Inside ONEST, a decentralised network that hopes to shake up the education sector

Modelled on the ONDC project, ONEST seeks to democratise education by offering users access to diverse educational content, skill development programmes, scholarships, internships, and mentorship—through an interoperable, platform-agnostic and decentralised network.

Inside ONEST, a decentralised network that hopes to shake up the education sector

Thursday July 27, 2023,

8 min Read

Key Takeaways

  • Inspired by ONDC's success, ONEST aims to democratise education through an interoperable, decentralised network, providing users access to diverse content and skill development opportunities.
  • It seeks to connect education providers with those in need of scholarships, internships, and mentorship.
  • The ecosystem includes ONDC, EkStep, FIDE, and several organisations as participants.
  • Leveraging the Beckn protocol, ONEST promises to offer exponential growth opportunities for education platforms.

The success of Open Network For Digital Commerce (ONDC) in transforming the ecommerce landscape has inspired the launch of a similar initiative in the field of education, with an emphasis on skill development and livelihood opportunities.

Open Network for Education and Skilling Transactions, or ONEST, aspires to democratise the education sector by offering users access to diverse educational content, skill development programmes, scholarships, internships, and mentorship—all through an interoperable, platform-agnostic and decentralised network.

The network also aims to enable B2B discovery and transactions to address the needs of service providers (edtech firms, skilling platforms) in the education and job ecosystem.

The project is still in its early stages, and it remains to be seen how the highly-competitive education and skilling sector will warm up to the idea of an open, collaborative network.

The team behind ONEST are aware of the challenges and hurdles along the way but is optimistic about its prospects and has drawn up an ambitious plan to foster an environment that encourages personal growth and creates meaningful livelihood opportunities.

For starters, the team has the fairly successful ONDC model to rely on. ONDC, which is supported by the union government, is one of the stakeholders in ONEST. Key members involved in the ecommerce project are also involved in the ONEST initiative.

The ONEST network is also powered by the Beckn protocol, the backbone of ONDC that’s been adapted for skilling and education.

“We are expecting multiple education, learning, skilling, and scholarship platform providers, along with numerous learning seekers and participants, to come together and talk to each other in an interoperable way,” Sujith Nair, Co-founder and CEO of Foundation for Interoperability in Digital Economy (FIDE), which has developed the Beckn Protocol, tells YourStory in an exclusive interaction.

“Largely the idea is to take the ONDC model and apply it for education and skilling,” says Nair, who co-conceptualised and established ONDC and was instrumental in onboarding participants on the network.

Dr Pramod Varma, CTO of EkStep Foundation and Chief Architect of Aadhaar and India Stack, during the launch of ONEST on July 17, noted, "We look at consumers or seekers and providers connecting with each other over an open network rather than a platform."

A concept paper on ONEST states that a decentralised network comprising interconnected ecosystem players facilitates the flow of value and collaboration, as opposed to an operator-driven, monolithic platform-centric approach.


Infographic credit: ONEST

Benefits of the network

Fundamentally, ONEST seeks to address the pain point of discovery in a fragmented scenario—where opportunities exist but those seeking them are struggling to find them. The network hopes to connect providers of opportunities, such as courses, training, scholarships, and funds, with those in need of them.

There is a wealth of educational content out there, but content providers and educational platforms are seeking customers in isolation—this is another challenge ONEST will attempt to solve, says Nair.

Through ONEST, students and other learners can access diverse courses and training opportunities, while educational institutions, edtech firms, and training providers can offer a diverse catalogue of educational content and skilling programmes through any platform, connect with students and learners, and widen their reach.

Content seekers can find original content on a wide range of subjects, ranging from basic physics and mathematics to computer courses and AI content.

“There’s nobody controlling what goes onto the network, just like on ONDC—I can be offering any item of grocery or any item of fashion. Similarly, any platform which has a widespread catalogue can make themselves available,” says Nair.

The network will also enable candidates to gain access to job opportunities. While formal full-time jobs and employment may not materialise initially due to organisational complexities, ONEST would facilitate internships and skill-based opportunities, particularly for recent college graduates.

“What the open network is bringing is fundamentally what the internet did to content. The internet brought the discovery of content on a common network,” remarked Varma of EkStep Foundation.

EkStep Foundation, led by Co-founder and Chairperson Nandan Nilekani, is committed to enhancing basic education for Indian children through Sunbird, an open-source digital infrastructure. Nilekani, along with Varma, is a co-founder at FIDE.

Apart from content and training, scholarships and grants will be another key offering on the network.

The network will build on the fundamental desire of people to offer financial resources to those in need, points out Nair.

“There is an underlying need for people to offer, perhaps not on a large scale, but with an open network, they can transform this need into an opportunity by finding deserving recipients through the network to offer scholarships and make a difference.”


Infographic credit: ONEST

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Opportunities for growth

The ONEST network, Nair believes, presents an opportunity for exponential growth for education platforms, especially the smaller players.

Potentially 2X or even 3X growth, in the times to come, and at a fraction of the cost, he says.

“They (education platforms) can anticipate a better return on investment in terms of time, effort, and resources because they can now access a broader range of demand,” he says, adding that achieving the same demand outside the network is costlier, with limited scalability. Whereas within the network, everyone is naturally discoverable due to the interoperable nature of the protocol, leading to significantly reduced relative costs.

According to Nair, smaller players will be more inclined to join the network because they want to grow faster and have a lot of headroom to grow but don’t have enough capital. “This (ONEST) gives them speed and scale,” he says.

Initially, big platforms may not find immediate gratification with ONEST, but Nair is confident they will recognise the value of the open network in expanding into new areas and unlocking opportunities beyond their current areas of operation.

As the network gains momentum and proves successful, big companies and platforms are likely to be drawn to it, just like it happened with ONDC. At present, 50,000 retail merchants contribute a daily transaction volume of 15,000-20,000 on the ONDC platform, according to an equity research report by ICICI Securities.

“Then all the players will come because it makes sense for everybody to collectively expand the pie and benefit from it rather than each of them trying to do it themselves, which is an asymptotic wall where beyond a point you don’t grow,” Nair asserts.

ONEST relies on organic growth driven by an increasing number of participants, whatever be their offering, and their active involvement and willingness to offer support. As it’s an open network, anyone can join ONEST voluntarily, thus making it inclusive and dynamic, says Nair.

Collaboration is another key facet of the network. For instance, scholarships and opportunities could emerge from a single platform or multiple platforms, thus exemplifying the decentralised and collaborative nature of the network, he emphasises.

The real value of being connected to the network will become evident when multiple platforms offer internships, scholarships, skilling programmes, and courses. This creates a spillover effect, leading to combinative benefits for learners. As people explore an opportunity, they may discover additional learning options along the way.

The ONEST ecosystem

The ecosystem currently comprises key players including ONDC as the network facilitator, EkStep as the network incubator, FIDE as the protocol partner, and organisations such as Vedantu, Protean, ShikshaLokam, Buddy4Study, and Give as network participants.

To start with, the network aims to onboard a small cohort of participants, comprising platforms from categories such as learning experiences, financial support, work opportunities, and expert connect. The idea is to establish a small network among these participants, in a month or two, to evaluate the effectiveness of its model and iron out teething troubles.

While it may not be possible to address all challenges initially, Nair says the objective is to demonstrate the value proposition of ONEST and attract more players to join subsequent cohorts, leading to the network’s gradual expansion and growth.


Infographic credit: Nihar Apte | Source: ONEST

Features and functionalities

Consumers on ONDC have access to multiple apps such as Paytm, Pincode, and Magicpin. Similarly, ONEST envisions providing consumers with a few apps for various opportunities—ranging from internships and content to scholarships and more.

There will also be a decentralised mechanism to provide feedback and ratings for services–another feature that’s been borrowed from ONDC.

ONEST plans to provide open-source sandboxes and developer access to support providers who wish to learn the Beckn Protocol and link their products/services to ONEST.

Long-term vision

According to Nair, the potential for growth on ONEST is substantial. The network may reach around 1 lakh or even 10 lakh learners, or possibly even surpass these numbers in the future, Nair envisages, though he doesn’t share a timeline for the same.

(Cover image and infographic by Nihar Apte.)

Edited by Swetha Kannan