Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For transforming access to early learning in India

Azeez Gupta is a self-proclaimed "social impact geek." And based on his project portfolio, it's safe to say he’s geeking out. One highlight: Leading workforce development initiatives at Pratham—helping the Indian NGO train more than 1 million youth annually. And then in 2020, he joined forces with his sister, Namya Mahajan, to create Rocket Learning, tapping into the uber-popular WhatsApp used by more than 487 million people in India. 

For Gupta and his sister, the focus on education started early, with their parents filling the family home in northern India with books and educational toys. And even after busy workdays, they made the effort to challenge their children with thought-provoking questions and puzzles.

But Gupta realized many children aren’t as lucky. Across South Asia, 35 million children lack access to pre-primary education, according to UNICEF. In India, almost 43 percent of rural first graders can’t recognize the letters of the alphabet, and nearly 36 percent can’t recognize single-digit numbers. "This means that most low-income children have fundamentally lost the game of life even before they enter formal, compulsory school," Gupta wrote on Quartz. 

That’s where he’s looking to make a difference with Rocket Learning. The nonprofit provides free educational videos, activities and other resources for families with children.

The concept? Partner with government agencies to build vibrant digital communities by delivering age-appropriate, play-based content to teachers and parents of preschoolers through WhatsApp groups. By leaning in to a group model, Rocket Learning provides social motivation to incentivize teachers and parents to conduct the activities with children. The organization also uses its technology to make real-time behavioral nudges and deliver rewards like report cards and medals sent at scale through automation.

An "ardent believer in the power of partnership between governments, civil societies, private sector and people," Gupta has the organization partnering with India’s national and state governments as well as MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab to develop and delivery materials, and then study the impact of those resources. To date, Rocket Learning has reached more than 1 million kids through 60,000 teacher-parent messaging groups. And by year’s end, he hopes to use government partnerships to increase that number more than tenfold.