Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm, has expanded its India portfolio by backing two education companies. The first is a venture capital investment in English language learning solutions company EnglishHelper while the other is a $950,000 grant to Akshara Foundation, which focuses on elementary education.

The investments help expand Omidyar’s education portfolio in India to five investments which also include pre-school chain Tree House Education, employability assessment company Aspiring Minds and livelihood opportunities firm Anudip Foundation.

Omidyar Network is the philanthropic investment entity, founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam. The network, spearheaded by Jayant Sinha in India, has a strategy of investing through a mix of grants and equity investments. Currently, it has 24 portfolio companies in India, accounting for nearly a quarter of its global portfolio.

Omidyar Network has now deployed $85 million in India, of which 70 per cent is in for-profit investments and the rest in non-profits, via grants.

In the first investment, Omidyar has funded EnglishHelper, which provides innovative products that address the English language learning and training needs of educational and skill-building institutions, as well as corporate houses. The company’s software, RedToMe, enables comprehension through multi-sensory approach of reading, listening, writing and speaking.

The product also includes a built-in dictionary, access to a pronunciation guide and ability to verbalise content from websites to textbooks. The product has started gaining traction among corporate clients, as well K-12 and higher education students.

“EnglishHelper has developed innovative, scalable and cost-efficient technology that addresses a multi-billion-dollar global market for English language training,” said Omidyar Network’s Mallika Singh, who has also taken a board seat in the company.

In another transaction, Omidyar Network has provided a three-year grant of $950,000 to Bangalore-based public charitable trust Akshara Foundation. Akshara develops and administers multiple programmes in Karnataka to improve literacy and numeracy of pre-school and K-7 students.

Its programmes include targeting the students struggling with reading and mathematics and guiding them to a network of school and community-based libraries to encourage reading habit. It has also developed a technology platform called Karnataka Learning Partnership that enables parents, teachers, officials and the community to ensure that schools and the learning process in general become better than before.

“One of the many impressive aspects of Akshara is its philosophy of community ownership and community-driven solutions to address the challenges faced by the education system in Karnataka. We believe their approach can serve as a model for the entire country,” said Omidyar investment director Surya Mantha.

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