Zaya Learning Labs wins DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia


Innovative business models to improve education and healthcare for the underprivileged; a creative multi-functional clothing design to make lives easier for disaster survivors; a crowdfunding platform for social ventures; and a scalable plan to boost tourism revenues for local communities. These are among the 400-plus innovative social venture ideas that were submitted to the inaugural DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia by social entrepreneurs from across Asia, with the aim of making social impact in their respective communities and beyond.

Seven teams of social entrepreneurs sat on tenterhooks today, anxious to know who would be crowned the winners of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia. These are the top teams that took part in this regional social venture competition, organised by NUS Enterprise in partnership with DBS Bank. The winners were announced at today’s awards ceremony, with Zaya Learning Labs clinching the top spot, followed by Maya Universe Academy in second place and Bodhi Health Education and Local Alike both tying in third place. All winners were presented their prizes by Dr Tony Tan, President of the Republic of Singapore, who graced the awards ceremony, held at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House.

Dr Tony Tan, President of the Republic of Singapore, presenting the award to Neil D’Souza, Founder, Zaya Learning Labs

“Our heartiest congratulations go out to the Zaya Learning Labs, Maya Universe Academy, Bodhi Health Education and Local Alike, as the inaugural winners of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia. They have demonstrated strong potential of turning a concept into a concrete business plan, with actionable steps of generating scalable and sustainable social impact. NUS Enterprise hopes that the winners, together with other participants will see this competition as just the start of their career as social entrepreneurs, who are willing to make a difference in this world,” said Dr Lily Chan, CEO NUS Enterprise.

Karen Ngui, Head of Group Strategic Marketing & Communications, DBS Bank, said, “We salute the finalists and congratulate the first batch of winners of the DBS- NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia. Being selected as the top 2% from a pool of over 400 entries, over an eight-month period is testament to how talented these teams are and how far they have come. These young social entrepreneurs have impressed us with their passion, drive and the creative quality of their ideas. It is heartening to see so many young entrepreneurs determined to be a force for good. My colleagues and I in DBS look forward to mentoring and helping these social entrepreneurs further hone their business acumen, as we continue to nurture and develop the social entrepreneurship sector in the region.”

The DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge was first launched in September 2013. 418 teams submitted applications from over 20 countries, with a total of 1,186 participants. Over the past eight months, participants have refined and validated their business ideas, receiving guidance from mentors and advice from experienced social entrepreneurs. Two rounds of judging resulted in six finalists being selected in May, with public online voting choosing the seventh ‘wild card’ finalist. All seven teams came to Singapore to pitch their business plans to a judging panel yesterday, and to attend the awards ceremony today.

Zaya Learning Labs took home the grand prize, of a trophy and a cash prize of S$30,000. Set up in 2013, Zaya Learning Labs has developed a solution for low-income schools, tackling the education crisis in India. This solution addresses what the team believes to be the root of this crisis – variability in teaching quality, poor infrastructure, limited attention for each student and infrequent measurement of learning outcomes. Zaya Learning Labs’ has developed applications, such as instructional videos, assessment questions, lesson plans and performance analytics. These are uploaded onto its proprietary ClassCloud, a portable device that acts as a WiFi router, server, storage and battery pack. Teachers and students can access its content using any WiFi-enabled device. Zaya Learning Labs has piloted this solution in schools around Mumbai, reaching out to some 600 students. They also have trained more than 100 teachers in workshops, for more effective learning outcomes. Moving forward, Zaya Learning Labs will spread initially across India, before targeting other parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in order to realise their vision of world-class learning for every child.

Maya Universe Academy was the first runner up, receiving $15,000 in cash prize. Maya Universe Academy is a network of schools in rural Nepal which provides education to children in exchange for volunteer work. It is the first and only free private school in Nepal with a model which can be adapted and replicated in other developing countries in the long run. Instead of paying school fees, parents provide two days of volunteer work at the school every month, such as working on the school farm or making handicrafts to be sold at a nearby market. Maya Universe Academy offers a diverse curriculum that evolves to achieve the best possible outcome for each student, while also maintaining standards in accordance with Nepal’s national curriculum.

Bodhi Health Education and Local Alike tied as the second runner up and each received $10,000 in cash prize. Bodhi Health Education aims to improve healthcare in India, by providing quality, skill-based medical education to community health workers, who serve the bottom of the pyramid populations. They created a scalable, high quality training solution, which teaches complex medical topics to semi- literate women, using videos in regional languages. Bodhi Health Education leverages upon low-cost tablet computers (US$65), mobile phones and existing IT infrastructure at health centres to deliver their proprietary medical content. This has been developed and curated by a team of medical experts, supported by professional illustrators. The training provided by Bodhi Health Education not only improves patient healthcare, it also benefits the health workers, as they can perform their jobs more effectively, increasing likelihood of higher incomes. By July 2014, Bodhi Health Education aims to train 300 health workers, midwives and nursing students in areas such as ante/pre-natal care, eye care and immunization.

Local Alike is a social enterprise that promotes community-based tourism, with the objective of preserving local cultures while providing economic opportunities to the local community. At the same time, tourists benefit from authentic travel experiences. Local Alike acts as a liaison platform between local entrepreneurs and tourists, ensuring both parties’ expectations are met. They have set up a web portal, created a local tour guide database and established strong partnerships with local communities. The latter includes helping to set up tour packages and self-sustaining community- based tourism development funds, which can be used for projects such as improving infrastructure or environmental conservation. Incorporated in 2013, Local Alike has worked with 10 communities throughout Thailand, bringing some 350 tourists to these regions, generating nearly US$40,000 in tourism revenue so far. Local Alike aims to reach out to at least 20 more communities within this year and plans to expand to other neighbouring countries in the future.