Dost Education - A parent's friend
Dost Education empowers parents of any literacy level to improve their child's early development and school readiness.
A cycle of illiteracy:
Under resourced parents are motivated to give their children the best education, but struggle to do so, particularly during the early years when 90% of a child’s brain development occurs. The scale of the problem is enormous, especially in India where women are statistically more likely to spend time with their children there are 150 million illiterate women who lack access to empowerment, knowledge, and tools to partake in their child’s early development.
These parents’ children do not experience as much early childhood stimulation compared to their wealthier peers, enter primary school behind and never have a chance to catch up. Without early learning experiences and support for cognitive development, UNESCO estimates that more than 250 million primary school children cannot read, write or do basic math, resulting in great inequality and a loss for governments of approximately $129 billion annually.
An untapped opportunity:
Low-literate, low-income parents do not have a convenient option to foster early learning. Existing resources for parents are time intensive, of poor quality, require high degrees of digital fluency, or are unaffordable. If we do equip parents with the right resources, there could be an end to the cycle of illiteracy.
Parents are the most motivated advocates for their children and are hungry for any resources that will improve their child’s lifelong potential. Studies show that when mothers in disadvantaged settings stimulate their children during early childhood, there are substantial effects on labor market outcomes and inequality 20 years later.
A solution with impact and scalability:
Through an automated voice call service and community based workshops, our local language curriculum reaches mothers literally where they are with the knowledge and resources they crave. By doing this, we could level the playing field for the more than 100 million Indian families who are less literate but highly motivated and who have access to mobile phones.
Dost’s first program sends parents 4 phone calls a week with short audio content that helps them improve their child’s early development and school readiness. (Smartphones are not required to access our program.) The content is focused on positive parenting strategies and how parents can promote cognitive development, executive functioning, socio-emotional skills, numeracy, and literacy in children.
The 24-week program is made for parents with kids aged 2-6 and helps them turn regular moments into learning moments. Weekly topics ensure the content is situated, integrated, and culturally relevant to the target population. While our narration style varies to keep parents hooked, each week covers what the learning objective is, how the parent can immediately promote competency in that objective (both overall strategies and specific activities) and why the objective matters to the child in school and life.
Paired with one-off, in-person workshops led by our partners, which are held at locations parents already frequent in their regular routine (think: a slum daycare or local school), we build awareness, empowerment, and motivation for parents to take charge of their child’s early learning.
Watch our elevator pitch:
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:New Delhi, Delhi, India
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
What makes our solution innovative:
1. Application of technology
According to experts in early childhood development and neuroscience, the challenge is not what methods lead to improved lifelong outcomes but how to deploy evidence-based methods at scale and with quality, while reaching low-income and illiterate populations. Dost is innovative because it is experimenting with how to leverage existing technology to deliver scalable and affordable ways to support parents in implementing evidence-based home practices that promote positive child development.
2. Content process
Dost's audio content was designed by talking to parents from the communities we serve and to researchers who study effective methods for parent-child interaction.
How technology is integral to our solution:
The success of the program is in getting a high quality ideas to millions of parents. For the 150 million parents who are craving resources to give their children the best education, a phone call is powerful to reach them in a cost-effective manner. Parents can choose when they want to receive the program without having to miss a day at work. While technology alone cannot solve the education gap, the perfect blend of digital and offline tools are essential to provide the learning experience for the resource constrained environments we work in.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
Since we launched in 2017 with 300 families, we have grown to over 15,000 families through a network of Dost Champions and strategic partnerships with schools and NGOs. We have served approximately 30,000 children through our program, which is helping parents embed educational activities into their daily routine, communicate with their children more effectively, and bring about a curiosity for learning.
In 12 months, our solution will expand to address a related parent need - how to support children during the transition to primary school. Our reach will grow to 100,000 families.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
We want to turn 5 million under resourced homes into early learning labs by the end of 2020. This will be possible because our unit costs will decrease to ~$2 per family as we scale past 1 million families.
To achieve this, we will make our product available in 5 local languages in India and make our product available on whatever devices our users have access to (e.g. smartphones when they are widely used.)
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
The countries where we currently operate:
Where we plan to expand in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
We partner with existing NGOs and preschool networks that work directly with the parents we reach. These partners and customers have a shared goal of improving early literacy, realize the role of parents but struggle to engage parents cheaply and consistently. Dost solves this problem for the partners by providing reliable at-home support for parents. Some of these partners pay Dost for the product while others simply act as a distribution channel. Our partners' brand also improves by partnering with Dost, since parents appreciate the consistent interaction and support system being provided to them.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
We have served 15,000 parents and impacted 30,000 children through our program since we started in 2017. 90% of parents who sign up become active users of our program.
Our end beneficiaries are children whose mothers have usually attained a 7th grade education or less and whose households earn $5-10 a day. Our primary users - mothers - tell us that Dost serves as a daily reminder, cheerleader, and idea bank on how to engage with their children in positive, educational ways.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
Extensive academic research already establishes the link between parent action and child development and child evaluations are extremely expensive. Therefore, our team’s internal measurement process focuses on understanding Dost’s impact on parents. We rigorously track parents’ engagement level, knowledge retention, and behavior change during our program through metrics generated on our software platform, phone surveys and focus groups. We expect to see parents implementing key new behaviors they have learned from Dost because of high usage on the platform and high recall value of the content.
How our solution team is organized:Non-Profit
How many people work on our solution team:6
How many years we have been working on our solution:1-2 years
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
The team has extensive experience in education, technology, and international development. Sneha (CEO) has experience designing programs for women’s empowerment and education in Mumbai, Cairo, and Nairobi for clients like Goldman Sachs, the Gates Foundation, Teach For India, and UNWomen. Sindhuja (CTO) has expertise in data mining and machine learning and has worked in building e-learning products for Adobe systems. Meghna (Curriculum Director) is skilled at designing frameworks, content, training and monitoring progress across age groups. Through their professional experience, the team has developed deep and broad networks required to make Dost a reality.
Our revenue model:
Depending on the estimated income level of the community, we charge parents or schools at a sliding scale, to ensure everyone can access Dost. Charges thus far have ranged from free to Rs. 200 per family for the entire program. Charging a nominal fee when appropriate helps hold ourselves to a high standard of quality, garner buy-in from parents, and build a sustainable organization. We are also exploring innovative financing, such as social impact bonds or corporate sponsorships.
Currently, 99% of income is generated by donations from foundations and individual donors. One percent or less is generated by payments from partners. By 2020, we plan to generate income from partners/schools payments at a higher rate, covering 80% of operational costs. The remaining 20% of operational costs, fixed costs, and capital investments in our central team or technology would require donations.
Why we are applying to Solve:
I want to build Dost into an impactful, scalable, and delightful learning platform. I also want to ensure the organization is on a path to becoming more financial sustainable and remains a great place to work. All of this is NOT easy to achieve, and even our progress so far has been due to incredible mentorship and support. Being a part of the Solve Network and receiving the award will improve our chances of succeeding in these goals, help us make tough decisions, and provide us with the mentorship and network to stay in this work for the long run.
The key barriers for our solution:
- Technology innovation to build a more interactive and "viral" product
- Figuring out nimble evaluation methods to build leader indicators about the impact we have on children.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers: