According to UNESCO, only seven out of ten students enrolled in Nepal’s schools reach grade five, and half of them drop out before even reaching a lower secondary level. This urges us to question, explore, and find solutions to problems in the Nepali education system, .
The founders of Digital Nepal are way ahead in their game. The dynamic entrepreneurs aim to ensure quality education in the government schools of Nepal through real-time monitoring of data and information.
In conversation with Aditya Raj, one of the founders of Digital Nepal.
1. Tell me about your journey to starting your venture?
After completing my engineering, I went to my old school to get my character certificate, but I found that the school didn’t have my records. I found that after 5 to 8 years of graduation data on all students are thrown away.
After research, I found that the problem existed a due absence of information management practices in the educational institutions, and the problem existed in both government as well as private schools. So due to the absence of the records, I had a lot of inconveniences to get the certificate.
My personal encounter with the problem gave me an idea to develop a system that ensured the maintenance of the data and information. So, my team members and I started to work on the idea and we were able to successfully develop software that monitors and manages all the records and provides real-time data and information.
2. When did you start Digital Nepal and what is the legal status of the company?
We materialized the idea in 2015, however, we officially registered our company as E- Digital Private Limited in 2017, after three years of operation.
3. What stage is the company in?
At present we are in a growing phase. Our company provides a connected ecosystem. It connects the schools, mainly the government schools to their respective municipalities; municipalities to the local government; local government to the state government and finally the state government to the central government. This connected ecosystem mitigates the chances of loopholes and ensures the availability of real-time data and information. Up till now, we have extended our products to 30 districts.
4. How do you see your product bring change in society?
The schools of Nepal are poorly managed: teachers don’t come on time, the tiffin management system is inappropriate, infrastructures are unsuitable, rules and regulations are not properly implemented, and these problems exist due to the lack of proper monitoring system. With proper monitoring systems, government schools can get far better and their status can change.
E-digital Pvt. Ltd. is making a proper and a centralized monitoring system that monitors government schools and provides necessary information to the local government, municipality, and VDCs. We basically collaborate with government bodies. When we collaborate with one municipality, and if that municipality has 50 government schools, then those 50 schools use our system. This allows the municipality to get real-time data on saying the attendance of teachers and students through biometric devices used.
5. What challenges did you face when starting the company and what are challenges are you facing now?
Initially, we faced a lot of difficulties in the registration of the company as a private entity which is one of the reasons why we legally registered the company after almost three years of operation.
Another challenge was in the implementation of the system. In Nepal, traditional monitoring and evaluation system are still preferred. It was quite a challenge to make that transition. Making our software acceptable to the older generation and training them into using our system was quite difficult.
6. How did you overcome your challenges?
We provided one to one training to people and made them aware of the benefits of using our system. We introduced them to the power of “click”, and how effective and efficient it is.
The only challenge at present is in terms of acceptability. We find it difficult to change people’s mindsets on the modern system of recording and monitoring. And I believe the tussle between modernization and traditionalism will remain forever.
7. How did you raise funds to start the company?
Raising the fund was never a problem. We used a simple strategy. We used our dealers, distributors and other networks as a mini investor. They invested a certain amount and then we started operating the company. Four of us founders also injected the money to start the company.
8. What is your current staff strength and how many people did you start with?
We have four core members Mr. Basanta Gupta, Mr. Kapil Basnet and Ms. Babita Thapa, and myself. We have 35 staff working with us.
9. What are your target customers? How many customers or clients do you have?
Currently, we are targeting government schools across Nepal. We also target private schools but our main focus is on government schools. We are currently in collaboration with 11 municipalities. Moreover, we have four hundred plus customers. On average, we have around 30 to 35 customers in a month. Along with this, we are also involved with Smart Urban technology in making schools in each ward within Kathmandu Municipality.
10. What makes your product or service worth the investment?
We identify the exact problems of our customers and solve them. For instance, most Government schools face management problems like student management, accounting, teacher’s timing, course completion and so on. Similarly, private institutions face problems like hostel management, bus management, online portals, online examination, etc.
All these problems can be solved using a single system provided by us, without any errors or loopholes, and this I believe makes our service worth the investment.
11. What is the business model for self-sufficiency or profit-making?
The major source of our income is from the sale of our software. We then use the revenue for the operation of our business. However, in the coming future, we may require outside investment to scale-up.
12. What are the key needs of your company?
As we are scaling up, our existing staff strength may not be sufficient. Likewise, we may also have additional investment needs, as we are trying to bring in new service: E-Learning.
13. What is the future plan with the company?
We want to launch our own E-learning system. We are also planning to conduct various educational programs in government schools.
Furthermore, we want every educational institution to have a good teacher. Through E-learning, we want to make that possible. Using our system, we will hire the best teachers from across Nepal, we will prepare content based on the government curriculum, we will then record the lectures and upload them to make them accessible to students.
Moreover, we are working to make the learning materials available offline. So, students can access them using their smartphones.
14. Do you measure the impact of your product or service? If not what are your thoughts on impact measurement?
Yes, we do measure the impact. We compare performance at school before and after using our products. For example, in one of the schools, the principal was having difficulty in disciplining a teacher who would constantly be late and not finish coursework on time. After the installation of biometric, the teacher’s behavior drastically changed because the information was now directly sent to the municipality.
In this way, we have seen significant changes in the behavior of teachers, and their performance. Similarly, now the principal had easy access to all the information be it of teachers or the students.
15. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
I can definitely say that I saw a problem in society, in our flawed education system and my team and I are working towards solving it. The government schools in Nepal find it difficult to provide quality education to the students and the main cause behind this is the lack of a proper monitoring system.
16. Any other information you would like to share?
I have seen that most youngsters who enter the startup business first look at the problem and then consider different possibilities. But what I would like to say, first look at the possibility, problems exist everywhere, if we are able to see possibilities then solving a problem is not difficult.
To get more information about Agri-Augment you can contact Aditya Raj at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviewed and article by Trishna Shakya