By turning international travellers into teachers, these 2 childhood buddies are changing how students learn

23rd Feb 2018
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Clap Global enables a unique exchange of cultures by helping international travellers visit classrooms across India to engage in meaningful conversations and debunk cultural stereotypes.

Children unconsciously tend to imbibe many stereotypes about foreign cultures as well as their own, as they grow up.

Shirin Johari, for example, thought that Germany was a “bad” country because her textbooks only spoke of World War II. She believed white skin was more beautiful than brown, and - until she grew up - thought cooking was a pretty much a woman’s job.

Today, she is passionate about the confluence of science and design, spirituality, and world cinema. She’s an advanced-level scuba diver with a burgeoning love for oceans, backpacking, and humpback whales. Her journey - from a naïve little girl to a free-thinking millennial - was only facilitated by her journeys around the world; the times when she met people from different lands and cultures, and learnt newer ways to think from every new friend she made.

Travel is the best teacher, after all. But, for school-going tots living in India, it’ll be a while until they can set out to see the world, meet foreigners with different values, and become liberal-minded, globally ready citizens themselves. Till then, Aarti Chhabria and Shirin Johari decided to bring these travellers to their classrooms instead.

How their paths crossed once again

Shirin, 34 is the Cofounder and Creative Head at Clap Global. She has spent the last 13 years in the field of advertising and social impact, with firms like JWT, Ogilvy & Mather, Creativeland Asia, DDB Mudra, and TBWA. However, there came a time when she realised that she could create far more impact with her work outside of advertising.

Aarti, 33, is the Cofounder and Business Head at Mumbai-based Clap Global. She has founded three startups in India’s edutainment space over last 12 years, which proved to her that schools are looking to bring experiential learning, international curricula, and global perspectives into their classrooms. Their main pain point, though, was making it easy and affordable. It had taken IB 50 years to reach the upper middle class of India, after all.

When Aarti met Shirin at a school friend’s dinner party, swapping travel stories and how their lives had changed - as two old friends are wont to do – it led them to the idea of “Travellers in Classrooms.” They got cracking at it in April 2015.

“Biases developed in childhood often take years to undo. I learnt this lesson and unlearned it in my 20s, meeting people from various countries through work and travel. As I befriended people from around the world, I learnt to un-condition my mind. But why must children wait as long as I did to eradicate their biases? Until they can travel themselves to discover new worlds, cultures and ways of thinking, why not bring travellers to them?” says Shirin.

Travellers from abroad, meanwhile, always seemed to look out for authentic and immersive experiences, Shirin says. While they can easily access museums and local food joints, they will never have access into an everyday school classroom and sense the pulse of a place through the unbridled accounts of children.

“Today, through Clap Talk experiences children meet travellers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tomorrow if they own companies they won’t think twice before hiring an Iraqi. That is a generation I wished to build,” Aarti says.

Their studies indicate that over 90 percent of students were keen on learning about different cultures from around the world. Only 0.1 percent of students can actually afford an international exchange programme, which itself allows exposure to only one foreign culture. But if each student in school is exposed to at least six Clap Talks in a year, then from the age of 4 to 15, students gain exposure to over 84 different cultures from across the world.

The “Travellers in Classrooms” concept received a great response at a 2016 TEDx Talk. In 2015, Clap Global was awarded a grant of $18,000 by the Government of Chile, and Aarti spent six months in Santiago working with other innovators while successfully testing it in the Latin-American market.

How Clap Global works

Based on their “Theory of Change,” the founding duo created a curriculum and “Clap Kit”. On their official site, www.clapglobal.com, travellers - who could be anyone, from international students aged 14 years to corporate leisure travellers and backpackers to 60-year-old grandmothers - create their profile and share available dates. Schools create their own profiles and share preferred classroom dates and time slots. By matching available dates, Clap curates eye-opening talks. The best of these Clap Talks are also curated on their site.

Every school that signs up with Clap Global, purchases six talks per year with a per-student cost of around ₹1,500. The startup has plans to explore newer revenue models – one that might also allow parents and teachers to buy Clap Talks for their kids is in the pipeline.

When children attend a Clap Talk, say by a Mexican traveller, they learn more than just the geography and history of Mexico. They get acquainted with its people, their culture, their way of life and Mexico goes from being just a dot on the world map to a place with living and breathing people.

“Every school that signs up with Clap Global is given a Clap Kit complete with conversation aids and flashcards to guide them through a talk. Similarly, travellers are given a presentation template that they can customise with their pictures and stories to help them prep for their Clap Talk,” Aarti explains. The curriculum in the kit covers a range of universal topics, such as culture, family, current events, interpersonal relationships, environment, gender, human rights and freedoms, justice, governance, and even a Question-Ball game, that is a fun way of holding a Q&A at the end.

Every student also receives their own diary of reflections called Clap Passports to reflect on Clap Talks, and being a global citizen.

“What we love about our product is it does not differentiate between socio-economic sectors,” Shirin says. They have tested Clap in 2015-2016 across SSC, ICSE, IGCSE, CBSE, and WALDORF boards in public, private and tribal schools. Students from age 3-17 years have participated in these talks.

 

Standing ovations for Clap

The first few Clap Travellers came from the duo’s personal networks, expatriate communities, and Couchsurfing. Their first employee, Christina, decided to join the Clap Family after delivering a Clap Talk herself.

Through that and other strategic collaborations with MyPeegu, India Development Front and Letters of Love, AIESEC, Association of African students in India, Backpacker Hostels, and more, Clap Global has been able to scale their reach to over 1,000 travellers from 104 countries in a span of two years. It h as conducted over 655 Clap Talks in 78 schools across 11 cities.

“In a developing country, it’s tough to introduce new-age education models. It’s disheartening to see how un-adaptive the education sector is. So much has changed in the last 5, 10 or even 75 years in other industries, but the core of education just can’t pivot that fast,” Aarti says.

Their primary target is middle income and international schools, but Clap Global is also including schools that work for the lesser affluent population of India. Thirty-five Teach for India schools and 6 Salaam Balak centres are on their client list.

In 2017, Clap Global was featured in the list at No. 20 of “Social Innovations” from around the world by Social Enablers. After the grant from Startup Chile and before they registered as a company, they raised a Rs 10,00,000 Friends and Family round at a very crucial juncture. Recently, they also raised a pre-Series A round of Rs 4.5 crore against 33 percent due in 3 tranches from Round Glass Partners, a socially conscious VC founded by Sunny Singh.

“Our aim is to conduct 28,000 talks in 2018 in schools across the country. We are also testing our B2C model, where stay-at-home moms could curate Clap Talks in schools nearby for their own group of children on weekends. Clap Global aims to build a whole new generation that is far more compassionate towards personal, social and cultural differences,” Aarti says, signing off.

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