Scaling: How to go from x to 10x

This article was originally published on India Development Review. You can read the original piece here.

By Satyam Vyas

Nobody says no to the government. Most nonprofits in India—big and small—want to leverage government reach and resources, because doing so allows us to dramatically increase our impact. We also recognise that such opportunities to partner with the government are infrequent and unpredictable; we prefer not to forego them.

But what happens when you walk into a government meeting prepared to scale your programme from 10 schools to 50, and instead you’re asked to grow to 1,000 schools across several districts? Do you decline?

If you have participated in such meetings before, you know that preparation and flexibility go a long way in helping you manage the outcome. In most cases that require a dramatic operational scale up, you will also need to ensure that the following four stakeholder groups—the government, your funders, your organisation and an evaluation partner—are ready and prepared as well. 

Photo credit: New Statesman

Photo credit: New Statesman


I. Navigating the government relationship better

First, before you walk into a bureaucrat’s office, remember that the numbers you are proposing must relate to the numbers and outreach that the official usually deals with. For example, you might meet with a district education officer in West Champaran, Bihar, which has approximately 900-1,000 upper primary schools. If you propose working in 100 schools (10% of the schools in that district) the bureaucrat might be interested. Yet, this number would mean little to an official operating at the state level, because the outputs and outcomes you could promise would be minuscule in relation to the state population and to the size of the problem.

Second, if you are not ready to scale up dramatically, you can buy some time to revisit your plan. So if you had planned to scale X but were asked to grow 10X, you might return to the drawing board, evaluate your original proposition, and develop a new strategy.

The reason this is important is that often, rapid scaling is accompanied by a dip in quality. So all programme aspects that have worked well thus far, including the assumptions you might have made based on your past experience, will no longer hold true.

So how should you go about it?

Select aspects of your model that are more replicable than others
One way of revisiting your original plan is choosing not to scale your entire model. Instead, you can select aspects of it that are more easily replicable; this is especially useful for organisations that are smaller in size or those that may not have the funding lined up to grow exponentially on short notice.

For instance, if you are running an education intervention that includes curriculum development, teacher training and technology, you might choose to scale just the technology or teacher training modules after taking into account both the scale and the outcomes you seek to achieve. This approach will help ease your operational burden while meeting your scaling goals.

Choose activities and outcomes that are aligned with government priorities
Focusing on aspects of your model that align with government priorities and aspirations can heighten your probability of success and long-term sustainability.

II. Leveraging your funders

Once you have the government partnership, you need to figure out funding to support programme expansion.

Go back to your existing funders for support
In my experience, existing funders are happy to write their grantees a cheque and assume the risk of supporting growth on the basis of an MoU with the government. 

This is because many funding agencies like to see their support being leveraged for other grants towards increasing both scale and cost-effectiveness. For instance, if you indicate to a funder that the cost of running your education programme in the past was Rs 1,000 per child, but now with additional resources, it will reduce by 50%, the probability of hearing a ‘no’ for additional funding is very limited.

Identify the funders that can help you reach your goal

Having said this, however, it’s very important to understand the different kinds of investments that funders make, for what purpose they make them, and at what stage of growth they choose to play a role. Funders that helped you grow from X to 10X may not be the right partner to support your expansion to 100X.

Understanding your funder’s priorities is critical to ensuring that you are reaching out to the right people at the right time. For instance, in the case of CSR, the geographic spread of your programme expansion plays an important role in funding decisions. This is because companies often like to run initiatives where they have operations or strategic future business interest; they are less inclined to enter a new state or district where they have no presence.

III. Building organisational capacity

When scaling your programme in partnership with the government, funding tends to be an easier nut to crack. The challenge is mostly around human resources and systems and processes, because you don’t have staff and you need to quickly hire as many people as possible. In addition, you need to find and train quality candidates, which is also a challenge.

The other challenge with scale is that it is inversely proportionate to quality. So, when you are quickly growing your impact, having robust systems and processes in place is key to ensuring as smooth a path to scale as possible. Systems and processes that have worked for a beneficiary group of 10,000 will not work for 100,000 people.

IV. Evaluating your processes to understand your progress

Getting an agency to review your processes while you are scaling up is your best-case scenario, because you will learn about which aspects of your programme have the most impact in the shortest time.

For instance, in a training of trainers model, you might learn that by increasing the duration of a training module from three days to nine and splitting the same over a period of time, trainers are more motivated, productivity increases by 3X and leads to a visible impact in the quality of training and intended outcomes eventually. 

Knowing this is useful to the nonprofit in two ways. First, you are able to identify what works and focus on scaling that. Second, you might see overlaps with what works in your programme and what models the government is looking to support. If the government has funds for teacher training, skill development initiatives, you can be strategic in what you suggest for future partnerships.

Process evaluations are less common because they are expensive. But investing in them from the start is worth it if you are able to secure the funding. Just bear in mind that, much like funders, different evaluation agencies are suited for different levels of scale. There is no substitute for doing your homework so you find the right long-term partner to create impact at the systems level and influence policy.


1200 Graduates from IITs and NITs To Teach In Rural Engineering Colleges

Teach photo.jpg

Nearly 1200 graduates from colleges like IITs and NITs are hired to teach in 53 state-run engineering colleges in backward areas across 11 states and Union Territories.  This move is a part of the Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP-III) for improving the quality of engineering graduates at the cost of Rs 2,300 crore. It is a three-year project and will continue till  2020.

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar added, ‘This is the first time such a measure has been taken to improve the quality of education in backward areas. With the initiative, more than one lakh engineering students will benefit with better quality education.’  

The students selected to teach will be paid Rs 70,000 per month with the government spending approximately Rs 375 crore for the move.

The HRD minister informed that 60% of the teaching stuff was incomplete as no qualified teachers were applying for jobs in these colleges. ‘A public appeal was given to M Tech and PhD students from the premier institutions to work in the backward areas and serve the nation. There was an overwhelming response to the call and more than 5,000 highly-qualified persons applied,’ the minister said.

86 % of 1,225 teachers are from premier institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), National Institutes of Technology (NITs), Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) with 24% of them holding PhDs.

Out of the total teachers, 301 will head to 11 institutes in Rajasthan, 210 to Bihar, 194 to Madhya Pradesh and 191 to Jharkhand.

Faculty will join educational institutes in other states that include Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

(With inputs from PTI)





Economic Survey Has Good And Bad Facts On Gender

As they say, good things first. On an encouraging note, this year’s economic survey is a pink copy  - highlighting the gender gaps prevailing in India today.  

According to the statement released by the Press Information Bureau (PIB), assessments have been made based on three specific dimensions of gender, that are -

  • Agency (relates to women’s ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, households and their mobility and health)
  • Attitudes (relate to attitudes about violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons)
  • Outcomes (relate to ‘son preference’ measured by sex ratio of last child, female employment, choice of contraception, education level, age at marriage, age at first birth and physical or sexual violence experienced by women)

The above indicators aim to provide an understanding of the status, role and empowerment of women in the society.  

The findings suggest that overall, India’s performance has improved since the last decade. 14/17 indicators of women’s agency, attitudes and outcomes show progress. The remaining are comparable with developing countries similar to India.  

From Press Information Bureau. 

From Press Information Bureau. 

Unfortunately, one of the eye-catching facts of the recently released Economic Survey is the significant decline in women’s employment. There has been a fall of 12.3% of women’s participation in the workforce; from 36.3% (2005-06) to 24.3% (2015-16). This news is especially disheartening considering only recently at Davos, International Monetary Fund chief Christian Lagarde, quoted IMF research, saying 'women’s participation in the workforce to the level of men can boost the Indian economy by no less than 27 %’.Another indicator that requires attention is  'a meta-preference manifesting itself in fertility stopping rules contingent on the sex of the last child, which notionally creates “unwanted” girls, estimated at 21 million.' In simpler terms, women are forced to keep giving birth to children, till the much awaited male child is born.  

Regarding heterogeneity, (Heterogeneity denotes diversity - consisting of people from lots of different backgrounds would be considered having the quality of heterogeneity.)  the North-Eastern states are have out-performed all the other states. The survey notes that ‘while hinterland states are naturally lagging others, what’s surprising is that southern states don’t perform as well as their development levels would suggest.’

The survey sums up emphasising - India wants to show a more profound commitment on the gender front and, various governments schemes such as Beti Bachao - Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana Schemes and mandatory maternity leaves are steps in the right direction.

Several facts that show that India is progressing and moving towards the India of our dreams. But there is no stopping.  Addressing rigid societal and cultural barriers is an ongoing process, and the work must go on.



















HRD Ministry To Merge Its 3 Flagship Education Development Schemes

India's three flagship education development programmes, namely Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education (STE) will merge from the new academic year. 

Photo courtesy:

Photo courtesy:

The decision is taken by the human resource development ministry as reported by Hindustan Times. 

The three schemes were in operation since the last 15 years. The focus of these centrally sponsored projects was improving the quality of education and infrastructure in government schools at both elementary and secondary level. Going forward, there will be a new integrated programme for classes 1 to 12. 

The meetings relating to the budget proposals of the new schemes stand postponed.  The HRD ministry has decided to meet top officials of all the states in New Delhi on January 30 to discuss the new integrated plan. According to a note from the HRD ministry, the combined scheme for school education will aim at enhancing school effectiveness relating to equal opportunities for schooling and equitable learning outcomes. Niti Aayog proposed the plan for merging the three schemes. 

The budget of SSA, RMSA and STE will be combined. The Centre will give funds on 60:40 sharing basis to the majority of states, and 90:10 to north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.  

Youth employability: Looking beyond job placements

This article was originally published in India Development Review. You can read the original piece here.

By Priya Agarwal

One of the key indicators proposed and accepted as a measure of the Sustainable Development Goal 8—promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all—is the NEET number.

As much as 27.2 percent of India’s 423 million youth population are not in education, employment of training.The NEET was a little-known measure in the early 2000s to highlight the vulnerabilities faced by adolescents who had dropped out of education. It assumes even more significance now as we look at youth productivity as a whole—especially of young adults from disadvantaged and high-risk backgrounds.

The number is simply the total number of young adults minus the number of youth (15-29 years of age) in education, in training or in jobs. These youth, who are potentially doing nothing, are the ones who we, as a nation, need to be most worried about.

“A high NEET rate as compared with the youth unemployment rate could mean that a large number of youth are discouraged workers, or do not have access to education or training.”[1] As much as 27.2 percent of India’s 423 million youth population are NEET[2].

These are the young adults who are currently isolated from the mainstream and have either given up or do not have access to any opportunities.

Photo credit - creative commons

Photo credit - creative commons


A matter of choice

It is intuitive to infer that the majority of young adults, especially in the 18-21 year age group in the higher socio-economic strata, are in education and not looking for employment. Hence, the same rationale could be extended to say that one of the early markers of privilege—along with a private school education—could be to keep a young adult in education until such time that they wish or that their family can afford.

Why does that choice only remain the prerogative of the economically advantaged? Surely, we do not ask an undergraduate degree college only about their employment rates—just as the number of students taking up higher education is a matter of pride for most institutions, can a skill development programme not enthuse young adults, particularly school dropouts, to complete high school as a first step to achieving their career plan? In fact, that may be a more sustainable route for them to find and retain employment that stays relevant to the vagaries of the labour market.

It is an oft-repeated adage that we cannot really predict the jobs of the future. Yet it seems counter-intuitive to most of us that building core work skills and self-reliance is perhaps the only sustained answer. For that to become a reality, we have to trust our young to make that choice to stay in education, get technically trained or start working. And all three are equally significant indicators of success.

A nuanced understanding

Of all young boys in the 15-24 age group, only 6.4 percent are NEET, compared to a staggering 44.9 percent of girls in that age group. Indian culture looks down on families that ‘live off’ a woman’s income and it is surprising to see the number of urban households also falling prey to societal pressure.

The honour of a girl is almost always a burden that the family of the girl carries and hence it is safer to keep her home rather than let her go out and work, lest she gain financial independence. Economic freedom is seen as being directly linked to the dreaded autonomous decision-making on life and marriage. This explains the large proportion of girls who are not in education, employment or training.

Dropping out of education means social isolation, which also severely limits access to other basics such as healthcare, peer support, and so on. When a girl who had dropped out of education in class 7 or 8 goes back to school, battling all these societal shackles, it is most definitely a measure of success.

The government spends upwards of INR 3,000 crore on skill development every year. [3] These are only the budgets of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, not the other livelihood and technical education schemes. Yet these programmes are plagued by inefficiencies arising out of low enrolment.

It is time that we revisited the constricting and unilateral metric of job placement as the only indicator of success. 

According to the National Skill Development Corporation, 3.4 million youth have been trained in 2015-16. In this context, it would make sense to leverage the investments already made and ensure that young adults judiciously choose and enrol into technical training as well after an intensive career counselling and core work skills module. This carefully matched profile of youth to skills training based on their aptitudes and interests is not only a smart move, it needs to be seen as a success metric even after a basic skilling programme.

It is time that we revisited the constricting and unilateral metric of job placement as the only indicator of success: we need to broaden our understanding of what fuels the productivity of young India. Perhaps learning from motivated young adults is the answer.

[1] ILO (2013a)
[2] YouthSTATs, ILO
[3] Indian budget 2017-18


India’s secondary education challenge: it’s not elementary, my dear

Disclaimer - This article was originally published in live mint. 

By Avani Kapur

The latest Annual Status of Education Report findings—that while 86% of adolescents are enrolled in the formal education system, only 53% of all 14-year-olds can read a simple text in English and just 44% can perform a simple division—highlight the sobering status of secondary education in India today.

After being pushed along this curricular conveyer belt till they turn 14, undereducated adolescents are left to navigate secondary schooling on their own. Enrolment numbers drop as a result and many do not even complete Class X. Even among those who persevere, the government’s National Achievement Survey (NAS) of 2014 found only 16% of Class X students across all types of schools who could correctly answer more than half the mathematics questions put to them.

Having created this artificial administrative distinction between primary and secondary, the need to urgently reform secondary education in India must at least now be recognized. Children are being schooled but not educated. Lessons are being taught but not learnt. The learning crisis is compounding.

If money is a predicator of government priority, the torpor in secondary education is clearly visible in the low spending on the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA)—the government’s flagship programme aimed at providing universal access to quality secondary education. While the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) had recommended Rs27,466 crore to be allocated to RMSA, only Rs19,372 crore was allocated and even less spent. In 2016-17, per-student allocations drop from Rs6,663 per annum to Rs3,960 per annum between primary and secondary levels, despite the far fewer students who make it this far.

These low investments have had a direct bearing on everything from infrastructure quality to access. Digital India sends most of its children to high schools without access to computer labs or even libraries. Learning becomes a second order problem when basic facilities are found lacking. Yet, as the elementary education experience demonstrates, inputs and infrastructure are essential but not in themselves sufficient to improve quality. The transition from schooling to learning is far more complicated. Our many mistakes and few achievements in elementary education however can help bridge this chasm.

The first step to building this bridge is to accurately measure the distance that is to be covered. Regular assessments can serve as checkpoints to assess absorption and assimilation. Teaching must be tailored to student needs instead of government mandates on curriculum. Last year, the Right to Education Act was amended to capture learning outcomes and NAS (a competency-based evaluation covering 2.2 million students across 110,000 schools) was launched. This “tool to understand what exactly the child should be learning in various classes, how to teach this through activities, and how to measure and ensure that children have reached the required level” was however limited to elementary education. If learning is an incremental process, surely so should be its measurement.

Measurement, just like schooling, for its own sake is of little use, however. Syllabus completion and high pass percentages have thus far guided teachers. The added pressure of board examinations in Classes X and XII only drives teaching further away from learning. Aspirations and needs of the adolescents on the cusp of adulthood are left unaddressed and they gain neither the expertise nor knowledge required in this fast globalizing economy. For measurement to be meaningful and actionable, the curricular benchmarks against which students are measured require an overhaul.

Having charted a new road map, movement along it will need close monitoring. Classroom interactions, which without foundational skills inculcated at the elementary level, are even more challenging, must be enhanced. Pedagogical innovations including supplementary materials targeted at actual learning levels, and remedial education to effectively address these needs are essential.

These recommendations may seem obvious but they are also extremely ambitious. They require a complete transformation of the governance and incentive system currently operating in education. For teachers to have autonomy and flexibility to innovate—appointing qualified and trained subject teachers is not enough—systemic institutional reform is essential. Management and planning structures need to be strengthened to ensure that objectives are changed from curriculum completion to learning. Moreover, since finances guide priorities, this will require strengthening the planning and budgeting system to focus on school needs and increasing flexibility in spending with a focus on quality education.

India has such limited access to basic education that any conversation about quality education is seen as aspirational bordering on utopian. Meanwhile, our much-touted demography, which is expected to bring dividends, is finding itself starved of investment. Skilling missions will not suffice. Education standards must be improved drastically and rapidly. In order for national ambitions to fructify, personal ambitions must be allowed to flower.  


Avani Kapur is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and director of Accountability Initiative.


The Colour of the Future

'Youth are a country's future', how often have we heard this line? From parents and teachers to politicians and leaders this has been repeated so often its become a litany. It is hardly an unknown fact that India is the youngest country in the world. With 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world’s largest youth population, according to the latest census data. And by 2020, India this number will go up to 464 million! But what kind of a future can a country have when the futures of these youth are precarious and uncertain?

Much has been spoken about youth and unemployment India. The situation is serious. Between 1991-2013, where India saw two decades of rapid growth only 140 million of 300 million people seeking jobs found them, according to a UNDP report.  We will need to create approximately 280 million jobs between now and 2050 to meet the needs of the working population that is said to peak around this time.

One of the factors that contributes to the problem is the gap between education and employment that many young people receive, especially in small towns and rural areas. There is a disconnect between what’s being taught in universities and colleges and the skill-sets industry needs. This results in a rather ironic paradox because while 'educated' youth are unable to find employment, employers are unable to find employees that meet the skill requirements to grow their businesses. Education must prepare students with the skills that are required in the labour market. Even in cases where such programs exist, universities/colleges are not talking to students about employability – advising and informing them about the programs that will give them the skills to get the jobs.

Another product of modern education is the issue of educated young people who no longer want to settle for jobs they feel are beneath them, aspiring instead for jobs that may not match their skills. Education is in many cases creating a chasm between young people and traditional employment avenues available to them. For example, take the case of agriculture. A young person who has graduated from college is usually not willing to enter the agrarian sector, seeing this as a step backwards. But in an economy that is majority agrarian, is it not essential for education to help young people look at agriculture as a viable profession and provide skills and create that transform agricultural practice in keeping with the new knowledge and practices in the sector.

And finally when young people do find employment, there arises the problem of retention with many of them leaving their jobs within the first few months. This is especially true for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. One of the major reasons for this is that while they may have the required skills and knowledge for the job they often are unprepared for the 'world of work' and the work culture that comes with this. It is the simple job readiness skills that are missing – skills that may appear obvious but in fact are often neglected. These soft skills must form part of the curriculum as early as school to bridge expectations of employees and employers for mutual benefit.

In conclusion, we go back to the words we began with, 'Youth are the country's future,' but what this future will hold depends on how we meet the how we meet the aspirations and the needs of these young people.