Social enterprise by definition is an organization that is created to address a social need first and secondarily to generate profits to pay for its expenses and sustain as an organization to continue the mission.
UMD invited the founder of WAVE Global LLC, Mr. Mohan Naidu to share his learnings and insights during the journey of starting and sustaining his social enterprise with the Professors and students that are studying Social and cultural entrepreneurship post graduate degree and Ph.D. course at UMD.
Here is the transcript of the entire lecture by Mr. Naidu along with the Q&A between him, WAVE team members and the UMD professors and students. The transcript provides insights into the 7 principles of social entrepreneurship that Mr. Naidu shared with everyone. You will also see few testimonials from the students and Professor about their experience attending the lecture.
Mohan: I would like to share my journey in a simple manner as it evolved – journey of being a social entrepreneur. Along the way if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. I will share the things that worked for me. Some of this may be applicable or relevant for you, and some may not.
Idea of starting WAVE was first conceived in my mind in 2014. After 20 years of exposure to academic and corporate world around Asia pacific, North America and part of Europe, I felt the need to address the gaps that we have in our early childhood education system. There are several topics still missing in our education system that are needed to create a wholistic individual, not just focus on Academics. So, that was the central theme of the idea I had – the idea that eventually became the company. I started WAVE trying to address those areas that would complement our current education system and address the gaps.
These are the areas I felt were missing. So, my entire social entrepreneurship effort is towards addressing these areas in early childhood education system. The most important element was to introduce wisdom and value education as part of early childhood education so that’s why my organization WAVE is an acronym for Wisdom Anchored Values Education. So that’s how it started.
After nearly 2 decades of management consulting experience, when I first started talking to people, some of them laughed at it and commented that the idea sounds like a weekend or after-school activity. But I was clear that it must be integrated in the way we impart education and not a weekend or an after-school activity.
Here are the 7 principles/best practices from Evolution of WAVE that I want to share with all of you today –
Students of Social Entrepreneurship
University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD)
Students of Social Entrepreneurship
University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD)
Dr. Aparna Katre
Prof. Social Entrepreneurship course
University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD)
UMD Students: What is your mission statement and vision? What you do as part of realizing the vision/mission in terms of program?
Mohan: Mission statement of WAVE Global is very simple – Awakening the inherent potential of every child. We fundamentally believe, every child is born with lot of inherent potential, lot of which remains untapped/unrealized because of the way the education is imparted. With that mission, the vision was to build a structured framework that can be easily implemented, repeatable and scalable using a workshop format or working with schools, colleges and universities where we integrated it with how learning and teachings happens in schools.
To realize the vision, the first thing I did that was to work with couple of schools in India where I taught children of 7th and 8th grades that were old enough to understand, absorb and see the difference for themselves on what happens when they learn in conventional manner vs a new way of learning.
In the pilot that I did for a year in India, I worked with teachers and students in a small school, where every week, I would spend 5 to 6 hours teaching lessons around these 5 areas – accelerated learning, optimal learning, experiential learning, communication principles and Wisdom and value education. At another school, I trained few teachers that in turn taught students in their schools. After a years’ worth of work on the ground knowing the real challenges they face, putting in the context of where they are, what evolved was a format that now I could take and repeat it in multiple cities across the world – that’s what I did in in the USA in Summer of 2017. I extracted the essence of the one-year pilot, converted into a one-week workshop format, and conducted series of workshop in Dallas-TX, Bloomington-IL, Atlanta-GA, Denver-CO, and Fremont, CA. Hundreds of students attended these paid workshops where we observed very consistent and effective results. Parents, teachers, students and community leaders endorsed that WAVE framework works for them and it can be integrated with academics. Now, we feel we have a tried and tested product that addresses a social need that we wanted to address through social enterprise.
UMD Student (Kevin): When you started out, what kind of challenges you encountered, specifically when introducing your idea?
Mohan: It’s a great question Kevin. Thank you for asking that. When I first wanted to talk to people about my idea, I thought that this is such a common problem and therefore, it will be easy to talk about the value proposition of my idea, but I was wrong. Most people recognized the problem, and gave head nods because most parents believe that their children go to school and they get loaded with lot of information, but very little learning happens. When I approached the schools and introduced this idea to teachers and parent groups, first thing they told me is that a lot of people come up with the great ideas and they do short term workshop, some of them are beneficial but the benefits last a short time – there is no continuity, no follow up therefore we don’t get a permanent/life term solution. So that was certainly a challenge. Even though people recognized the need, they could not see the solution to be long term and sustainable.
The second challenge was that the schools were already overwhelmed with lot of regulatory compliances – filling out the reports, sharing the information with government agencies etc. I always met with resistance from teachers and principals when I introduced this idea – they felt this is another thing getting added to their to-do list. So, the first response was that of the resistance. One thing that I learned here going through this experience is that – you should very clearly articulate the exact nature of problems your different groups of stakeholders can relate to. The principal is going to look at education and its objectives very differently than a teacher, parent, student and school board. I learned that these five different stakeholder groups had very different viewpoints about learning objectives, education etc. It was very difficult to come up with a mission statement or list of objectives that addresses everyone’s needs equally or adequately. So, these were some of the challenges that I faced in the beginning, which kind of slowed me down a little bit. However, I changed my path, and focused on my time on schools that were willing to give their time and resources. I was open for it to evolve organically. I didn’t have a fixated mindset, so I kept moving on and worked with people on areas they were willing to work with me to improve them.
UMD Student (Jay): Keep an open mind - what are some of the biggest challenges in trying in terms of keeping an open mind – can you illustrate that with an example in terms of keeping an open mind – what made the business successful in terms of open mind?
Mohan: In the context of what I have been doing Jay, here is an example – before I came to India, and started launching my idea on different forums, I worked on creating lesson plans for a year. I had approximately 23 different lesson plans, with an average of about 2.5 hours per session, that covered all the topics I wanted to teach to address the gaps in the current education system. After developing these lesson plans, I thought it will be easy for me to just approach the schools and follow the lessons plan as guidebook and things will go well. However, at the school I chose to work with, I quickly realized that the children there came from a different cultural background. It was a very resource challenged school. Therefore, what I thought the children need was very different than what the children needed. So, I set my lesson plans aside, and spent lot of time understanding their real needs, so I could implement my solution in the appropriate context and therefore received well, so I changed my plans there a little bit.
Originally, I thought of conducting a pilot for 3 to 4 months, but it took me 10 months to complete the pilot and I am glad I did that. So, through this pilot, I realized the children here have to have some pre-requisites before I introduce my solution. Initially I took it for granted that 7th grade children have abilities to read and write but that was not the case. There were many children that were promoted to next grade based on the policy of not retaining a child in the same grade. Second challenge was that not all children were consistent in attending schools because of the socio-economic challenges that they had in homes, poverty etc. Third challenge was lack of focus and concentration, again because of the background the children came from. So, a 4-month pilot ended up becoming a 10-month pilot. However, having gone through that experience gave us a very large superset of ideas and approaches that fits in different cultures and contexts – that is how I was able to offer the workshop to 7-year-old with the same effectiveness as an 18-year-old because even though the content is same, but delivery method and the way you share it with different age groups is different. That has been a great learning experience through the pilot. So that was an example of how I started thinking something and along the way I changed my plan and how it helped me positively.
UMD Student (Sebastian): How did you introduce the idea to US Market?
Mohan: I always believed that the problems that we have identified are universal in nature as far as early childhood education is concerned. The gaps that I had mentioned – lack of accelerated learning, lack of mindfulness practices, lack of thinking skills, lack of focused approach to help a child with effective communication, and the lack of wisdom and value education integrated into early childhood education – these problems are universal in nature. There are several other problems. However, I shortlisted and focused on these 5 areas that are universal in nature – That is how it was easy for me to design a solution that would fit any culture or location around the world.
UMD Student (Sebastian): Whom did you begin with when introducing the idea in US?
WAVE Team member - Shraddha (Atlanta) – Mr. Mohan had given us the background about the program, and he brought awareness about the gaps in current education system, so I just talked to my friends and neighbors about it – so my network was a key to begin with, and that made the process easy.
WAVE Team member – Mahesh (Dallas) – Thanks Mr. Mohan for giving the opportunity to talk about WAVE framework. I wanted to share my experience and respond to the question that how we are taking this to schools – I think our approach was based on how convinced we were in this model – we were sold on this model because we had experienced this with our children because last year Mr. Mohan spent half a day with our kids where he had just given a glimpse of what he was going to do for next 1 year. After this half day session, kids were so passionate, and they started using some of these techniques, and we witnessed the transformation. I think to summarize I would say there are 2 things that helped to us to introduce this idea to schools and children 1) We experienced ourselves the transformation in our kids. 2) Firm conviction on WAVE Mission.
UMD Teacher (Stephanie): Can you please elaborate on demographics, particularly about those who cannot afford your program – how do you manage that?
Mohan: Thank you Stephanie for asking the question. Our belief has always been that something as priceless as giving the child the resources that unleash their inherent potential should never be charged at the first place. Good quality education should be accessible to every child as a basic human right. I remember distinctly the conversation that Aparna and I had two and half years ago where I had told Aparna that my vision is to do this for free, but Aparna in her own style convinced me not to do as a charity. Although the intention is noble, but anything that you offer as charity is not as appreciated or as well received compared to when you offer it with a price tag, even though it is a small, affordable amount. However, at the same time to honor the nobility of that intention, you could reach across different segments of society especially those who cannot afford it. So that advise from Aparna stuck with me, and I felt we can make it work in a way where it is not purely a commercial enterprise where the primary focus is making money, not addressing a social need and it is also not charity work where we don’t make any money. So, the middle path was to become a social entrepreneur where you address both – social and commercial aspects of the business.
In the beginning, we didn’t have any plan how we were going to do it, but we were open to the idea, and we actually put it in black and white on all flyers and brochures that if there is a family or child that cannot afford to pay – please reach out to us and we will find a way to provide that financial assistance or offer it even for free for people who show promise and potential. So, we had few such cases in past summer workshops - There was a family that was struggling financially and they reached out saying they cannot pay in cash and if there are other ways if they can pay in kind by providing other services - That family helped us with logistics, video recording etc., so we didn’t charge their two high schoolers for the workshop. That’s one example. Second example is we made a bold claim that if people don’t find value from the workshop, they don’t pay. So, people didn’t have anything to lose and they were more open to exploring and experiencing WAVE framework. Third example is that we offered the workshop stating that even if you pay in the beginning, and after the workshop if you feel that it was not worth it – say it once and will be refund the fees with no questions asked. These were some of the things we did to alleviate people from their financial burdens and make it affordable/possible for them to benefit from the workshops.
Going forward we plan to work with School districts. The Mayor of Frisco, TX came in as a guest of honor for our graduation ceremony, and he was very impressed with the demonstration that students did in our workshop. So, he has committed to take it to school districts in Frisco and neighboring areas – we would find a different financial model there such that it becomes affordable to a wider audience such that affordability should not be a reason for it to not reach certain sections of society.
UMD Student (Paul): How do you measure whether this is working or not, particularly in terms of student capabilities?
Mohan: Mr. Mahesh from Dallas who spoke earlier talked about a half-day session that I did with kids. Those were my friend’s children. One of them is a 6th grader who excelled consistently throughout the school year and he was awarded as a star child and few other different awards. His teachers were extremely impressed with the way he would apply and use unconventional methods that he learned in that half-day session and witnessed a difference in his performance compared to his peers in his classroom – so that was a great evidence for us to see where child applies what he or she learns, and shows immediate results as early as one week.
Second point to answer your question Paul, Kevin earlier had asked what were my challenges as I started this journey and I forgot to mention that every single school principal that I met commented that if my methods directly translate into improvement in grades, only then they would believe that this is useful for them. That was the reality of the social and academic landscape in which I was operating. The principal gave me a small pilot group of junior high students, and challenged me to help improve their grades in 3 months or less then they will have quantitative evidence to believe that the framework works. So, we did this and 3 months later after applying the unconventional methods, there was 12% improvement in their grades. The Principal was extremely convinced that if this becomes a repeatable framework we can expect a higher percentage of improvement in grades over a year. So that pilot exercise helped us make that point very clear.
UMD Student (Paul): In your student groups that you work with, did you come across the students with disabilities? – Did you have to change anything to accommodate such students?
Mohan: We had children with proven learning disabilities – there were parents who were extremely concerned about their children with ADHD. Also, there were few students that were going through treatment for early stage, minor neural disorders. But the parents believed that in spite of medical issues their child is diagnosed with, inherently the child shows potential and interest and does well in many areas of school work and social life. In Atlanta, we had a 11-year-old boy that was labelled as a child with learning disabilities or a slow learner but the parents came with lot of hope that a different way of learning might suite him rather than same kind of conventional learning that he is exposed to. He did well during the 5 days of the workshop. Parents were not sure if he will stay interested until the end of workshop. I felt all along that every child has an inherent potential. If we introduce learning methods that naturally aligns with the way they want to learn that might help us see the difference. That is what happened with this child. Although I would admit if I have 40 students in my class and there are one or two students who show slow learning than others, I had to take some extra time, and effort to reach out to those students. However, here is what works wonder, what brings magical outcome is that I never gave up on any child – I show faith and patience and that gives the child and parents hope that if we change the learning method and environment, child’s potential gets an outlet to shine.In summary, I would say, have a passion, believe in it, go for it, start small, keep yourself open to new ideas and learn from everyone along the way, be flexible, have a great support network around you. Do not fall prey to your mind’s clutter which discourages you often. If your conviction outweighs your doubt you will win. That has been my experience. Thank you for your time and attention.