I gaze at a book called In Search of Excellence on my table, written by two ex-McKinsey consultants on what makes great ‘corporations’ click and I’m left in awe as to how Pratham, an NGO, has so intuitively, over and over again for the better part of the last two decades, managed to create an environment where everything just clicks.

Around this time last year, I knew little about the development sector. I’d worked for two years in a consulting firm and was ready to apply my obligation to dissent to a bigger context. Tired of castigating our politicians during after-work parties, I decided it was vital for me to get a sense of how things worked on the ground. At the same time, I wanted to stick to my core skill of data analysis. Measurement, Monitoring and Evaluation seemed like a natural fit, and Pratham’s work in the area immediately caught my attention.

Humble Beginnings

When I joined in October 2017, I was fortunate enough to be trusted with Pratham’s flagship program, called Read India. I was told I’d be collaborating with more than 40 people from 10 states across India, which at the time seemed quite overwhelming! As I spent time with state-level MME teams, I realized how much effort Pratham had put in to cultivate a strong cadre of leaders in every state, an achievement few NGOs can boast of today. Data is often conveniently left out of the conversation in the social sector, yet here I was in an environment where people close to the field were discussing how our intervention could be more effective if some additional indicators were added to our monitoring formats1. I was humbled and elated to witness how strongly people in Pratham–whether our leadership in Delhi or a staff member in a remote village in Rajasthan–believed in the power of data to make better decisions.

Getting Into the Groove

In April 2018, Pratham decided to shift its focus from learning in schools to learning in communities. The goal, broadly defined, was to better understand learning levels of all children in a village and work towards improving those, involving community members in the process. That is no small task when working in 14 different states (~3500 villages) with such diversity in contexts. However, we realized we could either be discouraged by the massive scale and complexity of this problem or break it down into simpler pieces. The first step? Making sure community members understood the problem of poor learning levels in the first place.

The solution we came up with was a village report card, an assessment of their own community’s learning levels led by village volunteers. From designing the report card to piloting and translating it to training team members at the state level who then conducted volunteer trainings, I was given complete freedom to call the shots. In a span of 30 days, volunteers collected data from 100,000 children across ~480 villages in 14 states2. Further, close to 70% of this data was collected on a tablet-based application we built within a week’s time! Somehow, yet again, things just clicked! From our CEO to everyone on ground, it was heartening to get such tremendous support from all ranks of the organisation, all aligned toward a unified goal. I was doing some great work a year back too, but could I compare any of it to this exercise? I doubt it.

Every Child Learning Well

As I pause the music on my phone, my colleague from our Assessment Unit excitedly shares that one of our co-founders, Dr. Madhav Chavan, plans to make learning modules on music for rural children to access via Android tablets in their villages. ‘Why limit our work to Math and Science?’, he says. Another new day, another new idea, another new experiment; practicing our obligation to dissent against traditional beliefs about education. This pretty much sums up the one year I’ve spent at Pratham. People around me might be from a variety of backgrounds, but it is our unshakeable faith in every child learning well that, I guess, makes Pratham click!

A website, prathaminsights.in, maintained by M&E team is a convenient platform for consumption of our program data in the orgaisation and outside, for our donors
A Tableau based dashboard with analyses of this data can be viewed here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/eshan8280#!/vizhome/VillageReportCard-Round1/VRC

– Eshan