“It’s not just in movies like Swades that change agents can make a difference,” points out Biswajit Nayak. This is how this Odisha-born entreprreuer is making all the difference back in his village.’Have you watched Swades?’ was the first question Biswajit Nayak asked us. Of course, we exclaimed. The movie was the definition of the quote ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’! “Well, let me tell you a real-life Swades-like story,” he starts off. And it was only towards the end of this story that we realised that it is so much more than Swades and it’s a story that’s still being written.
For someone who flew to the USA in 1999, and is based out of California no less, Biswajit’s thoughts would continue to take him back to Odisha, particularly to the village he grew up in, Narigaon, Jajpur district. He knew that education is the sure-shot way to uplift the children in the village who, in turn, will uplift the village. “As an NRI, it would have been easy for me to build a huge institution back in my village and get things going. But I wanted more than that,” explains the alumnus of NIT Rourkela. Close to Biswajit’s current house in the California Bay Area was Khan Academy, the non-profit educational organisation famous for creating online tools for kids, and Coursera and Udemy were not too far away either. “That’s when MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were all the rage, so keeping in mind that back in 2014, the village had inconsistent electricity (forget the internet!), we took a leaf out of the MOOCs’ book and made the solution our own,” explains the 45-year-old.
So, he came up with a set top box-like product with preloaded content in Odia, ordered 15 cost-efficient tablets from China, set up his first centre in his village and started running it for 60 children. And this content, for students from classes I to X, is tailor-made. “We wanted to offer the children of Odisha world-class content in a language of their choice, which not a lot of players were doing back then,” says the entrepreneur who is also a father of two. Today, they have 102 learning centres and have supported over 12,000 children. Wondering yet why we haven’t mentioned the name of his company that he started with co-founders Sushant Mahapatra and Sibabrata Choudhury? It’s because of the fact that the name occurred to them only much later. They named their initiative Shikhya but in 2017, rechristened it Aveti Learning.
The initiative was not a success right away, Biswajit’s intentions were doubted because he started operating without charging anyone a single rupee. Even a local thug demanded ‘protection money’ from him and Biswajit, who is a product of an Odia-medium school himself, famously offered the thug a job at his centre and, in this way and many others, he convinced his own village that he was there to make a difference with Aveti Learning. The lockdown may have chained us, but Aveti Learning continues to soar – they took their classes live on March 27. There is a mobile app as well through which children can submit their assignments, which are of two kinds – one is auto-graded while the other is graded by the teacher.
Biswajit visits India four times a year and was in India for four months and flew back to the USA only recently. “I am a complete Made in India product though I am currently working in the USA and paying tax to the US government. Of course, they have given me an opportunity and for that, I will always be grateful to them but my contribution to India has been zero,” says Biswajit, sounding a bit forlorn. At this point, we strongly disagree with him because anyone reading this Swades-like story would tell this son of the soil that his contribution makes the country and its citizens proud.- It has been able to attract full-time employees who have studied in IIT Kharagpur, IIM Bengaluru and other such prestigious institutions
– They have 14 local partners who have trusted them so far
– They were selected among the top 12 in a national discovery programme called iPitch by Villgro, the social enterprise incubator, and they were one of the four Indian start-ups selected to compete for the Next Billion EdTech Prize which is instituted for the most innovative EdTech platform
– Part of Startup India and Startup Odisha.
Tags: Biswajit Nayak | Odisha-Born Entrepreneur | Non-Profit Educational Organisation | Aveti Learning | Startup Odisha