Givology Staff's Blog

Givology Impact Series #12 - Nanubhai

Here's a transcript of the [url=]Givology Impact Series podcast with Sarah Birge and Kate Jenkins from Nanubhai Education Foundation. Check it out here![/url]

Joyce: Welcome to the Givology Impact Series Podcasts in which we share the experiences and inspirations of social entrepreneurs and changemakers around the world in education. We have Joyce Meng here today. We are delighted to have Sarah Birge and Kate Jenkins from Nanubhai Education Foundation here as our honored guests.
For more than a decade, Nanubhai has worked to provide scholarships and access to key education resources in rural India. As an introduction to our guests, Sarah Birge is from northern Vermont and studied English Literature at the University of Chicago. She became involved with Nanubhai in 2011 as part of her Masters work in sustainable development. Sarah currently works at the Vermont Agency of Education and believes strongly in education as a tool for socioeconomic equity. Kate Jenkins joined the Nanubhai team in 2012 and served as executive director from 2014 to 2016 and remains an active member of Nanubhai's board. She is currently the senior director of Center of Operations at FIMRC, an NGO that aims to close the healthcare gap in communities in developing countries.

Once again, thank you guys so much for taking the time to speak with us today!

Sarah: My pleasure!

Joyce: Great, to start off, can you guys talk about the history and founding mission of Nanubhai?

Kate: Yes, absolutely! So Nanubhai was founded in 2003-2004 by Raj Shah, an American who spent his summers in his dad's village in rural India and was really kind of thrown by the difference that it makes where you grow up and what kind of education you have access to. The village of Kadod which is in Gujarat is actually where he got this from and where our organization was ultimately founded. He worked very closely with Principal Mehitus to found the organization to guide our earliest projects to focus more closely on getting teachers into classrooms. India has not necessarily a teacher shortage, but a resource shortage. So how do we get teachers into classrooms? How do we get them excited about teaching? How do we make the curriculum accessible to students? Those were many of Nanubhai's first projects. We started very small, bringing a few Americans to actually work in those classrooms. Then in 2013, we did some kind of program upheaval and soul-searching which is always an interesting time for an NGO. We came to the conclusion that it was better for us to focus our resources on helping students themselves continue into their education. So we kind of rebuilt the Nanubhai Scholarship Program. The first class of scholars will be graduating this year. We have 106 active scholars, we will recruit another 70 this year, and that is some of the key history.

Joyce: Great! And since your founding, what are some of the key program highlights and accomplishments of the organization? And given all the work you do, can you share some stories that encapsulate your work and mission?

Sarah: Sure this is Sarah, I can jump in on that. So the scholars program that we keep talking about with 106 girls currently in college has just been incredible in both in terms of the fact that we have girls who would not have gone to college, graduating and moving into the workforce. So on the largescale, we know that's wonderful, and on a more microlevel, I spent last summer in India and just meeting with girls and their families and their stories. I remember going out to visit a family and it was like a four hour bus drive and then an hour in the rickshaw and then hiking through a river because it was the monsoon and when we got to their house, they didn't have enough chairs. They had to go the neighbors and borrow chairs because, they owned one chair. You know, so getting to meet the families, even with the language barriers and you know, seeing someone's grandmother like grab your hand and thank you because of her granddaughter is going to college is really moving. So I think there is the large-scale impact of what we do, and there is also the individual human stories that are very powerful.

Joyce: That's really inspiring, and today's podcast series is focused on impact assessment and the ways that organizations tackle the challenge of measuring impact in the field. And this is clearly the area that you, Sarah, have studied and we are really excited to pick your brain on this subject. So for Nanubhai, what are some of the key qualitative and quantitative metrics that you look at in terms of figuring out your overall impact in the communities?

Sarah: Sure this is one of my favorite topics, so feel free to cut me off for I will talk about it for hours. So firstly, it's really interesting to do this kind of work in India because a lot of the data collection tools that we might take for granted in the States are so new and culturally jarring.
I remember trying to do a Likert Scale, which is like: Do you strongly agree, slightly agree, disagree, etc...No one could do it. It was a new idea, so it failed terribly. We have developed really good metrics over time. A lot of those are around who you let in into the program. Kate you can go over that in little more detail later. We have an elaborate system to decide who will make a good scholar, who really needs these scholarships. And then in terms of the assessment of our impact, we have some quantitative stuff, which is obviously how many girls graduate from college? Right now we are looking at 99-98% of our scholars are getting out of college, and the small percentage who don't have family emergency or a health issue. And some other things are how many of them get jobs, what timeframe did they get jobs in, what salaries are they looking at. We are also looking at in terms of qualitative data doing exit surveys. Do they feel that do they feel that we helped them as much as they needed? Are there things we could be doing that we are not anticipating? Longer term, we will be looking at how many scholars they involved. One of my goals would be to someday hire a scholar to work for us. Even longer term than that, we are looking at average age of marriage, the level of education children that these girls' children will ultimately receive. Then at a larger scale, what are the community attitudes, because another one of our goals is to shift attitude towards community girls education. That's challenging to measure and its very qualitative, but it's certainly an important thing.

Joyce: That's really great. Actually you really mentioned community attitudes towards girls education. For those less familiar with India and the current education system and the environment surrounding it, what is the current community attitude?

Sarah: That's a great question. This isn't an original line, but something that helps me understand India is remembering that it's not one country, it's a bunch of countries that happen to have one government. So a lot of the statistics coming out of India are really dire. In a lot of places, girls are denied education, even to the extent of violence and things like that. But it really varies state to state. So where we are in Gujarat, there's a pretty positive attitude towards girls education and the Government. And the state Government of Gujarat has done a lot to get K-12 education going. The had a program called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which is like a celebration of education. So we have a lot of girls now who are going up through 12th grade and their parents didn't go to school at all, or if they did, their father went up to eighth grade. But college is a different proposition because that costs money, whereas K-12 education is so cheap that generally anyone can afford it.
So we generally are hoping that we can capitalize on what the Government there has already done around K-12 education and get that momentum to carry up to tertiary education. And the longer term, as we look into expanding into other states, I think we have to focus on tackling community attitudes around girls education, which might be more negative.

Joyce: Yeah...clearly the President of India today, very reform-minded and progressive came from Gujarat, so yeah, that legacy kind of spills over. Just in general, I know Kate mentioned earlier the issue of resources in schools. Just to help contextualize, K-12 is free and publicly provided, but what is the state of the quality of existing public education programs?

Sarah: You know I can only speak to what I saw, but I have been in a lot of public schools in the areas of Gujarat that we operate in. I actually taught or co-taught an English class in one of our partner schools. Things aren't great. Teacher absenteeism is a huge problem. Even in terms of textbooks, class numbers are shocking. I have now taught public schools in the States on and off for about a decade. And there would be classes in India where there are 80-100 kids, which at that point you are not teaching but delivering a sermon. So I think that scarcity of resources is huge, and one of the biggest resources we need is more teachers and more quality teachers. So I think that from American or Western standpoint, the difference will be really stark. You know you would have anywhere from 40 - 100 children sitting on wooden benches in a room, with no books or pencils or paper.

Joyce: That's helpful to understand. And going back to impact evaluation and assessment how does Nanubhai select beneficiaries for its programs?

Sarah: Kate...take it away. You developed the system.

Kate: Yes, so we actually have a 4-step process. Every December, our project managers go out into the fields. They visit 50-60 local high schools. They actually talk to principals and students and teachers and explain the program, how it works, and what college can do for you. We spend a couple of months collecting completed application forms. Application forms are looked at for academic performance, family incomes, and resources. All of these things are then quantified into what we call our application tracker. For each girl we see the preliminary score. Then we usually get...I'd say the average is about 500 applications in Gujarat alone. And we expect that we'll get up to 500 applications in our new project site, Rajasthan essentially. Of these 500, we will call about half of them, the top 50%. Then we ask for their board seat number, which their 12th exam. India doesn't do grades per se; there's no GPA. There's an exam in 10th grade and an exam in 12th grade. And the one in 10th grade determines what stream that you will study in and the one in 12th grade determines whether you graduate, where you'll rank on the merit list for getting into programs--so a major, high-stakes, winner-take-all test. Most students spend an entire year cramming for. We'll call them, look at their seat numbers once the actual scores are released. We usually call about the top 50% of those girls and bring them in for an interview.
The interview focuses on what are your goals, what kind of support you have in your family, what are you prepared to do to excel in school. We also look at things like if the family is missing one or more parents.

Sarah: This is Sarah and I'll just jump in. So that essentially outlines our process. And then our ground team does the interview. So this is really the busiest time of the year. It's an incredible amount of work, incredible amount of data sifting. Our ground team actually, I can't remember actually on the top of my head how many kilometers they end up driving, but they cover an incredible amount of land to go, and go to these rural high schools and give out applications and help promote us. So we are in the midst of that right now. But another wrinkle is that when we are selecting our Givology scholars for our Givology partnership, they are looking for other things, like ability to communicate with donors in America, a sort of outgoing nature. So there is even another layer of scanning that we do when we are selecting scholars. So it is a really huge process and one that we are always tweaking and refining to make sure that we are getting scholars who have a balance of need and potential for academic success.

Joyce: Mhm...that's great. Just on that balance, and being able to strike a good coordination of those two different aspects which could also be potentially conflicting in different situations. Do your beneficiaries that you end up selecting, do they have any demographic differences from the broader community, that you see when you look at your admission criteria?

Sarah: That's kinda a hard question to answer. I think if you were going to look at the set of girls in Gujarat and Rajasthan who are in college, the big difference is that most of our students are from rural areas. And most of them--I believe about 66% are what is called scheduled tribe, which means that they are from groups which have historically been oppressed. So they are sort in the caste system, they're not like the dalat or the "untouchable" caste. They're tribal; they're indigenous people. And in the wide, .9% of tribal women receive a college education. So that would be the huge difference that's we're seeing. Most of our beneficiaries are from the indigenous tribe, and they don't really have access to college.

Joyce: I think you guys have done tremendous work in the community and we've been very excited to support your work. And just on that note, when you benchmark exit opportunities for your students, compared to the typical trajectory that is taken by girls in those indigenous communities, what are the differences that you see?

Sarah: That's a great question. So right now, as Kate mentioned earlier, we are having our first crop of scholars graduating. We have a handful graduate, only like 1 or 2 did short term nursing programs. It's an area we are concerned about, so we are sort of trying to prepare for it. But I don't really have an answer about what the outcomes are yet, but one thing that we see is that a lot of our scholars end up going into the science field. A lot of them are becoming nurses, homeopathic doctors, or pharmacists. So I'm not sure what this correlation is between where they are from and their desire to go into science fields. But I know in the interviews that we do with our scholars a lot of them talk about wanting to give back, and a lot of them see healthcare as a way to do that really directly. I remember we have a scholar named Megha who is also a gifted poet. And her little sister is actually disabled because she had polio as a child. And Megha is going to be a nurse and she sent me a picture of her out in a remote town doing polio vaccination. That really stuck with me--she is making a difference in an area that negatively affected her family.
In the bigger picture, one thing we are concerned at Nanubhai is that since most of our scholars are from scheduled tribes and many of them are from what's referred to as scheduled caste, or other castes that have sort of been oppressed, we are worried about them facing discrimination in the workforce. So in order to combat that, we are doing a couple things: we are doing some soft skills job training workshop before they graduate so that they are a little more prepared. We have also partnered with an organization that Kate found out of Delhi called Sheroes, a network of female mentors in the professional world who are probably coming from a higher socioeconomic status. These women are willing to develop relationships with our scholars to help them along. So one of the things that we are concerned about is that our scholars may face discrimination in the workplace when they exit, so we are trying to do everything we can to prepare for that so that it doesn't happen.

Joyce: Yeah, that's an important issue. And in regards to data in the way that Nanubhai has used data, I'm curious in looking at your program, and I know this is the year where you are going to get more data and more benchmarking and more opportunity to gauge the impact of the many years, but has the use of data or the collection of data impacted the way you have designed your programs?

Sarah: It has. Kate talked a little about our initial programming years, when we were really just sort of sending people over to teach English and doing smaller projects, and we sort of realized that they weren't projects that we could really collect data on, so how could we tell if they were working. And we collect massive amounts of data on every scholar. We could tell you what percentage of them live in the traditional clay houses versus a modern built house. How many water buffaloes per family is the average and all those things. We have a massive amount of data and it's been great to drive our programming. So for example, the science thing, a lot of scholars who have done science in high school tend to be more successful. So we are talking about in the future, that is something that we want to focus on a little bit more. Or we've noticed that scholars who have graduated and have gone into nursing are making pretty good salaries right out the gate, so we want to encourage that more. One interesting thing I found when I was doing our monitoring and evaluation program last summer was that many of our scholars are the oldest in their families. So they are the first child to graduate from high school, and a lot of them have little sisters. So we realized that we better get ready for a wave of little sister applicants. So I think data is one of the biggest things that has allowed us to be so successful in our programming and to make tweaks and be flexible as we go along.

Joyce: Great. And just on data and the use of data, what are some of the key challenges that you face in developing impact measurements, tools, and insights?

Sarah: Oh gosh, how long do you have? So my first answer to that would be rural India. You know we have interns every summer and I always tell them that you better have something you're working on and you better have a plan B for when the power goes out because that happens regularly. So just standard technology that you could depend on if you were working on in a different context you can't. So that's a huge challenge. I'm getting my PowerPoint ready, but then the power goes out. So that's an issue.
Another thing is the concept of data collection, like I mentioned earlier, trying to do a likert scale with some teachers I was working with. They had never seen it, so they all said everything was great. There's also the issue of you are trying to overlay a very western idea, like let's measure this, let's be very quantitative, let's be very empirical. You're trying to overlay that onto a culture where it doesn't always fit. Like we found that when we had gone out to introduce scholars with their families, a bunch of foreigners or even our local staff showing up at their house with a camera is terrifying. Like they think that they're in trouble, it's not something they've seen before. he idea that somebody would interview them and ask them for their opinion is just really far outside their world view. So we have had to be very mindful about how we do data collection. Cultural sensitivity is one of our key values here. We're working in such a different culture that we have to remember that. The short answer is: the technology issue and the cultural issue. But I do think that with the help of our amazing ground staff we have been able to work around those, and we are able to gather data.

Joyce: That's great to hear. And Nanubhai has certainly accomplished a lot over the past decade plus. In thinking about the next 5 years to come, what are your main objectives and goals?

Sarah: I think that our most achievable or most obvious goal is that we want to increase our scholar numbers. We have about 160 girls in school right now and we're going to add another 60-80 between Gujarat and Rajasthan. I would love us to be giving 200 scholarships a year, to have offices in 5 states instead of in 2 states. So there's the scaling up that is important. I also think that we are going to begin to develop more targeted programming to ensure that our scholars are graduating--and not just graduating--they are going out to the workforce and being successful. So those supporting programs to make sure that our overarching goals are met. I know that we are also still in the thick of the Indian NGO registration process, which is incredibly lengthy and mountains of pages. But once we have that, there's actually a law in India that corporations have to give a certain portion of their income to charity, through corporate social responsibility. So once we complete our Indian NGO registration, we will be able to develop CSR relationships. So I'm really looking forward to that because I think that our goals and our message will resonate with a lot of organizations there. And that cash influx will help us do the scaling up that we need to do.

Joyce: Wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in our Impact Series podcast! We are really excited to continue following Nanubhai and the many exciting devlopments to come!

Sarah: Thank you guys so much! Besides the financial input from Givology, just the personal relationships--I know we have a WhatsApp group so some of the Givology Chicago members actually correspond pretty regularly with the scholars that they are supporting. It's beautiful to sort of watch this cultural exchange. So I'll speak on behalf of Kate--it's a shame she has a sore throat because she is brilliant and has done so much for Nanubhai--on behalf of both of us, thank you so guys much. It's been great to speak with you today.

Joyce: Great! Thank you!

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