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Project Khel: Fostering Creativity, Values and Cultural Development through Toys

Our idea, Project Khel is of a social enterprise that produces and distributes toys that not only of educational value, but are armed with cultural and values-based significance. We will create role models for children, stories to inspire children to learn skills later at school. We will work with low-income communities and balwadis (playschools) to ensure early adoption of these toys for better cognitive development. Playtime, and therefore any toy a child engages with during playtime, does affect the brain. Years of research have shown that experience creates structure in the developing brain. Specific types of experiences stimulate various areas of the brain, which, in turn correspond to both physical and mental activities.

Photo of Jinal Sanghavi
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Educational Value + Local Context: The Indian toy industry caters to about four crore (40 million) kids across the country. However, toys manufactured in India account for only 15 per cent of the market. This gap can be plugged to help children develop their cognitive abilities in their own cultural context. For example, literacy in developing countries and penetration of English is low, yet aspiration. So imagine a toy that looks like a teacher, but says commonly spoken English words. This will serve as a tool for education. 

Brain development: Toys are an engaging medium to impart education. It is known that childhood experience influences brain development but the only evidence scientists have had for this has usually come from extreme cases such as children who had been abused or suffered trauma. Martha Farah, director of the centre for neuroscience and society at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the latest study, wanted to find out how a normal range of experiences in childhood might influence the development of the brain.

Farah took data from surveys of home life and brain scans of 64 participants carried out over the course of 20 years. Her results,presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, showed that cognitive stimulation from parents at the age of four was the key factor in predicting the development of several parts of the cortex – the layer of grey matter on the outside of the brain – 15 years later.

Sustainability: With increasing consumerism and a growing population, the toy industry in India is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 20 per cent. The size of India's toy industry may touch Rs 13,000 crore (Rs 13 billion) by 2015 compared with Rs 7,500 crore (Rs 75 billion) in 2012, according to industry body Assocham. By making the manufacture and distribution of local toys with educational value a social business, the activities can sustain over time.

How will this play out:

1. Crowdsource ideas for toys: Let's brainstrom 2-3 ideas for toys that will appeal to children, provide the necessary values and educational stimulation. Consultation from and conversation with pedagogy experts will be much appreciated.  

2. Build local prototypes: Partner with a local manufacturer to build some toys. About 70 per cent of the toy market in India is unorganised, according to an Assocham study. Employing this sector, could potentially lead to higher incomes.

3. Revive the toy industry: The lack of innovation, marketing, advertising, distribution and abundance of imported products has hit the domestic toy industry in many developing nations. By addressing these gaps, awe will establish that games can actually can contribute significantly to promote health, improve academic outcomes, foster gender equity, enhance social inclusion and promote employment.

Note: This idea came up at the Open IDEO Mumbai Meetup


Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

Children below 5 years of age from low income communities in rural areas and urban slums. Toy for a Toy: This model will appeal to the high income groups that pay a premium so that the same toy can reach a poor child. Self-purchase: The toys will also be designed to be affordable for those low income communities who have the purchasing power.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

I would take an existing educational toy in the market and distribute it amongst urban slums in Mumbai. Then I would observe how children and parents behaved, and document this. This will highlight their aspirations, strength of the intervention and weaknesses that will need to be addressed.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

1. Fun Learn toys: Ideas on how to make engaging toys, while preserving local context 2. Funds: To train laborers on building toys, and mobilize a team to market this 3. Implementation: I would need partners across the world to test this idea in their context, to observe its adoption and effect on learning outcomes.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of DiemTien Le

This is such a cool idea!
What is the potential for parents and teachers to get involved? Could this toy create a community within the children?

Curious to hear your thoughts!

Photo of Jinal Sanghavi

Excellent points, DiemTien. I would love to get the community of parents and teachers to be involved

I think it should definitely source ideas from parents and teachers, even equip them to influence the production of toys. Perhaps explore a micro-entrepreneurship model within communities. As for creating a community amongst children, would that work through playschools and community playgrounds?