This sponsored post, part of a series on Asia’s Young Social Entrepreneurs, is brought to you by DBS Bank. In partnership with the National University of Singapore, DBS is a proud supporter of the Social Venture Challenge, an Asia-wide competition for social enterprises.
With dreams of one day changing the world, Manjil Rana took his education very seriously.
He was fortunate enough to enroll in a prestigious boarding school in Nepal – one that accepts only a few students each year – where he had the opportunity to interact with teachers from abroad. After completing high school, he earned one of three scholarships to study for two years at Mahindra United World College of India, which gathers students from over 50 countries. There, he met friend and future co-founder of Maya Universe Academy, Shin-chul Yoon.
Their friendship blossomed while volunteering in the rural parts India. Yoon taught martial arts while Rana taught English and math. After graduation, Rana received another scholarship to study at the College of the Atlantic in the US.
Rana says he was very idealistic and had big dreams, but once he got to the US, that all changed. “I wanted to figure out a space for me in this universe and I couldn’t really see how I could change the world,” said Rana.
As the civil war in Nepal came to an end in 2006, Rana decided to go home. Based on his past experiences, he elected to team up with Yoon to work on solving the education problem in Nepal. Together, they founded Maya, a unique for-profit venture that provides free education.
“Two-thirds of Nepalese students attend public schools and more than 80 percent of them fail their national exams every year compared to less than 10 percent of private school students,” said Rana. Even students that have done well on exams have poor functional knowledge of the subjects.
“As a result, the majority of our population is illiterate. Our biggest industry is that of remittance: 2.2 million Nepalese people work abroad and every day 1,500 people leave the country to find work in [places] like Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, and Malaysia.”
Overseas, they work in harsh conditions and many families do not see each other for years.
Rana says that international organizations have tried to solve the education problem by building infrastructure and training teachers, but not much has changed. In fact, he talks about why organizations such as Save the Children and Room to Read have made little impact.
“Organizations like these raise millions of dollars from philanthropists in rich countries, promising them of helping the poor. Their websites look beautiful with pictures of smiling faces. They say they built classrooms, donated books, ran awareness campaigns, and so on. If they have been so effective as they claim, why is the situation not getting any better? The poor in Nepal have no option but to depend upon the low-quality public schools and no amount of money can change that fact.”
Public schools are ill-managed and their teachers, who are protected by a teacher’s union, do not have any incentives to perform better.
“The parents in rural areas who are also illiterate themselves are unable to creatively criticize the bad quality of education and just accept it as a tragic part of their life,” added Rana. “People desire to send their children to private schools but the majority of the population cannot afford it.”
Rana wanted to provide quality education to the poor without the expensive price tag. “I did not want it to be a mere charity. I don’t believe in free handouts so I wanted a model that can sustain itself in the long run. We need an innovative solution to this problem. We need an innovative way to trade with the poor.”
Then it hit him. Instead of using money as a medium of exchange, Maya could use the barter system since it is still prevalent in Nepal. Maya would provide free education to children and their parents would pay by working on Maya’s farm twice a month. Any revenue generated by the work from parents get reinvested into Maya.
“In the beginning, the parents helped in constructing the classrooms. We used locally available resources like bamboo, jute, stones, and mud to create them. After the construction of the classrooms were finished, the parents got involved with raising goats and chickens,” said Rana, adding that Yoon is “utilizing the time from the parents to make bracelets that he sells in Korea.”
Maya recruits international volunteer teachers and provides them with room and board. And it’s because of the volunteers that fourth grader Pushbin Marsyangi, one of Maya’s 150 students, got interested in school.
“He would never have that interest in school had it not been for those interesting classes that foreign volunteers run,” said Rana. “He wants to be the leader of Nepal one day and make better roads, hospitals, and schools for the poor. All this was achieved through the existence of Maya. Otherwise, he would have continued to attend the public school.”
Maya’s model is “not something that people can easily understand”, explains Rana, but the most important thing is that they can make a profit, solve the education problem, and potentially expand the model.
“The DBS-NUS Bootcamp reminded me that I was a CEO of a social business and that our movement is going to crash if I don’t take care of my finances like a businessman,” said Rana. “If we can successfully educate the children, the cycle of poverty can be broken.”
Watch this video to learn more about Maya Universe Academy:
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