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Mumbai's Free Learning Centers Bridge the Gap

A social movement that transforms behavior of underprivileged children through education and life skills to improve livelihood.

Photo of Anubha Sharma
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Key Insights: The program works for students, their families and the volunteers. Parents are now beginning to understand the transformation and behavior change that results through real learning and mentoring. After the insights gained during the user surveys, aptitude testing and vocational guidance have been introduced from age 12, along with an exclusive youth program for 16 - 18 year olds.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

Underprivileged students and their parents understand that education is a crucial means to end poverty but they feel helpless as the government schools, that they attend, fail to deliver. Our idea, transforms behavior of underprivileged children through education and life skills to finally improve livelihood. Our idea uses the phenomenon of slums coexisting with high-rises to bring volunteers together with underprivileged children. These volunteers include educated housewives. They come together with these underprivileged children in community spaces like parks, in their own neighborhood, to create a platform for transformation. Without reinventing the wheel, we use untapped human and material resources to bring children out of ignorance and build their capacity to learn. This opens up opportunities for them, and ends poverty so that they will transform into responsible adults.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Concerns about rising inequality in India have been flagged off by the World Bank, IMF & ADB. Currently India ranks 132 out of 152 countries in reducing inequality. 70% of India's 1.3 billion population deals with various levels of deprivation owing to a skewed economic growth and inadequate government policies. Basic amenities of education, nutrition and healthcare are required to be delivered to this population, to end the cycle of poverty.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

The idea bridges the gap between the rich and the poor. Communities otherwise living in cocoons are interlinked through this platform for voluntary mentoring and redistribution, this creates balance and helps create an empathetic society. Bringing untapped resources into play creates well being and prosperity for society. The need and scope for adoption of this solution is vast and can help create a more equitable world.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

The idea enables volunteers (educated housewives) to operate in their neighborhood through the Free Learning center. There they mentor underprivileged children (first generation learners) and redistribute available resources, to create social change. We are already seeing the results of the prototyping stage. This solution can potentially aid over a million students and their families. Bridge builder support will provide resources that are required to make the program available across the world.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Applying the human centered design process helped us discover gaps in the program that are now being addressed to take the idea to its next level. Concrete steps for the scale up and product development have emerged as a result of this phase and we have initiated following actions: 1) Process for identifying agencies that can support curriculum modification and training for new addition in the curriculum for life skills and vocational guidance has begun. 2) Format for a new youth engagement program is being developed. 3) Process of identifying a vendor to develop the back-end software has been initiated. This has helped us realize, that our ultimate aim is to create a human centric solution for a worldwide problem that Volunteers from anywhere in the world can plug and play to access freely available resources for curriculum, training, assessments, backend reporting, monitoring and evaluations on a technology driven platform.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

1. Develop curriculum and training resources to accommodate new findings through tie ups for with specialized agencies. 2. Find financial resources 3. Appointing the team that will do the ground work for the scale up plan (operations and outreach). 4. Marketing & PR - Media plan to create visibility, wider reach and generate inquiries. 5. Adapt the project model for scalability by reducing the human intensive approach by applying design and technology to processes over the next 12-18 months . Develop Plug and Play Platform. 6. Complete the first phase of expansion by adding 18-20 new community managed Free Learning Centers, add 1500 new children and volunteers across Mumbai. The new centers will need minimal financial inputs from the AXF central team and will be completely self sustained. 7. Pilot plug and play platform outside Mumbai.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Teams that will implement the implementation (scale up plan) 1. Outreach 2 Operations, 3. Curriculum & Training External agency tie ups will support the following inputs: 1. Curriculum Enhancement & Specialized Training - Life skills, vocational guidance, youth engagement program. 2. Human-centered design and technology solutions. 3. Media plan for creating visibility and generating inquiries from citizen groups for adoption of format in new locations.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

Bridge builder funds would support technology solutions, processes for scalability, creating a franchise network and human-centered innovation

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

Q1. How to raise resources for sustenance of AXF corporate team? We have found donors are happy to support the direct expenses at the centers be it curriculum material, snacks for the kids etc but it has been far more challenging to find funds that support the program and administrative work that is required to create and propagate the idea. Our teams are over worked and underpaid and we need to build capacity, so that we can implement the solution. Q2. How to streamline human-intensive processes for effective scale up of our prototype? We need both ideas and funds for this segment. Q3. How to widen our reach to engage more communities in our program? Inputs that will help us create a strategy that will generate a large scale interest in the solution and funds to implement the strategy

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Significant insights received that are helping us close gaps and take the idea to the next level. 1. The curricular focus has expanded beyond literacy and value development, to include life-skills and career guidance for a livelihood focus. 2. The program that catered to students upto high school level (6 to 16 year olds), has been expanded to include a weekend youth engagement program (16 - 18 year olds) to guide and prepare students till they join a vocational or a degree course. 3. An alumni building process will be introduced to track progress and interlink students from various centers. We will interlink the Angel Xpress Foundation's volunteers, donors and supporters network to the student alumni network so direct support may be extended for any requests. Volunteer feedback of the joy they feel from the visible impact of their contribution, from being part of a like minded community & the acknowledgement they receive has helped us to make our narrative more effective

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Our intent through this program is to build in children, capacity for collaborative and critical thinking, ability to apply logic and take weighed decisions in situations, general knowledge and awareness thus inspiring life-altering shifts in behavior enabling them to become capable, productive and responsible citizens. At the same time our effort is to improve their home environments by gradually increasing interaction with parents and helping them become better parents, mentors and guides to the children.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

Interactions with experts during the improve phase introduced us to additional resources available for us to achieve our goal; to bridge the gap and transform behavior of underprivileged children. Technology and human centered innovation play a crucial role in achieving this to its fullest potential. The possibility of collaborating with other organizations has emerged. Tools and means to track this change are clear to us and we have a concrete plan of action as a result of this phase.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Of the 1.3 billion in India, Mumbai is home to 2.1 million of which 41.1% live in slums First generation learners from urban slums receive poor quality education. In addition they are exposed to petty crime, violence, drug & alcohol abuse. In absence of access to concerned, educated adults as role models and proper guidance they are at risk of growing into adults without the necessary skill sets to generate sustainable livelihood. The idea propagates adoption of volunteerism as a lifestyle choice among the socially conscious educated citizens. Affluent educated housewives are recruited and trained to set up a community service program in a public space like a shaded garden or a community hall in their neighborhood. Core teams are identified from among the volunteer groups and provided leadership training and guidance for handling local operations at every Free Learning Center. Armed with curricular inputs from the AXF team, volunteers come together at a pre-appointed hour daily to meet their assigned groups of first generation learners to impart a lesson through fun and interactive activities thus rekindling interest and desire to learn. A daily healthy snack, annual redistribution drives for clothes, shoes & toys, extra curricular activities, counselling sessions, medical dental camps and workshops on weekends, fun and educational outings are organised by the teams in collaboration with local organisations, specialists and other citizen bodies. In 6 years, we have developed and tested the format with 1239 children across 12 locations in Mumbai with help of 300 volunteers. Over 400,000 residents of Mumbai comprise educated housewives, with capacity to do more than manage households. A conservatively estimated conversion of 1% to volunteerism, assuming each mentors 5 children, implies a potential impact of 20,000 lives just in Mumbai city through the idea. At a national level, the idea can potentially impact over a million children every year.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Children: First generation learners aged 6-18, lose interest in learning due to inability to cope at school. . Students find their interest in learning rekindled thanks to the effective curriculum, teaching process and genuinely interested volunteers. Volunteers: Stay at home mothers, retired officers and young college going students, get a platform to utilize their skills for social good. Parents and the community surrounding a Free Learning Center: PTA meetings, joint sessions by experts on important subjects like nutrition, health & hygiene, child protection, positive ways of handling behavioral issues as opposed to beatings common in most households, talks on career awareness are used to guide parents and improve home conditions. The knowledge received at the centers spreads in the community and benefits trickle down Corporates: It is as important for corporate houses to have effective projects for their CSR investment as it is for NGOs to have funding support.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

In our model citizen participation serves as a key tool. This mentorship and educational program is a platform for members of rich and poor communities to come together, interact, share knowledge and resources. It is different in that it serves to build a bridge across communities through a process that enables and creates good for both. We are also unique in that we are creating self-sustaining community service programs. These can be run independently with minimal resources and will not have to depend on grants and donations. it is a responsive program where our volunteers are assisted by the central services but can adapt it to the need of the community that they seek to serve. In this regard, each of our learning center is unique in terms of strengths, opportunities and challenges. The AXF free learning center program is a long term intervention that brings about real change, children join us when they are 6 to 12 years of age and typically stay with us till they are 15.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Angel Xpress Foundation is an NGO that offers free franchise, consultation and resources to citizen groups interested in community service; it helps them reach out to underprivileged children in their own neighborhood through its Free Learning Center Program. Website:

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In the winter of 2011, Anubha Sharma, the founder of AXF, who used to teach slum kids after her morning walk, noticed that some did not have warm clothes. Her appeal on social media went viral, generating over 3000 calls offering help. That is when she realized that people who want to help find no opportunity. Inspired, she decided to quit her 20 year old corporate career to embark upon a social experiment; believing citizen involvement and redistribution is a solution to help millions.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace: Children living in slums are often subjected to varying levels of conflict and abuse. Lack of adult guidance and peer pressure results in maladjusted youth who fall prey to violence, alcohol and drug abuse. At AXF, students constantly guided and mentored by trained, educated adults in a trusted space where they discuss problems freely. They are also taught life skills such as problem solving, coping with stress, mindfulness and empathy to enable them to deal with demands and challenges of life effectively. AXF provides an education that promotes inclusive values and peaceful coexistence. Prosperity: Education is the key to stable economic growth and long-term prosperity. Better paying jobs require students to have specialized skills, a positive attitude and education. Our curriculum is focused on literacy and numeracy skills, AXF holds regular career counseling sessions to guide students about options available and the path to be taken to reach their goal

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Volunteers: Core teams that manage centers + teachers who contribute 2 to 5 hours per week. Weekend Volunteers: Extra curricular workshops and counseling. Local Governing Bodies: Permissions to operate classes from public spaces Local Residents/Clubs: Sponsor food, material donations, medical dental camps and help in volunteer acquisition. Families of the children: Participate in the program through PTA meetings and provide a good home atmosphere to support the learning. Municipal Schools: Allow access to students who can benefit from the program. Private Schools- Play dates with AXF students, allowing use of library, science lab, playground and access to parent body for volunteer sourcing. Donors: Individuals and organizations contribute funds to meet operational expenses. Specialists : Design and content agencies and consultants who contribute time and talent to support with innovation and design strategy.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Volunteers and Donors: There is social consciousness and willingness to share both time and resources in the educated affluent that will ensure success for the model. Students and slum communities: Understanding of the fact that education is the path to opportunity prosperity is why parents believe in this program and will send their children. No of lives impacted in 2012-300; 2013 - 580; 2014-780; 2015 -1000; 2016 - 950; 2017 - 1271 totaling 4881, not unique identities due to roll over.

Geographic Focus

Our first target is more communities in Mumbai followed by other urban cities in India

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We need 12-18 months to adapt the project model for scalability through design and technology. The pedagogy development work will simultaneously be completed and digitized in this period. We will continue to add new locations across Mumbai through our outreach program, and will pilot two locations outside Mumbai. The entire project implementation as described above will be completed in 36 months. We plan to add 20 locations, 500 volunteers and 1500 children in this period

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anubha Sharma

Dear Nicole thank you for your kind comment and your interest in our program. Volunteer training consists of a combination of instructions on how to approach teaching literary objectives as well as understanding child behaviour. I'm happy to share with you recordings of some sessions we are planning in the near future.
Attendance and other issues related to conduct are achieved by tracking behaviour including attendance and making children accountable. We do a lot of outing for the kids but they have to earn their privilege for being a part of these...We have found this to be an effective means to children understanding consequences as well.

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