Connecting the Isolated – How eParent is helping bridge the Digital Divide
“Sell what society needs!” urged the speaker at a computer seminar where Parvez Jesani had his eureka moment. Jesani’s mother insisted that his sister and he learn computers. And yet, he says, “Despite the world being online and technology driven, our parents were not comfortable even switching on a PC”. Conceived by Jesani and his partner Parth Parikh, eParent is a “gift to our parents”.
From isolation to connection
As a customized computer literacy programme for housewives, middle aged and senior citizens, eParent offers a compelling value proposition. It engages its customers by sending trained instructors, including female instructors for women clients, to their homes. The medium of instruction, flexible timings and individual learning plans also differentiate it in a market of typically standardized products. By imparting the basics of computers “from scratch” – switching on the PC, using the keyboard and mouse – and Internet- related utilities such as Google, email, Facebook and YouTube, eParent is revolutionizing the way its clients age. For a segment that is often constrained by mobility and access to transportation, computer literacy offers a connection with the ‘real world’ as well as the convenience of technologies for online shopping, ticketing and banking. Old age or stay-at-home-mother loneliness loses some of its sting when social networking brings people closer to family and friends.
Our intent was to develop a model to impart much-needed computer literacy to housewives, senior citizens, etc., as well as generate employment for students, housewives and the needy, thereby helping both sections to become independent, explains Jesani.
Piloted in June 2013, eParent has covered over 100 batches across Mumbai so far, training over 150 housewives and senior citizens while providing part-time employment to 15-20 teachers.
At the present time, eParent comprises Jesani, Parikh and Hardik Shah. The former two are chartered accountants and CFAs with over five years of experience in the financial services industry. Jesani himself is simultaneously pursuing an MBA degree from IIM (Lucknow). Shah, also a chartered accountant with four years of experience in financial services, previously founded Theekardo.com.
Treading beyond the zone
The team’s biggest learning opportunities have been in areas outside their comfort zone. “As finance professionals, our biggest learning was in marketing, operations and sales. It’s been very exciting, from building the website and designing the logo and pamphlet to developing the content of the course, marketing our product and persuading people to enrol,” says Jesani. A shining moment was when eParent was shortlisted for the Indian Merchant Chambers Inclusive Innovation Award 2013. It was also rated among the top 10 startups at Anthah Prerana, organised by the Bangalore chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). The distinction brought with it the opportunity to meet, interact with and learn from people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Striding into the future
The founders plan to expand aggressively in Mumbai in the next six to eight months. They subsequently intend to spread to other cities and towns through franchising or a direct investment model. “We also plan to introduce a business productivity course to help small businessmen leverage technology and a smartphone course for adults who find it difficult to optimize their smartphone usage,” adds Jesani.
Challenges and all
eParent began with the vision “to build an organisation that would cater to the needs of thousands of people who are still dependent on others for basic computer operations”. But the vision was not without its trials. “Convincing our audience that they can learn basic computers and Internet related utilities in six or seven lectures was very difficult,” recalls Jesani. In fact, reaching the audience was a formidable challenge in itself – given the profile of the target group, digital media could not be leveraged for promotion. They overcame this hurdle by initiating several ground level marketing campaigns and distributing pamphlets in building societies, gardens and at public exhibitions. Another difficulty lay in convincing teenage children to persuade their parents to enroll. They tend to believe that “they will spare time to teach their parents but that never happens,” says Jesani.
As the dream is steadily realized with the successful completion of batch after batch, word of mouth publicity helps generate brand awareness and grow sales. Despite the obstacles, the innovators continue to draw inspiration from a product that makes a difference in the world. Their recipe for sustained motivation? “The satisfaction of serving the community and the joy of enabling people to become independent”!
About the Author:
SHAILA M. FALEIRO
Marketing communications professional with 15 years experience in creating content for the corporate and development sectors. Exceptional writing, proof-reading, research and editing skills, meticulous attention to detail, the ability to adapt style to diverse media and audiences, and deliver under tight deadlines.