In India, McKinsey teams up with Pratham to help millions of children learn to read and write

India has made significant progress improving educational opportunities for all children, but substantial gaps in literacy remain. In India alone, 266 million people cannot read or write, which represents 35 percent of the world’s adult population. Without basic reading and writing skills, many education and employment doors remain closed for India’s young people.

Pratham, the largest non-governmental organization in India offering literacy and vocational skills support for children, is dedicated to opening those doors. After conducting a strategic review for the organization in 2004, McKinsey once again partnered with Pratham in 2018 to develop a five-year strategic plan to maximize the organization’s impact and resources. Led by McKinsey senior partner Ramesh Mangaleswaran, our firm helped Pratham assess its core organizational strengths to prioritize two of its most effective strategies: government partnerships for literacy services and a village-based approach to literacy and education.

In working with Pratham, the McKinsey project team adopted what they call a “micro to macro” approach: Pratham is a well-known, award-winning organization with a national network that reaches 58 million young people with literacy and vocational services in 23 Indian states and numerous partnerships and contacts. With such an extensive reach and so many different initiatives, the charge for the strategic planning process was to take a step back and assess the organization’s impact over the last 15 years and understand whether success could be achieved in more efficient ways.

“This was a 25-year-old organization, one of the most successful of its kind,” says Ketav Mehta, a McKinsey engagement manager based in Chennai who helped lead the project. “Our job was to help them focus on very specific strategic questions, because even though school enrollment in India was very high, there were still big gaps in literacy rates. I believe that we were able to help them move forward on the specific initiatives that would really help children learn to read and write.”

I believe that we were able to help them move forward on the specific initiatives that would really help children learn to read and write.

Ketav Mehta, McKinsey engagement manager

As a result of the strategic planning work, Pratham chose to focus on two approaches in particular. The first, strengthening government partnerships, has already resulted in a double-digit improvement rates among 3.6 million children in the state of Uttar Pradesh. By 2022, the program is expected to reach an additional nine million children.

The second focus involves an “end to end,” village-based approach, where educational services previously scattered across multiple locations are now focused on entire villages, helping children from grades one through ten. While the approach is still too new to yield impact numbers (the children’s progress is being measured on a multi-year basis), the approach has already been implemented in almost 3,000 villages, representing 500,000 children served.

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