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Mumbai's Free Learning Centers Bridge the Gap

A social movement that transforms behavior of underprivileged children through education & 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 is working for students, their families and the volunteers. Parents are beginning to understand the transformation and behavior change that results through real learning & mentoring. After the insights gained during the user surveys, introduction of aptitude testing & vocational guidance from age 12, program for 16 - 18 year olds and weekend youth workshop has been introduced.

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)

The underprivileged students and their parents understand that education is a crucial means to end poverty but feel helpless as government schools, that they attend, fail to deliver. Our idea, transforms behavior of underprivileged children through education & life skills to improve livelihood.

Our idea uses coexistence of slums and highrises to bring volunteers who are educated housewives together with 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, 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 is 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, creating balance and aiding the creation of a 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 aid in the creation of 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 to 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 & 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 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 process 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 & 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 resources for appointing a team that will do the ground work for the scale up plan.
3. Marketing & PR - Media plan to create visibility, wider reach and generate inquiries.
4. 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 .
4. Over the next 3 years, complete the first phase of expansion by setting up of 18-20 community managed new Free Learning Centers that will teach 1500 new children across Mumbai. The new centers will need minimal financial inputs from the AXF central team and will be completely self sustained by the end of the 3 year period.

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 some 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 to 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, mostly 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.
4 to 4.5 lac residents of Mumbai are 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 20000 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 and 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 & 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 behavioural 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 of citizen participation serves as a key tool in our program. This mentorship and educational program is a platform for members of rich and poor communities to come together, interact, and share knowledge and resources. It is different than NGOs which are simply imparting education to underprivileged students.

We are also unique in that we are in the creation of self-sustaining community service programs that can be run independently with minimal resources that 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 to help underprivileged children in their own neighborhood through its Free Learning Center Program.


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 2011, Anubha Sharma, the founder of AXF, who used to teach slum kids after her morning walk, noticed some did not have warm clothes. When her appeal on social media went viral, generating over 3000 calls offering help of all kinds, she realized 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 civic involvement and redistribution is a solution to help the millions who have too little.

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, violence and abuse. Lack of adult guidance and peer pressure results in maladjusted youth prey to violence, alcohol and drug abuse.
At AXF, the students are constantly guided and mentored by trained, educated adults and have a trusted space in which 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: Sponsor food, material donations 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.

Other Local NGOs/Clubs: facilitate wellness activities like medical and dental camps for students

Donors: Individuals and organizations contribute funds to meet operational expenses.

Specialists : Design agencies 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.
We will simultaneously add 18-20 new locations over the next 36 month to expand and continuously test and evolve the project idea.

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

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of iACT

Hi Anubha, it's been great to read about your idea. Your question of "How to raise resources for sustenance of AXF corporate team?" is one we also struggle with as well and I'd be happy to send some brainstorming ideas your way.

Your involvement of affluent volunteers sounds like an impactful untapped resource! You already have 300, and so my question is, as you expand and increase the number of volunteers, how do you plan to maintain quality across your program and centers? Do you see this as a potential challenge or no?

Photo of Anubha Sharma


Thank you for your offer for sending ideas, I shall be happy to engage in a discussion, do write to me at You have asked a very good question, maintaining quality is a huge concern, we are exploring both digitization of a lot of our training material and introducing an online course on volunteering with us, in addition we are using the train the trainer model to create subject mentors and master trainers at every center so that after the initial round of training, its the people at the center who take charge on onboarding the newer volunteers. These trainers are in close touch with our central training teams and besides intense initial training, we are instituting a practice of monthly feedback meetings at centers led by the subject mentors and then a city wide monthly meeting of subject mentors led by the central training and curriculum development team via zoom to share inputs, ideas for improvement, concerns and best practices. These meetings will serve a dual purpose of receiving inputs for development of the product and processes as well as handholding and training of the local master trainers.
Our current numbers are 404 volunteers, 1602 student beneficiaries across 16 locations. While we have been managing backend processes through excel, we are in the process of exploring the development of a web based program that people from across centers can plug into for database management and reporting.

Photo of Anubha Sharma

here are my thoughts on maintaining quality. We plan to provide quality inputs, insight and tools to enable volunteers to do a good job. Constant sharing of best practices in the group sets standards that everyone follows or betters, since this is a group activity there is an automatic check and people are less likely to cut corners as they take joint responsibility of delivering the best to the children.this pledge is taken time and again. At this point we regularly visit centers and interact with volunteers and children but at a particular scale it will become impossible. We will have to relay on assessment tools as well as o volunteer and children stories and feedback for ground level information. I would be glad to know if you have suggestions.

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