Friday, March 27, 2009

Making business education within reach to students in rural areas

Ted Chan with Vinay Rai in Delhi

We just wrapped up a great project here in India with the Rai Foundation. We did the launch strategy and developed the operational model working with the renowned social entrepreneur Vinay Rai to create 250(!) business schools in rural areas in the next five years. Sounds crazy, no? Well, Mr. Rai believes we should aim high. 

The idea is to create a combo distance learning program with live, in-person facilitator to create a quality education at a low cost.  Pure distance learning has proven to be a flop in India, providing very low quality of education at low cost.  What Mr. Rai thought was needed, and our market research bears this out, is a medium quality education at a low cost.  The key is that this is not so low that the quality is just terrible.     After all, the graduates must be of the caliber that they can be hired into meaningful jobs for the program to be sustainable.  

Each school will serve approximately 80 to 100 students. This program will help transform undergraduates in India who are often unemployable into skilled labor that can be the growth engine in areas of India that have lagged behind urban areas.   This type of education will be extremely important as India moves towards economies of scale in agricultural, something virtually all countries that become medium income nations must do.  People leaving the agricultural workforce will be trained to be effective business professionals and value creating entrepreneurs by these schools.   I hope they will be the ones who will build more efficient supply chains, and allow the introduction of new, quality of life improving goods into villages.

Will it work?  I think it will.  It may not be 250 in five years, but Mr. Rai has a smart and talented team, and perhaps most importantly, the capital and the entrepreneurial ambition to move ahead with the project.  In the last 10 years, they've launched 16 business schools.    This is a tricky operational model, but one I trust they can get right if it can be done at all.  Since I'll likely be on one of the governance boards they are establishing, I'll be tracking this one closely.

For me, it's a different type of entrepreneurship.  Other projects of mine, Moca, Olive Arbor, CBOConnect, Upward Mobility, CreativeLedge, and bring something to the table, but required almost no funding.  It was a fun and exciting experience to build a model with massive social impact and negative free cash flows of Rs. 500,000,000 (USD $10 million) over the first five years!

Village Business School business plan team stopping for roadside tea

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