently exploring Blockchain technology as we scale up. The SoCCs platform also allows partner corporations to get transparent reports on how their CSR donations have a multiplier effect with SoCCs, since an act of social goodness is linked to every dollar they fund.
Our long term goal is for SoCCs to enable anyone anywhere to perform acts of social good and earn/redeem SoCCs for their own education, economic growth and well being.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
SoCCs have so far positively impacted the lives of over 50,000 people, mostly women. In 2019 alone we impacted 23,000 people, and we expect this number to rise exponentially since our improved App and web Platform are now becoming widely used. While the impact metrics are different for each one of our projects due to the hyper localization of SoCCs, the list of our successful projects is evidence that our methodology works. Our technology is now making the entire SoCC process more user friendly, smoother and faster.
We use persuasive technology for behavior change. Our SoCC App and platform help us run SoCCratic dialogues with women and girls in our program, who tell us what they need in terms of education, up-skilling and career or business help, and what social good they are willing to do for it. This leads to the creation of SoCC Earning and Redeeming menus. Each SoCC earned or spent gets recorded on our SoCC platform. This data is then analyzed to understand the trends in the field to ensure that the program is working towards achieving the Key Performance Indicators the girls and women in the program had set. This data analysis is shared with them so that they can help tweak the menus, or the number of SoCCs allotted to each activity.
For SoCC+ and Corp SoCC models for other NGOs, governments and corporations, we have developed technology that can communicate with tech systems of our clients in an accountable “auto feedback” loop.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
Our Theory of Change has been explained in five steps below:
1. Starting points:
Social capital can be leveraged to improve financial and ecological capital
All 3 forms of capital impact each other
Girls education is key to the enhancing social capital, health, income and human rights
A holistic social ecosystem is needed for ensuring education and human for all women and girls, with cross disciplinary thinking and partnerships.
The invisible work of women and girls enables financial systems around the world, but is invisible and unpaid, impacting their position in society and resulting in gender discrimination.
The barriers to women’s education are the interlocking set of circumstances including poverty, gender discrimination, child marriage, and lack of educational facilities within reach and the time frame available to girls and women.
3. Asia Initiatives Response:
Asia Initiatives has drawn on educational, behavioral and economic theories to develop SoCCs
SoCCs methodology has evolved based upon learnings from our projects in many geographies and cultural contexts
Creating a Cascade of Learning for crowdsourcing creativity and mentorship to support the education of girls
Using technology for implementation of SoCCs as also in delivery of demand driven education.
SoCCratic Dialogues: Girls and women who are closest to the problems are also closest to the solutions
SoCCs are hyper local
SoCC Earning and Redeeming Menus provide freedom of choice.
Delivery of educational products is demand driven
Families and communities are incentivized to support the education of girls and women
Short term benefits are a dispersed and demand driven system of acquiring education.
The long-term benefit is the behavior change in society towards respecting the education and human rights of girls and women, leading to happiness and prosperity for all.
“It's amazing to learn of your innovative work in Kumasi, Ghana on SoCCs. This sounds absolutely wonderful, a real breakthrough”- Jeffrey Sachs, world renowned economist
- “During my tenure as secretary -general, I always worked to make women’s empowerment a top priority and I can see that Asia Initiatives is carrying on that legacy.” - Eighth UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
We have successfully implemented SoCCs for education in 18 sites in 4 countries over the past five years, serving over 50,000 people. In 2019 alone, we helped 23,000 women increase their education, income and wellbeing, and are on our way to increase that number this year. In the next 5 years, we plan to serve 2 million people. Highlights of 2019 are below:
2000 girls in Lucknow are learning computer skills, spoken English and job skills. 200 young girls from this were connected to the Government's training program, which guarantees employment.
470 women in Shohratgarh are in our Adult Literacy program.
1002 people formed the first ever tribal credit cooperative in Maharashtra, with a women’s majority. People earned SoCCs for sending daughters to school.
Bicycle banks are being set up for 600 women and girls in villages in Maharashtra, which will enable girls to get to school. Girls will teach younger children in their village to earn SoCCs for school fees, supplies, and the use of bicycles.
540 individuals in tribal villages in Maharashtra were helped in accessing government programs including adult education and insurance
50 women in Zuri program in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya have become saleswomen for organic cosmetics. SoCCs also earned for sending daughters to school.
Within 5 years we expect exponential growth, since anyone who can convene 20 or more people will be able to start a SoCC program, where participants can do acts of social good and redeem SoCCs earned for education, up-skilling, and healthcare.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goals for the next year are:
- To have over 100,000 registered users on our SoCC App/Platform.
- To market our SoCCs+ product to more NGOs, governments
- To explore Blockchain and other technologies to service a much larger number of users
- To partner with B-Corps around the world with our Corp-SoCCs model to help measure and reward acts of social good by their employees, in their local communities, with AI serving as a consultant. Our selling point is that SoCCs multiply the impact of every development dollar, and our process and results are completely transparent in showing their impact, which can help companies in their triple bottom line accounting.
Our next five year goals are:
- To have over 2 million registered users on our SoCC App/Platform, with a considerable number who have increased their education, wellbeing, incomes or income potential.
- To have integrated Blockchain and/or other technologies that would enable users around the world to implement and benefit from SoCCs easily and effectively.
-To have at least 2 government clients, since that is the most effective way to serve more people.
- To have at least 10 corporations including B-Corps use our SoCCs+ or Corp SoCCs models to effectively implement their Corporate Social Responsibility funds in a transparent way.
- To have launched a facility on our Platform where SoCC users from around the world can post their solutions to local problems, and learn from each other.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
While Covid-19 has disrupted our goals for the next year, we are also seeing it as an opportunity to get as many of our girls and women as possible online and accessing the huge opportunities in distance learning from around the world. The barriers in this regard are three-fold:
- - ensuring sufficient access to technology, both hardware and internet access, for our target group of young girls and women;
- to have sufficient high quality teachers and trainers who can engage with the target group on a regular basis and to pay these trainers a reasonable compensation;
- to continually improve our technology platform so that the data can be collected and evaluated quickly, and SoCCs goals set for the months ahead.
We need to ramp up the deployment of our SoCCs+ and Corp-SoCCs products to increase our revenue stream.
While we have developed online training modules in use of our SoCC App and Platform, the capabilities of our SoCC Managers and users, particularly in rural and tribal areas, warrant more sustained training, and modules need to be translated into many languages.
We also need to increase our outreach through advertising and other means to let more women and girls in remote and poor areas know about using SoCCs for their education.
While we do need to hire additional staff as soon as possible, we are constrained by financial resources that can enable us to identify such people, contract with them, and deploy them as soon as possible in the field.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
While the schools and our Girls’ Resource Centers are still closed due to COVID19, we have scaled up our SoCC Buddy program exponentially to provide online education support to our girls so they do not fall behind. Our Girls’ Resource Centers are heroically bringing laptops or smartphones to the homes of as many girls as they can for a few hours each time, serving those whose families that do not have a smart device. Asia Initiatives has provided additional staff and resources to all our partners to deal with this emergency. Since many of our girls do not have access to the Internet in their homes, we have provided dongles to as many girls and women as possible.
We have begun to talk to corporations who have supported us in the past to deploy our SoCCs+ product and are learning from the questions they are asking us to refine our product and sales pitch.
We are looking for partnerships that can help us develop local SoCC Manager training modules in many languages.
Since we do not have funds to spend on outreach and advertising, we are looking for speaking opportunities and for print and social media to write about us.
Since we do not have funds to hire more people, we have been very lucky in finding a tech partner who is helping us pro-bono for now, and very capable staff working with us at a much lower salary than they can get elsewhere, and good interns and volunteers.
What type of organization is your solution team?Nonprofit
If you selected Other, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
Staff: 3 full time, 2 part time
Board of directors:10
Board of advisors:19
Junior Board: 8
Active Volunteers: 25
App and Platform Developer (Campus Groups);
App User Interface Designer
How many years have you worked on your solution?
Started SoCCs 5 years ago; Asia Initiatives has been working for 20 years on education, healthcare and up-skilling for poor communities
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Delivery of quality education that will lead to economic opportunities for underprivileged girls and women is a complex issue, and needs a multidisciplinary approach. Asia Initiatives has very high quality staff, advisors, active board members and junior Board members from various fields. They come from diverse backgrounds to Asia Initiatives because of their passion for what we do about empowering women and girls with education, skills, and means to a better future. Our brainstorming sessions last into late evenings, and sometimes restart early morning the next day. We believe that extreme poverty and deprivation of women from education in the world today is completely unacceptable. Some information of our team are described below:
Geeta Mehta, PhD, Founder/president, Professor at Columbia University
Surabhi Prabhu (MBA Duke U): Program Director, Left Wall Street to work with us
Nidhi Tandon (MPhil, Rutgers): Education specialist at Rutgers and Asia Initiatives
Terrence Green, Program Associate: He left a big technology firm to join us
Shreya Malu, M.S. AUD, Project Manager for IT and Data
Quotes from people about our work:
“SoCCs is the best idea I have heard of since Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank umpteen years ago. I urge you to pursue this idea.”- Pedro Sanchez, MacArthur Genius and World Food Prize laureate
“I am blown away by the idea of SoCCs”- Indra Nooyi, former Chairperson and CEO PepsiCo
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We strongly believe in the power of partnerships and collaborative work. Our consulting clients and current partners are listed below:
Women Strong International (WSI) ( We implemented the SoCC system in Kumasi (Ghana), Kisumu (Kenya), and Washington DC (USA) for them.
State Government of Andhra Pradesh, India (paid consultant for Happy City Amaravati Project)
M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation (20 years of partnership for supporting 37 Village knowledge Centers to support education of young people in remote villages. Asia Initiatives' founding was inspired by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, the world renowned humanist and agriculture scientist. Our mantra of all our projects being pro-women, pro-poor and pro-environment comes from him.
Deendayal (Digital literacy project has been ongoing for 2 years. Online education support and mentoring through SoCCS Buddies program was started recently).
Shohratgarh Environmental Society (Support for formal and informal education for girls for the past three years)
Shramjivi Janata Sahayyak Mandal (Support for over 1000 people to establish a tribal cooperative and support education)
SEWA Bharat (Adult Literacy program for young artisan women with SoCCs)
Centre for Development, Ahmedabad (Established Girls Resource Center with computers for girls from seven low income areas)
VIEWS India- (Digital literacy project has been ongoing for 2 years. Online education support and mentoring through SoCCS Buddies program recently started)
Hour Working Women Program, New York (Recently started SoCCS Buddies program to help women learn computer skills (beginner and advanced), and get math and ESL help to pass high school equivalency exam.
What is your business model?
Our business model is based on women and their families determining what are the most critical needs facing them, and what they are willing to do to meet those needs. SoCCs by its very nature is locally-driven. We always start with SoCCratic dialogues to enable the girls and women to articulate their needs. We then explore with them what skills and assets they have and what is needed to complement those skills. It is a participatory process, with technology being used to track progress at each level and to set goals for the next one.
As a result of this business model, we often find that education, up-skilling, and basic infrastructure needs is the what people need the most. We then design SoCC earning and redeeming menus. For every 5 individual SoCCs (iSoCCs) earned by any one, 1 goes into the Community SoCCs (CommSoCCs) pool, and can help build micro infrastructure as decided by the community. iSoCC can also be traded for low interest micro-loans and training to start small enterprises. SoCCstars can also apply for grants funded by our donors to start small businesses.
Our customers are young girls and women, to whom we provide education and the opportunity to learn new skills. We implement this methodology through SoCCratic dialogue and by identifying donors who can facilitate the redeeming menus. The donors can support teachers, books, computer equipment, and other needs. Once the project is self-sustaining, we continue only in an advisory role, as has been in Kumasi, Ghana.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Our model for financial sustainability comprises the following revenue streams:
Individual support from donors
Consulting work: with SoCCs+ model for NGOs and governments; and Corp SoCCs models for corporate social responsibility
We have three versions of SoCCs. The basic version is free to any community wanting to come together to improve their education, skills and economic situation. This version will be available in several languages. The SoCCs+ and Corp SoCCs versions will be fee based, for which Asia Initiatives will provide a full range of services, from conducting SoCCratic dialogues, creating and managing menus, managing SoCCs data and analyzing it to improve programs. In a consulting role, we successfully implemented the SoCCs+ strategy for our clients WomenStrong International in Ghana and Kenya since 2015-, and are currently providing fee based SoCCs consulting to the Government of Andhra Pradesh, India, for the new capital of Amaravati that they are developing.
Corp SoCCs is the third product we are planning to market to corporations. This will enable corporations to incentivize acts of local social good, and track them through the SoCCs App and platform. This will be a paid service. Since large corporations in India are legally required to give 2% of their profits for Corporate Social Responsibility, we have been working with corporations such as Oxygen Inc. to provide an easy, transparent and fully accountable way to channel their giving. We expect this revenue source also to grow.
Why are you applying to Solve?
As an organization that has now proven the SoCCs model, we are now in the important position of strategizing how we make this model scalable and replicable. To do this right, we will need more mentors (such as from the distinguished group affiliated with MIT), advisors, and board members This would need to be complemented with more successful projects in both developing countries and in the developed world.
What Covid-19 has taught the world is that there is an underbelly in each society that is often ignored, when countries are encouraged to pursue the liberal economic model. The World Bank and the IMF may have a lot of answers, but their ability to address issues of endemic poverty is quite limited. Covid 19 has shown how whole segments of society have been left behind as a result. It is this group that we hope to target and to serve.
We ideally want help with strategic planning, marketing and communications, as we expand our own vision of what may be possible. . We want to build connections with investors and grantors and with experts in the tech field who can help us envision how our project can expand exponentially. We want to explore what other technologies may exist to help us scale up. We also need guidance on how to enhance our branding capability so that the SoCCs concept can become a household word, especially in communities that are facing the challenge of endemic poverty.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
We need partnership support in three important areas:
1. To enhance our technology solution so that it is easily accessible to new users in developing and developed countries.
2. to have members from the business community review our model to see how it can align more closely with their philanthropic objectives. This may open the door for us to work closely with corporate foundations and be eligible for CSR support.
3. To consult with marketing specialists to see how the idea of SoCCS can be disseminated widely in lower income communities in both the Global South and the Global North. We feel that we have a unique and innovative approach to social change but unless we can disseminate it widely our effectiveness as agents for such change will always be limited. This is where our engagement with MIT’s Solve initiative can be critical to our future.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
The first organization that we would like to partner with is MIT’s Solve Members or MIT faculty who can provide us with an independent review of our technology model, and how it can be made more user-friendly and accessible to groups in various geographies around the world. We feel that we are at a breakthrough point now. The right guidance at this stage can advance our initiative dramatically. We would welcome such guidance to include advice on blockchain technology, and how it could interface and advance our current technology.
A second organization we would like to partner with is a company in the for-profit sector that can look at us from a business perspective and advise how we can scale our work in both the Global South and the Global North. Organizations that come to mind are McKinsey Consulting, Accenture, Boston Consulting or similar groups. We feel that we would benefit from a critical business review of our work, and to advise certain strategic approaches that can help us be more effective in the future.
A third organization that can help us is an advertising or marketing firm that can guide us on effective ways to reach the ultra poor women and girls in remote villages or urban slums who get left out of formal education programs. Some organizations that come to mind are Ogilvy, Leo Burnett BBDO, McCann, MOTTO, or Barker. We would be happy to work with any of these agencies.
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Experian Prize to advance your solution?
Since we serve the most marginalized communities in India and Kenya, we started responding within days to the financial Covid-19 challenges our communities have been facing since March 2020, in five ways:
Loan repayments were postponed for all 1,550 people in our SoCCs (nullSocial Capital Credits) Groups in U.P. and Bundelkhand in India who had taken low interest loans to start micro dairy and poultry farms.
We ensured that all 18,000 people in our projects in India had adequate paperwork to get the government's Covid-19 direct cash transfers and discounted food rations.
We started Resilience Projects in drought-prone villages where migrant workers had returned from cities after losing their daily-wage jobs, without means to feed their families. Since Covid-19 started before monsoons, we hired 300 workers to build and improve rainwater harvesting structures including rainwater trenches and agriculture dams, to help make these villages water and food secure for future agriculture needs.
In Kibera slum in Nairobi, we provided loans to sales-women to get products from our Zuri project, so they could continue their direct sales business.
We are supporting all local partners in providing financial advice and literacy training to people for managing their savings, debt and insurance issues.
- Dr. Geeta Mehta Co-founder/President, Asia Initiatives