My journey with Dost started in 2009 when I was working in Mumbai with Teach for India. (It’s the same concept as Teach for America.) I was on the strategy team while they were in their first year of operations. I did a number of classroom visits and saw how students would come into 2nd and 3rd grades with very little literacy and vocabulary. They were already behind – not having the kind of exposure to resources and parental interaction that kids of more educated parents would have. I observed that even if parents wanted to help, they didn’t really know how, creating a cycle of illiteracy. And yet, parents were passionate about making kids do better—they bought into the fact that education could pull kids out of this poverty cycle. I also observed something unexpected—in 2009, many parents had cell phones…even if they lived in a one-room home in a slum. Today that number is up to well over 90%.
I built Dost, a mobile phone platform that helps break the cycle of illiteracy by delivering early education content and activities to low-income moms. I piloted it in Dharavi, Mumbai last year in partnership with a community-based NGO named CORP Mumbai. User enrollment increased from 5 to over 150 in two weeks. End-of-pilot surveys show that the pilot group could name on average 3-4 more specific activities to do with their children than other parents in the same community.
The team will relaunch Dost in July 2016 with an improved product offering and impact evaluation systems in place in partnership with established organizations in India. The team includes Founder and CEO Sneha Sheth, Texas BBA 08 and UC Berkeley MBA 16; Sindhuja Jeyabal, UCB MIMS 16, I School; and Devanshi Unadkat, Ph.D. candidate, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.
We have been recognized as UC Berkeley LAUNCH Accelerator’s top social venture and 1st prize at UC Berkeley’s Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition in 2016.