Design for change

Sep 07, 2014, 03:15 IST | Moeena Halim

Manish Mathur and Alok Kumar co-founded Prayas Innovation in the hope of addressing social challenges through innovative design. Their inaugural product Yelo, meant for school children in villages, is a waterproof bag that converts into a desk with an attached solar-powered lamp

When Prayas Innovation’s Alok Kumar presented the bright yellow sling bag he has designed to a bunch of school children at a village 30 km from Pune, it induced far greater curiosity than he had expected. “About 50 excited children surrounded the Yelo bags made of corrugated sheets of yellow plastic. They were all so eager to know more about them,” recalls Kumar, a 24-year-old product designer who co-founded Prayas with Udaipur-based Manish Mathur.

School children
School children use the desk, with the attached solar-powered lamp, at night

The children, who were to test Yelo, weren’t disappointed. The sling bags can be transformed into a desk and also have a solar-powered LED lamp to help them study after dark. “It’s been a couple of months since we gifted them these bags and we’re still receiving great feedback from them,” reveals Kumar.

Manish Mathur
Manish Mathur

A three-in-one solution
The 24-year-old product designer spent months in villages across rural India and identified 50 problems related to education, energy, hygiene, women and health that needed innovative solutions. Besides, the Internet is abound with statistics of the poor condition of India and Third World countries are in. “Google will tell you that one in three people across the globe lacks access to electricity. And in India, a large number of students still don’t have access to education,” claims Mathur.

Manish Mathur
Alok Kumar

About six months ago, the partners decided to address the problems of energy and education. “Through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government is trying its best to get more and more students to attend school. They offer free uniforms, mid-day meals, textbooks and so on. But the students, who barely have clothes to wear, aren’t likely to have a schoolbag to carry their books in. How will their textbooks last the entire school year?” asks Mathur.

Basic infrastructure in schools is missing too. “Even villages 30 kms from Pune lack desks. Children have to sit on durries and study. Doctors have told us how this could affect the children’s eyesight. Their posture is so poor that they could suffer from severe back issues in the future,” adds Mathur.

While Yelo can take care of these problems in school, its solar-powered LED lamp could also provide a solution to the lack of electricity at home. “The LED lamp works for about eight hours. All they need to do is charge the battery in the sun while they’re away at school. The battery can even be used to charge mobile phones,” he reveals.

Attempting to keep the bag low-cost, they have priced it at R399. “We want to give every child across rural India one of these bags free of cost and are hoping to get the government on board. In the meantime, we are looking for support and funding through a crowd-funding site,” admits Mathur. Yelo is just the beginning for the social entrepreneurs. Their upcoming products, still in the conceptualisation phase, will focus on women’s safety and natural disasters.

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