MISSION Framework: Sustainable businesses create sustainable impact

In partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Social Innovation & Investment Initiative at the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (NYU Wagner) analyzed more than 40 foundation-related investments, and together we developed a MISSION framework to document the foundation’s impact investing strategy. The framework is comprised of the following elements: Market, Impact, Scale, Sustainability, Incrementality, Organization and Next. This is the fifth post in a blog series that focuses on each of these elements. This post, on the Sustainability aspect of the framework, describes the way Avanti Learning Centres has grown to match the evolving needs of its customers. You can read the full case study here

In India, college education is hugely important to families and students. Entrance exams to college are a key part of the trajectory of a young person’s job and career – and competition is fierce.  At the same time, most exam prep courses are very expensive, and families living in urban poverty do not have easy access to exam prep for their children. Further, the teaching methodologies are often not for students who come from varied learning backgrounds.   

Avanti Learning Centres (Avanti) were created to help solve this problem for poor families in India who want to provide the very best learning for their children, with hopes that a college education will provide a chance at a successful, financially secure future. Avanti’s business model evolved from a collection of free one-to-one mentoring and coaching programs into a for-profit company that uses standardized content, technology, and assessments to deliver high-quality math and science education at affordable prices.  

As Avanti started proving out its quality and the replicability of the model, it was time to look at its financial sustainability, and increase the likelihood of their long-term success. In the MISSION model, Sustainability is a core element of successful impact investing. Long-term financial health increases the likelihood of an investee’s success and, therefore, achievement of social impact at scale. We believe that social impact entrepreneurs must have a deep understanding of organizational risk factors, operational metrics, exit path strategies, and scenario planning to mitigate firm-level risk.  

Over time, Avanti has been able to gain key market insights from its on-the-ground operations to replicate and scale quickly. The strong consulting and business management background of its founders means they can focus on operational efficiency – evidenced by key changes in their model.  

Avanti created a high quality, standardized product that helps them deliver consistent outcomes in classrooms, regardless of teacher or school capacity, saving time and money. Their products and teaching models allow them to cater to students from different backgrounds, and they are successfully delivering high-quality outcomes in private schools and government schools alike.  

Today, Avanti serves approximately 8,000 students across 82 locations. In 2018, 53 percent of Avanti students were selected in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) MAIN, which is required for admission to undergraduate engineering programs in India. The exam has an average pass rate of only 20 percent. Importantly for sustainability, Avanti’s business model is profitable – 70 percent of their centers and viable and are contributing to Avanti’s bottom line, meaning that in the future, more students can benefit from Avanti’s model. 

Here’s how they’re doing it:  

  • The technology used in the Avanti model automates tough administrative challenges that typically require significant staff time, like attendance monitoring, standard parent communications, and financial administration.  
  • Avanti’s partners with schools and local exam tutoring businesses and provides them with the tools, teachers, and technology they need to create their own Avanti system that is customized for their local context.  
  • They have also partnered with state governments in Rajasthan and Haryana – diversifying their revenue base, and importantly, significantly increasing the reach of their model.  

Sustainability is not simply about keeping a social impact business alive. For us, sustainable social impact businesses are important parts of a broader strategy that commits to a long-term vision of greater impact for children living in urban poverty.