Unitus Seed Fund is a venture seed fund supporting startups innovating for the masses in India. Unitus invests in healthcare, education, mobile commerce & value-added services, marketplaces & e-commerce, retail & distribution, agriculture, and water & energy sectors. Founded in 2012, Unitus Seed Fund is part of the Unitus Group, a financial services group operating in India and other emerging markets since 2000. Unitus Seed Fund is based in Bangalore and Seattle.
Most would agree that Aadhaar is India’s most revolutionary technological endeavour in recent history, second only to mobile telephony in its scale and impact. What other technology or service has shown such impressive growth anywhere in the world – from zero to over 80 crore (800 million) users in under six years? If you ask a room full of people, “Who has an Aadhaar card?” most will raise their hand. But if you ask them if they’ve ever used their card, few hands go up. I believe Aadhaar has implications far broader than the financial services with which most people currently associate it with. This under-utilised asset is ready to improve education, create jobs, and grow the economy.
To understand its potential in education, one must first grasp how Aadhaar works in the most well-known application: The Aadhaar-enabled payment system. This system essentially allows anyone with an Aadhaar ID to go to a micro-ATM and check their balance, withdraw money, deposit cash, and transfer funds to another person with an Aadhaar number. The Aadhaar system also allows the government to send payments electronically to beneficiaries – even those who may not have previously had bank accounts – without concern for the fraud that currently plagues direct payment schemes. Simply put: Aadhaar’s ID’s are attached to real people, and reliably allow transactions of all kinds to happen between clearly identified citizens and the institutions that serve them.
While payment services enabled via Aadhaar have clear value in “financial inclusion” and save money by eliminating fraud and corruption, they are not fundamentally changing an industry. The impact on education will be different. India’s education sector, which broadly includes K-12 and university education as well as vocational training, is ready for Aadhaar to improve via a fundamental disruption: Long term tracking and certification of results, all tied to reliable IDs. India currently lacks a formal system of tracking a person’s school record, training certifications, or employment history. As a result, the academic performances of Indian students have limited documentation and are not tracked over a student’s career; data that is tracked cannot be verified, and service providers and employers in India’s job market lack an efficient means to properly match the most qualified job candidates of specific skills sets to the jobs that most require candidates with those qualifications.
India’s youth are increasingly mobile, moving with their parents as they seek economic opportunities, and then moving to larger towns and cities to get better educational opportunities. An Aadhaar-linked academic record can enable each new school to be confident that it knows what previous education each student has received, prior to attendance. As a result, policymakers and curriculum designers can track academic results of students over time, even as they move between school systems in different states, in order to determine the outcomes of various improvements made to educational systems at the local or national level.
Such student tracking is well established in the US. As of 2010, all 50 states are using a statewide student identifier that remains with a student throughout his or her primary and secondary education career. And 33 states now have the ability to follow student progress into post-secondary education. They can do so by connecting primary/secondary records of individual students with each state’s respective records in its state public higher education system. Creating a similar tracking system based on Aadhaar IDs is well within the reach of the more centrally-managed Indian education system over the coming years.
Aadhaar’s unique IDs can also be used by the vocational education sector as a tracking mechanism that can link to a record of a person’s vocational skill set as well as his or her academic and employment history. For example, a mechanic who specialises in a specific field will be able to charge proper fees for being the most qualified mechanic to best diagnose and fix a problem.
Qualification will be determined by verified skills, certifications, and reputation rather than by word of mouth and anecdotal stories. Having the ability to track the academic and professional history of each person and increase the efficiency of the matching process in services and employment markets will ultimately incentivise citizens to lead more productive careers. Service providers and job seekers will be able to conclusively certify their knowledge, skill sets, experiences, and thereby be rewarded accordingly. To date, people have been expressing their capabilities on resumes, websites, and sign boards. Nobody could easily know how truthful such claims were. Now, skills claims linked to Aadhaar IDs will be verifiable – they will be a new, higher value currency.
Aadhaar-linked skills marketplaces are already being created. In August 2013, the Indian government launched a new programme called the National Skill Certificate and Monetary Reward scheme through a training company, Centum Learning. In order to create a stronger skilled and employable workforce, this new scheme grants government monetary rewards, called Standard Training & Assessment Rewards, to its programme graduates. Training programmes under the scheme are intended to develop and certify skills against industry standards. The assessment and certification processes involved are based on rigorous norms as per National Occupational Standards. Under the scheme, Centum Learning offers skills training on industry recognised courses in order to orient and skill the youth on diverse job roles across priority employment sectors, including, sales in telecom and organised retail, customer service skills in BPO, telecom installation & fault repair, telecom tower equipment operations & maintenance, gems & jewellery, etc. The rewards are directly transferred to the graduates’ Aadhaar-linked bank accounts. Therefore, in order to be a part of this programme, the government requires that each candidate be enrolled in Aadhaar, ensuring that funds go where they are intended, and that participants are rewarded accordingly.
Leveraging Aadhaar to track students and electronically certify academic and employment histories can certainly contribute to the growth of India’s economy while realising the “demographic dividend” and improving income opportunities across the population.
- By Will Poole, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Unitus Seed Fund