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Alok Kumar: Lightening the load of schoolkids

Alok Kumar uses design to help rural school students

Published: Feb 18, 2015 06:19:34 AM IST
Updated: Feb 11, 2015 04:25:33 PM IST
Alok Kumar: Lightening the load of schoolkids

Alok Kumar | 24
Co-founder, Prayas Innovation
Category: Social Enterprise


Alok Kumar, 24, is a designer-turned-entrepreneur who grew up in rural Sitamarhi, northern Bihar.  “I have seen children struggling to carry books to school. Often they had no bags. Add to that, long treks from home to school, harsh weather conditions and in several cases no desks to write on; it is arduous for children to produce their best results.”

A knack for designing and innovation brought Kumar to Pune’s Symbiosis Institute of Design in 2008. While studying for his Bachelors’ degree in industrial and product design, he travelled across north-west India and noted at least 50 potential business ideas in the areas of education, women’s safety and disaster management.

The need to create social change was fostered when he met the like-minded Manish Mathur when they were both working at Udaipur-based Pyrotech Workspace, which manufactures office furniture and control rooms. Kumar and Mathur quit their jobs at Pyrotech in October 2013 to set up Prayas Innovation in Pune in 2014. Mathur is a co-founder at Prayas, handling business development and product feasibility.

Their first product: A school bag, the design of which has evolved in collaboration with other designers, with many modifications to best meet the requirements of rural children. In its final avatar, it is made of polypropylene plastic, weighs 250 grams, can hold up to 30 times its weight, comes with a solar-powered LED lamp and converts into a desk, with a writing pad—at a 30°-35° angle—thereby ensuring that kids maintain an ergonomic posture while studying. It is called ‘Yelo’.

Yelo was launched in September 2014; around 800 were distributed through non-profit organisations in Maharashtra, and they have an additional 1,200 bags ready for dispatch. Prayas has plans to take Yelo nationwide, with discussions on for a possible corporate alliance, says Kumar.  

The company has two new products in the works: One relating to women’s safety and the other a multi-utility low-cost solar lamp. Yelo itself is undergoing research for an innovation upgrade, with additional features. Over the next five years, Prayas plans to grow as a platform to fund other innovators to help them execute their ideas.

Alok Kumar: Lightening the load of schoolkids

Prayas has raised Rs 50 lakh through internal funding and hopes to break even by 2016, Mathur says. Their challenges include lowering costs [the basic bag costs Rs 299] and making it more durable, as production scales up.

Ingrid Srinath, chief executive of the NGO Hivos India Advisory Services, says that a lack of trained teachers is a bigger problem to tackle at government schools, rather than providing bags. “The bag, per se, could improve lives. It is gratifying that so many people are investing their time and skills towards social needs. And it would be better if this innovation is guided by the needs of the beneficiary.”

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(This story appears in the 20 February, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Shiv Sankar Panda

    I am very thrilled to see these bags.hope it will solve problems of our school going children. I am staying in bhubaneswar(odisha) I want these bags to be distributed among the children. Hw can I?

    on Mar 4, 2015
    • Prayas Innovation

      Hi Shiv, Thank you for the comment. Please draft a mail on alokk@prayasinnovation.com. Our team will co-ordinate with you. For more please visit www.prayasinnovation.com

      on Mar 5, 2015