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Solving Problems That Matter

Abheek Anand

How do we realize India’s economic potential? Most answers to this important question are mired in a broad range of opinions. We are currently a $2.1 trillion economy — #7 in the world, and arguably one of the fastest growing. We debate about all the things we can and should be doing, and it is usually from the lens of a sector that needs support — education, infrastructure, agriculture, fiscal policy. A lens that is often ignored is gender parity — how our growth is held back because half of our people are unable to contribute as much as they are capable of. There are of course several reasons why that is the case, and many of these are too complex for us to meaningfully unravel in a short post.

However, it is helpful to quantify the extent of the problem. One recent study tries to estimate how much incremental GDP we can add by bridging the gender divide in labor participation. These numbers are larger than we might think. The research considers the next ten years, and two situations. One is ideal — if we can get to our full potential as measured by the best gender parity seen across the world. Another is more realistic — if we can simply get to as good as our best performing regional peer (for us in India, that peer is Singapore).

Two results in this study are striking. First, of the 95 countries the study analyzed, the largest absolute value of missed growth opportunity because of the gender divide is in India. Secondly, the size of the potential impact is colossal. In the ideal case, bridging the divide will get India an incremental $2.9 trillion in GDP in ten years; in the realistic best-in-region case, it will get us an additional $0.7 trillion in GDP. That is approximately equal to 3–9% annualized nominal growth in our economy just by addressing this problem; at the high end, this is more effective than our most optimistic growth projections as a country. It is a goal worthy of our best minds and our best efforts.

Last year, we came across CueMath, a company with an interesting approach to improving math learning. Manan, the founder, had built a curriculum that helped K8 students learn math more effectively, by focusing on self-paced, adaptive content that helped develop fundamental cognitive thinking. Manan was the classic founder we look for — he’d spent 8 years in education, had a deep and visceral understanding of the system, and was intensely passionate about solving this one problem. What was perhaps even more interesting is his approach to delivering this learning. He had built a network of teachers, most of whom were stay at home mothers, who ran home centers that delivered this content on tablets and worksheets.

Speaking with a few of them convinced us about the transformative impact this program had on their lives. Millions of well educated women in India make the personal choice to stay at home and take care of family. Many have a few hours a day to spare, but are unable to find professionally rewarding opportunities that they can pursue in such a short period of time. CueMath was able to serve that niche perfectly by working with their constraints — by giving their teachers the flexibility to work out of their homes, to use their education to teach neighborhood children, and earn a substantial income without sacrificing their responsibilities to their families. One look at the feedback from hundreds of potential teachers on their Facebook page shows just how deeply this resonates with the potential teachers across India.

We often talk about the numbers around why we invest behind a company. What is revenue like, what are the margin structures, are there network effects, what is defensibility, how are engagement and retention numbers trending? These are all important ways in which we evaluate how large and valuable a business can be. However, it is particularly satisfying when we meet a company that marries strong performance with a mission to solve some of the largest problems faced by our society today. CueMath is tackling two of the biggest ones head on — improving education, and empowering women. Today we are excited to announce that Sequoia has led a series A investment in CueMath. Check out their product and website (http://www.cuemath.com/), and if you know someone who’s passionate about children, teaching, and mathematics, please tell them about it.

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