Top tips from Thailand on starting a successful social enterprise

Education has achieved impressive results in providing support to disadvantaged students. What were the building blocks of its swift growth?

 

Learn Education is a one-on-one blended learning platform that helps teachers improve their skills and enables them to provide more individual attention to students who need support. Photograph: the British Council

Learn Education is a one-on-one blended learning platform that helps teachers improve their skills and enables them to provide more individual attention to students who need support. Photograph: the British Council

Education was the route Tanin Timtong followed out of poverty from Thailand’s Nonthaburi province to the capital Bangkok, where the trained engineer served as the general manager of a multinational company.

In 2012, he was dismayed by the results of a national survey showing that 2 million Thai students from poor families were not attending school, 300,000 were dropping out annually after the compulsory nine years, and millions of others were underperforming in national maths and science exams. So he decided to do something about it.

Tanin assembled a team of educators and entrepreneurs and founded the social enterprise Learn Education. Learn Education is a one-on-one blended learning platform that helps teachers improve their skills and frees them to provide more individual attention to students who need support.

Tailored to the content of the national O-NET examinations (GCSE-equivalent), Learn Education provides interactive video lessons and immediate post-learning evaluation tests. These facilitate teachers’ understanding of students’ learning and strategic coaching of weaker students, leading to improvements in teacher-student relationships and overall student motivation and achievement.

Their focus on technological solutions and the relational aspects of learning has led to impressive breakthroughs. In three years, Learn Education has helped deliver a 30% improvement in the exam scores of students using their platform, and has won the endorsement of the Thai government and DBS-National University of Singapore Social Venture Challenge Asia. Their approach could be replicated across Thailand and southeast Asia.

So we asked Tanin about the keys to start-up success.

Start with passion, a shared goal and talent

In recruiting his launch team, Tanin looked for passion and talent. A shared passion towards a mutual goal ensures colleagues stay focused on the mission – even when they disagree. “That mutual goal eliminates any obstacle we start with,” he says. If passion is the engine to start the venture, talent is what drives performance. Talented, highly experienced founding members with complementary skillsets will determine the standards of excellence within the company and set the bar for recruiting future partners and employees.

Consider the context

To ensure maximum adoption, the solution must fit into the users’ existing schedules and help them reach their goals, says Tanin. Unlike after-school support programmes, Learn Education is an in-class solution that does not replace teachers but increases their efficiency so that they have time to coach students in areas of weakness. “We’ve got a win-win situation,” says Tanin. By complementing existing processes, Learn Education ensures maximum adoption.

Incorporate feedback loops

The team schedules consistent feedback loops – including student surveys and focus groups – which allow them to constantly iterate and improve, as well as identify adjacent social challenges which multiply their impact.

For example, the team initially defined the problem as the need to reduce teacher workload for greater efficiency. However, on-site feedback revealed that teachers wanted to improve their teaching techniques. Responding to the demand, Learn Education created a curriculum to assist teachers in classroom facilitation. Point people were also designated to help and respond to teachers’ needs daily. In being quick to adapt to teachers’ needs, Learn Education was able to enlarge its product offering.

Focus on product and delivery

Focusing on customer adoption as well as on your product facilitates customer retention. Learn Education renders a highly customised service to each school through an implementer, who works closely with teachers and school directors to install the product and guide users. Learn Education doesn’t only provide quick, effective technical support, they also regularly check in with their clients, and will go the extra mile to customise solutions according to evolving needs, often at no charge. Maintaining such a close relationship with customers earns their loyalty.

Leverage customers as a resource

Learn Education has built a teachers’ network to create a peer community and forum for sharing best practices. Learn Education incentivises this sharing by offering recognition through an annual awards ceremony for excellent teachers. Learn Education benefits when these teachers act as influencers for the product, sharing their positive experiences with counterparts in other schools. Their best practices not only help other users improve their teaching but also provide intelligence that Learn Education draws from in product development.

Engage all stakeholders

Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes the collective action of all stakeholders – teachers, students, school directors, and parents – to raise educational standards in Thailand. Looking at successful education models globally, Tanin and his team saw how influential parent engagement was on student performance. As a result, Learn Education is now enhancing its system to inform parents of their child’s progress.

Looking ahead, Tanin believes that Learn Education’s commitment to understanding the needs of its beneficiaries and to assembling the right combination of partners will enable the young social enterprise to meet its ambitious goals of enrolling 10,000 teachers, reducing the number of dropouts by 100,000, and supporting 1 million learners in the next 10 years.

The British Council is a proud partner of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia, an Asia-wide competition for social enterprises organised by the NUS Enterprise in partnership with the DBS Foundation. This competition identifies and supports early-stage social enterprises that have the potential to generate positive, scalable and sustainable social impact.

Content on this page is paid for and provided by the British Council, sponsor of theinternational social enterprise hub