Isana Nambiar has always been a great fan of female entrepreneurs, following the stories of many. Her favourite TED talk, “Programming your Mind for Success” by Carrie Green, has been big inspiration for her. With someone as passionate about entrepreneurship as she is, it is no surprise that at age 16, Isana has already started her own initiative and is currently in the process of building HelpEd, an online tool that will connect government schools lacking resources to donors willing to provide for their needs.
Isana first came up with the idea in the beginning of summer; “I had a lot of reference books and text books that we no longer used. Usually I give it to some junior family member, but this time, for some reason, most of them had already got their books, so I was looking for different options. Then I thought, government schools may want these. So I went to some government schools, and they said yes, following which I gave a lot of my reference material to them.”
As Isana began visiting the schools, she realised that the resources required went beyond books. “They needed books and benches and many other things. So that’s when I got the idea that we could get together people interested to donate and help these schools function more efficiently.”
She decided to build a web platform to connect donors and schools. “On a web platform, people from around the world could contribute. And it’s a low cost communication medium. So I thought that a web-based tool made more sense. Besides, more and more people have smartphones these days, so authorities in the government schools could post any requests with their phones.”
During an internship with the Bengaluru-based social organisation Reap Benefit, Isana was encouraged to start taking action. “My first step was to do a survey, and look at how willing people in housing communities were to donate and contribute. At that point, about 25 people said they were interested.”
To get to the depths of the issue, Isana then went to visit schools to inquire what their needs were. This wasn’t easy, as she started thinking about the project in the summer, when the schools are all closed. “Nobody was there, and the people around didn’t know, we kept coming back and no one would be there,” she remembers.
Her persistence paid off, however, and she was finally able to reach three schools to ask them what they require. “I learnt that it’s not only objects, one school said they even need a teacher!”
Realising the constraints of schools that limit their ability to find good teachers, she wants HelpEd to be able to provide teacher salaries as well. She knows of some companies who’ve sponsored teachers, and is considering the same route.
Isana’s vision of HelpEd primarily involves three components. First, the school should be able to post its needs on the platform, so that the community can find out what they need. When they post their needs it can also be through an ecommerce link. If it is a very expensive thing they need, there may be multiple people contributing towards that. Once the full amount for it has been raised, the item shall be marked to reflect that.
Secondly, companies providing school supplies could list their offerings on the website, from where the schools (or donors) could purchase the items required. HelpEd would get a commission from such sales.
Another idea Isana has is to involve student ambassadors. “Around Karnataka, we aim to have one student ambassador for every three or four wards. These ambassadors would play an important role, checking to see that the schools are using the materials provided efficiently, and that they are satisfied.”
Work on creating HelpEd has started and Isana hopes for it to be completed soon. In the meantime, she has launched a successful fundraising campaign on Milaap, raising over Rs. 32000 to sponsor school uniforms for students at a government school in southern Bangalore.
In ten years, she hopes that 4000 schools will have benefited from and will be a part of the HelpEd website. “Whenever a school needs something, they post it and are able to get it – that’s our ultimate vision”
For Isana, this work is something she feels called upon to do, “I felt like we all must play a part. We should all help our community, these children are our future as well, they deserve the same level and quality of education that we do. Seeing that they don’t have some of the most basic things, I felt they deserved that. As students, we understand the needs of other students and must come forward to help them.”
The journey so far has taught Isana to shed all hesitation and be free to approach anyone or ask for help. And most importantly, empathy. “Whether it is a school or the students, do try to understand what they are actually going through, what they have and what the genuine needs are from their side. Try to step into their shoes and see how you can help them,” advises the budding social entrepreneur.