Early on, I realized the impact that leveling the educational playing field could have in solving the problem of social inequity. Born to middle-class parents in India in the 1960s, I was fortunate to receive an excellent education. My parents’ efforts to do what they could to right the pervasive wrongs in our society inspired me to want to contribute as well. As a teen, I tutored some of the slum-dwelling children in our community and high school students around my college. It soon became apparent that my one-on-one efforts could have, at best, a minimal impact on the larger problem.
Throughout my academic and professional journey, I continued to grapple with the challenge of transforming societies through education. While in graduate school at UCLA, I founded the Southern California Chapter of the India Literacy Project (ILP). At Xerox Research, Yahoo, and Google, I introduced a variety of initiatives intended to improve livelihoods. As with my earlier efforts, the impact of these, while positive, did not move the needle.
In 2004, I returned to Bangalore, India with my family to lead Yahoo and later Google’s engineering operations. There, community discontent motivated me to lead a team of 1,500 parent-volunteers in building a K-12 school from the ground up over a period of fifteen months. That school, now with over 1,000 students, had concrete but limited impact. I still had not found the catalyst I sought for societal change.
My professional successes – building Google Maps and News – brought a lot of media attention to the company and pride to my family. To me, they also emphasized the futility of the “trickle down” technology theory – the idea that creating technology for the wealthy (who can pay for it) would eventually lead to its reaching and improving the lives of the masses. Clearly, this was not happening. Reaching the goal would require a radical change in perspective.
While working on a Google project addressing the global teacher shortage, I began to appreciate the extent to which talent, effort, and money directed to education are focused on individual communities. It seemed to me that leveraging and sharing these resources could increase their impact exponentially – resulting in a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. How best to achieve this result? It was clear to me that the web, with its potential for collective impact, would be key. So, as a 20% Project at Google, I built the original version of Gooru and it has since become my life’s work.
At Gooru, we are determined to play a catalytic role in the broad space that is education. Guided by our conviction that education is a human right, we are committed to a non-profit vision of Gooru that provides equal access to outcomes by integrating open educational resources into our AI and research- based technology. Gooru content and communities are open. The technology is open source. We engage experts by collaborating with school districts and charter schools, content providers, app developers, non-profit organizations, funders, learning scientists, and policy makers. The result is an elegant system where teachers and students are innovators, creators, and the true owners of their learning.
Global education is local, in fact, education is hyper-local. We have to leverage the local expert community to support all of their learners with localized content, community support, and translation services because we know that it takes a community of experts and friends to create significant impact. We work hard to help students fall in love with learning by seizing successes and igniting the passion to learn and we measure success in terms of positive learning outcomes not traffic volume or average time spent on Gooru.
Gooru invests deeply in technology and engineering to amaze teachers at how they can expand their practice and we adopt an open source software development approach, where innovation takes place through the collective effort of many programmers and designers.
We are a non-profit. Our mission is ambitious. We will reach a billion students around the world. We believe K-12 education is a human right and hence has to be free. We will generate revenues by licensing our technology platform to edtech companies serving a variety of user segments from K-12, higher-ed, and skills training in order to serve this mission. We will operate with a deep sense of impatience, so we don’t lose another generation of students while we figure out how to address social justice at scale with the right to education.