Feb 4, 2020
Today we’re announcing that after nine years, Effect.org is closing. It has been a great pleasure to dedicate my work in India and Nepal through nonprofit Effect.org. Along the way, I have had the pleasure to work alongside many amazing employees and partners of Effect.org
When I started Effect.org, I wanted to make quality education available to everyone. It was important to me to create projects that were sustainable. ‘Sustainable’ is a word that is overused in nonprofits, but for me it meant that projects were actually needed by local people and were financially stable after a period of time.
Effect.org created a unique model in 2015. One part of the organization was focused on providing a quality education for impoverished children by opening schools, and the other was an international volunteer program we called Expeditions’. Our expeditions brought talented volunteers to other countries to partner with local nonprofits and create practical solutions to improve the great work they were doing. These expeditions in turn generated donations that were invested back into the schools.
Providing a quality and cost-effective education required an especially unique model. In India, over 300,000 low-cost private schools are filling an important demand for students. While they are affordable at $4-$15 USD dollars a month and can be better than traditional government schools, the quality is often still low without any formalized academics. Effect.org’s goal was to scale a chain of low-cost private schools that offered a high quality education. Was it possible to operate at a sustainable cost and maintain a high-quality education? Could we grow the model to meet the growing demand in India? Those were the questions we sought to answer.
In order to accomplish this, we focused on a centralized model. At the central office in New Delhi, academic professionals designed the curriculum and lesson plans. Engineers designed specialized software to streamline school operations while our team of marketing and operations employees kept the schools running. Everyone worked closely with our students and teachers.
In our first year, we opened two schools and children slowly enrolled. Parents were ecstatic with what we were offering them and enrollment started to grow. Within two years we opened a third school in New Delhi.
Many of our students had either missed a few grades or had previously spent time studying at schools that were of very low quality. At the beginning of each school year we conducted baseline tests to measure academic growth. We saw tremendous growth with our students in Math, English & Social Studies. In fact, our students were out-performing their peers in both government and private schools. Hiring excellent teachers, providing them with first-class training, and having an effective curriculum had positive net results for our students.
As proud as we are of our students and their academic growth, the schools struggled financially. We projected each school would take three years before being financially sustainable. In the third year of operating, none of our schools had enough admissions to break even. We refocused our marketing efforts and held many activities to increase admissions.
During this time, the Expedition participants started to decrease. We originally worked with employees from two large technology companies and we were able to grow the expeditions for a while. We networked and tried to expand to several other companies, but the process was slow. We opened our expeditions up to smaller companies, college students and even worked with influencers, but in the end our expansions just were not enough to help us grow or maintain participant numbers.
Since the expeditions were our main funding channel, it put a huge strain on our entire organization. I knew we would need to find a solution quickly or we would be in trouble. The team and I set a date that would require us to find a different funding source if we hadn’t created an upflow.
The team rallied hard. We worked quickly,had multiple ideas, and implemented the best ones. Some brought quick results, but ultimately the results of our efforts were just not enough. We had to face the hard truth – we weren’t going to make it. From there, we realized we had to start making the difficult plans of shutting down.
Closing down any nonprofit is always difficult, but we were especially concerned because we were dealing with students, parents, and partners who relied on us. We didn’t want to disrupt children’s studies mid-year, and we had to find the optimal time during the summer break so students could register elsewhere for the upcoming academic year.
Through a series of meetings, we shared our plans of shutting down the schools first to staff, and then to the parents. We negotiated deals for our students to transfer into other local schools and for some of our staff and teachers to be hired. Over the next several months, we staggered employee layoffs and continued to close down. Shyam Lohat and I stayed on to finalize everything else, then officially closed down.
This obviously wasn’t what we’d hoped for. We’d planned to continue impacting students and families for a long time to come.
But the closing of a chapter in life – even an unexpected one – leaves room for another to open.
Maybe you have heard the story of the old man walking along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. He did this every day. He was slow, and for every one he stooped over to pick up and throw back, he left a dozen more.
A young man watched him do this daily for a week, then had to ask, “Why would you bother doing that? You’re clearly in pain, and it’s difficult for you. And look at all of these other starfish you can’t save? Why even try?”
The old man stooped over, picked up a starfish, and silently threw it. “Well, it mattered to that one,” he said as he continued on his way.
We weren’t able to do everything we planned, but we know we made a difference. We may never know how far-reaching that difference was.
Here is a summary of some of our most important work:
- Opened 5 schools and impacted over 5,000 students;
- Helped rebuild a school destroyed in the Nepal earthquake;
- Distributed over $500K in Expedition grants;
- 300+ participants volunteered with Effect Expeditions in India, Nepal, and Greece
- 100+ Design solutions from Expedition workshops tackling issues in education, human trafficking, and the refugee crisis;
- Filmed and released the documentary Stolen Innocence:The Untold Stories Of Human Trafficking;
- Started nonprofit, Nepal Rises in response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake and was featured in the NYTimes;
- Created a short documentary on the Nepal earthquake.
The wider impact of our expedition projects is not easy to tally up into columns and figures (i.e solar projects, freshwater projects, technology built to track movements of traffickers, computers, IT support, etc).
A lot of sweat, work, and sleepless nights went into Effect.org. Many staff members have dedicated their work to our mission and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work and our collective success and accomplishments.
Finally, I want to thank all of our supporters, those who volunteered, fundraised and dedicated their time to Effect.org, we couldn’t have done it without your support!
This is not an end for many of us, as we will carry our experiences and continue to strive to make the world a better place.
To each of you, thank you for going on this journey with us. Much love and appreciation to you all.