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Why We Incubated a Digital Education Startup in Nagaland

NagaEd is social enterprise focusing on affordable and quality education for rural and remote communities

In conversation with Anuj SharmaFounder at ALSiSAR Impact:

Why did ALSiSAR Impact incubate a startup from Nagaland?

Historically the Nagas were said to be ferocious and powerful warriors. Their support to the British army during World War II in Kohima against the Japanese invasion is said to have been the turning point of the war for the British. They have come a long way since then. They are way ahead in aspects of education, health, cleanliness and human development but unfortunately have not been exposed to the business culture and entrepreneurship sector.

Unfortunately, due to many stereotypes, the people of the Northeast are not given a fair chance for job opportunities. Therefore an Edutech company from the northeast helps in breaking bias and changing people’s opinions.There are a lot of educated and artistic people but due to the lack of an ecosystem, there are not many means for them to grow. There is no balance between the two.

Apart from that, everything is quite challenging there. Menial jobs such as money transfers require a lot of paperwork. There are hardly any accountants or lawyers available in the whole state. There are no basic facilities available for an enterprise, which makes it very challenging to grow. Nagaland has also not received any FDI for more than a decade. There are hardly any startups present in that part of geography, which was one of the reasons I wanted to help NagaEd build something there.

What the moment when it was decided to incubate NagaEd?

It was not a day-long process, indeed Shiroi (Co-founder, NagaEd) and I had been thinking for quite some time about what she could do to help the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Northeast.

In 2020, noting the devastating impact of Covid 19 on education, Shiroi and Kevisato wanted to do something to address the deep faultlines of the education system and especially schools and students in remote geographies who faced greater risk and barriers to learning.

I was pretty clear since the first day that they would have complete support from ALSiSAR Impact. So during this gradual process, when it became clear they would need structured prolonged support, and guidance, ALSiSAR Impact incubated NagaEd.

If you really look at the journey , we spent multiple years building and revisiting how to improve the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Nagaland.
Our approach towards entrepreneurs is vastly different from the acceleration programs imported from the west where startups spend a few weeks to revamp themselves.

We believe it is important to deploy patient end-to end support to social enterprises. Those initial years of enterprise building are hard work, but they are also the most fulfilling.

Why do you think this social startup is important?

The state of Nagaland has the highest rate of unemployment (24.7%) in India, hence we see this effort to provide quality education where there is a significant lack of infrastructure as a critically relevant endeavour.

Especially when someone like Shiroi, who moved to Pune and Singapore for her schooling and then decided to go back to her homeland to bring a change, shows us how education can play a vital role in uplifting the people.

NagaEd is unique because it is not just a digital solution but also focuses on empowering educators and teachers through capacity building and training helping create spaces for children to learn. It is also critical to note that according to multiple sources, more than 40% of students drop out of private schools in the country due to reasons of affordability.

This is why we think NagaEd is more than just a technology solution, since it finds its balance between the internet and physical spaces which can provide an affordable quality education that transcends the difficulties of teaching during a pandemic in remote geographies.

Anuj interacting with the entrepreneurs associates in Kohima! (2017)

What aspect of it made you passionate enough to incubate in it?

One of the main reasons for us were the entrepreneurs. When someone is as genuine and fierce as the founders themselves, it makes one quite passionate to help them take it to the next level.

Secondly, it was also the challenging geography that added more value to this social startup. This edutech company that pilots quality education for the people across rural and remote communities, promises a lot of growth and upliftment for its social impact across similar regions all across SE Asia.

A role model from that region bringing about a change is also impactful and can inspire others to do the same.

Khonoma in Nagaland : Asia’s First Green Village

On a macro level, it was the impression on the future of the entity and the country that made it quite important for us. The growth in all the areas in the country and not just the metropolitan cities made us quite eager to incubate it.

What challenges do you think this Social startup / EduTech startup will help overcome?

Firstly, we wanted to help overcome the stigmas and myths that startups can’t emerge from Nagaland, that they can’t receive funding and that they cannot be collaborated with.

We also wanted to support and inspire the local people at large by portraying great role models for the same. We believe that if you help elevate the local ecosystem, it resonates with everybody. Indeed, with something as critical as education, which transcends everything, it would be a worthy barrier to surmount.

NagaEd and ALSiSAR Impact — team meetup! (2020)

What social impact do you see in the long run?

I believe that through NagaEd’s education solution we have long-term focused outcome for opportunities for youth with enhanced education and skills.

We also think that the process of building capacity for social entrepreneurship is a positive intervention. Whether a startup fails or succeeds, it will have a huge impact on the local people. Even reaching this level in a startup takes years of hard work and therefore we believe that the success of NagaEd is quite crucial in showcasing a good example for the North East.

We are also very thankful to the whole team for being behind this cause and knowing what is to be done. At a larger level, if we talk about impact, apart from addressing the bias and the discrimination, it will of course increase the quality of education for the people, not only of Nagaland but also in nearby geographies.

Indeed, it will pave the way for local entrepreneurship to thrive to the next phase.