Reading Room Project

Reading Room Project

Karachi, PakistanKarachi, Pakistan
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

At RRP we put learning into students’ own hands. We build outstanding learning environments where we teach our students intensive English literacy, digital literacy and how to self-learn using the Internet. This way, we can harness technology to scale quality education all over Pakistan.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if learning was a collaborative, joyous process and children were their own teachers?!
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

30 million children are currently attending school in Pakistan without learning even basic skills. Pakistan’s Annual Status of Education Report 2014 tells us that 54% of students graduating Grade Five cannot read a story intended for Grade Two. Despite five years of schooling, they are functionally illiterate. The main reasons for this problem are unqualified teachers in schools, lack of adequate educational content and emphasis on rote learning.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In the absence of political will to reform the educational system, we must turn to self-reliance. At our fee-based community labs, we equip students with intensive English and Digital Literacy, enabling them to make use of the vast array of of educational resources available online and become independent lifelong self-learners. Our multi-level English Language and Digital literacy curricula develop students skills at a rapid pace, boot-camp style. In addition we focus on three core areas critical thinking, concept mastery through focused practice and building intellectual confidence.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our primary activities include running classes and developing our curriculum. Our classes are for 8 hours a week of high-quality instruction, four of those hours are small, personalized classes with our intensively trained Learning Coaches and four hours are for intensive digital practice in the lab, where students hone their digital skills and practice their English on RRP's custom created flashcard application. Data collected and analyzed by us reflects 50 hours spent in the lab by a student improved their English speaking & listening skills and critical thinking. We have completed our digital curriculum while our English curriculum is in development. So far we have successfully built 2 out of 7 language proficiency levels.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We have conducted two successful pilots for 12 months and 9 months respectively. We conducted our first pilot project in February 2013 with 34 third grade students at a government school in Karachi, where we adopted the school’s defunct computer lab and ran daily sessions in Digital Literacy, English, and Mathematics for 15 months. Our Student’s performance across the 3 areas measurably transformed as compared to a control group. Our second pilot was an Adult Literacy Program at Dawood Group which started with 10 adults who were low level employees who we believed could do much better in their lives they just needed the basic skills. After 9 months of the Program we had a total of 42 employees who benefited from our program. We now have our independent site at a low income area of Karachi Shah Rasool Colony where we started a summer camp for 51 students and currently have 31 students.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

By creating our curriculum and its accompanying training methodology we want to spread the social impact of our product all over Pakistan. Hence our single focus for next year is to develop our 7 level English Language Learning program. Once our curriculum is developed we will use data and technology for scale and make the curriculum for students and teacher training digitally available through a central Learning Management System to have maximum geographical reach. We will also explore other neighborhoods to open another site to increase our product usage.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our independent site is run by student fees, crowdfunding and corporate sponsorships. Ultimately, we aim to achieve financial stability through commercial success of our curriculum. Once our curriculum is complete we can ensure our financial stability through 1)Students Fees and 2) Teacher Training's.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The English Language Center's functioning in the market can be broadly divided in two categories, High Quality and Expensive or Low Quality and low-priced. Our aim is to establish a high quality product that is affordable for low income students who do not have access to proper English and Computer Education at their schools. The low-priced center's accessible to our target market have failed to deliver due to sub-standard classes , lack of trained instructors and use of digital materials. Our product also differs due to our teaching methodology based on self-regulation and critical thinking.

Founding Story

In 2009 I took time off my work in development to study mathematics. I found a wonderful tutor and supplemented my jerky, remedial learning with online study. On the Internet I learned how to do a proof and found mentors in video archives of scientists long gone. That year of open-ended study changed my life. I felt children should interact with this material copiously & much earlier. 2 years later, I quit my job to research schools & learning in Pakistan full-time and we started the pilot in 2013. After 3 years i can say that "Aha!" moment continues. Education is the only thing that can truly transform a life. Now, its up to us to scale this impact.


We are 9 team members working full time with varied experience of working in Non-Profits, Community Building, Montessori Education, Computer Programming, Public Relations, Human Resource Management and Project Management. The Organization structure is divided into three teams for curriculum development, Program management and Learning Coaches. We are a dedicated team that work day and night to provide our students with the quality education they deserve.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

IDG Enterprise Pakistan

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Program Associate

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I was responsible for setting up pilot operations for Saaf water, a social enterprise providing affordable clean water to the urban poor. I started by becoming the first sales lady and sold over a thousand capsules going door to door. As Director of operations I took the company from inception in September 2007 to two field offices serving 2700 people in major Karachi neighborhoods Lyari and Mohammadi Colony by April 2009.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Our Advisory Board consists of Entrepreneurs and leaders in the field of Finance, Technology and Education.
Isfandiyar Shaheen, Head of Performance Management at Dawood Hercules (DH) Corporation. He also serves on the boards of Towershare Inc., Inbox Business Technologies, Engro Eximp. Prior to joining DH he was CEO at Cyan Capital. He has also been conducting training courses in financial modelling since 2009 at IBA Centre of Executive Education.
Afaque Ahmed, Founder and president of Karachi Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship (KITE). Before coming to Pakistan he founded Fonebooth Networks Inc. a telecommunication Company based in Silicon Valley. The philosophy and business model for this venture eventually became the basis for a similar business, the Breezecom Group of Companies, with companies based in Malaysia, Pakistan and the UAE which he founded in 2007. In 2011, his passion for science and education drove him to establish Robotics labs, an interactive platform designed to inculcate a love for science and computer programming in young Pakistanis.
Jahanzeb Sherwani, Director Real-time Communication Products at Slack Inc. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.
Seema Ahmed, Founder The Reading Lab Karachi. She is a speech Pathologist with 13 years of Experience in reading and speech therapy.