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CSF’s grant-making program for non-profit organisations in K-12 education


India’s school education system is the largest in the world, with 260 million children, 1.5 million schools, and 8.5 million teachers. Between 1990 and 2010, the government expenditure on education increased 15 times. Yet, increased inputs and access have not led to improvements in learning outcomes. Proportion of 5th grade children who could read a 2nd grade text dropped from 59% in 2007 to 48% in 2016 and National Achievement Survey scores for Maths and Language reduced between 2012 and 2015 in 25 states.

However, the focus is slowly shifting towards quality, and governments are paying more attention to learning outcomes. Innovative models are being developed for low-income settings. A few state governments are focusing on holistic education reform, and a large amount of philanthropic funding is now directed towards education. While these efforts are promising, there is still a long way to go. There is a clear need for knowledge-sharing, innovation, and amplification of current initiatives to ensure that all children are learning well.

At Central Square Foundation, we believe that the effort to reform India’s school education system and reorient it to quality learning will have to be led by distinctive organisations. It is a huge task and it will take passionate and dedicated partners who are focused on generating scalable and sustainable solutions for the high-need low income segment. We seek to support and nurture early to mid-stage non-profits solving critical issues in K-12 education. To this end, we have launched EduStart - an accelerator for non-profits in education, offering access to early-stage capital as well as strategic support.

As a non-profit venture philanthropy, CSF has funded over 40 organisations, working on innovative theories of change. Below are some examples of organisations that we fund:

Our Selection Criteria

We aim to create an ecosystem of partners who can make the promise of enabling and leading this collaboration towards making meaningful impact. We look for the following in each organisation that we support:

Early to mid stage

We fund organisations in their early stage of developing effective solutions to dramatically improve student learning. We aim to support organisations where our limited investment will have valuable impact on the organisations’ capacity to deliver effectively and will set them up for success. Thus, at the time of investment, our grantees typically range from just the idea stage to upto 3 years old with focus on building their organisational capacity.

Non-profit focused on low-income education ecosystem

We work with non-profits who focus on students from underserved communities. To that end, we partner with organisations which either aim to improve the government school systems in India or serve the affordable private school systems through their solutions.

Strong entrepreneur and team

We realise that in the early stages of an organisation, the idea and programmes go through several iterations. Therefore, we focus disproportionately on the the strength and capability of the team to navigate ambiguity and build a successful organisation. We look for people who are mission-driven and passionate, bring the right technical and organisation building skills, and have a strong learning mindset.

Evidence-backed hypothesis

We look for strong evidence of impact in terms of student learning (or other relevant outcomes) in our grantees’ theory of change. We evaluate the different models based on the global research evidence as well as monitoring and evaluation data from the specific organisation’s programme (if available).


We are seeking organisations that bring new, distinctive ideas or approaches to improve the quality of learning. These could be completely new innovations or fundamentally new areas of work, or these could even be improved ways of delivering existing solutions through innovative approaches and tweaks.


To reach our goal of catalysing an excellent education for every child in India, we look for models which can be scaled to millions across the country. To this end, we partner with organisations aspiring to expand their impact significantly by growing themselves and by collaborating with others stakeholders. This involves building scalable, replicable systems and processes and knowledge sharing with the ecosystem.


Technology backed solutions have the capacity to scale very rapidly in a sustainable way. We don’t only fund tech-based solutions but we are actively looking to support organisations that leverage the power of technology to streamline their systems and processes enabling fast growth and efficient execution.


We aim for our grantee organisations to become financially sustainable as they scale. We partner with organisations with a plan and capability for achieving sustainability through funds from other philanthropies, CSR or other donors, by leveraging public funding or by generating revenue from clients.

Some of the examples of our grantees and how they fulfill our criteria are as below.     

Our Focus Areas

CSF's strategy is aimed at identifying the gaps in the ecosystem and then, supporting the organisations which have the potential to fill those gaps successfully. Our current areas of focus are:

Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) and Early Childhood Education (ECE):

To ensure that all children achieve foundational literacy and numeracy by primary school (K-5), we hope to support organisations with effective tools and programmes to drive ECE and FLN in high-need classrooms.

Ed-tech for K-8:

Within the broader umbrella of tools and programmes for learning, a key focus area for CSF is technology-based solutions, including solutions for both primary and upper-primary levels. These could be personalised learning models, digital classrooms or even technology-based teacher-facing models.

Public systems delivery:

To ensure delivery of effective solutions at the state-level, we aim to support organisations that can strengthen and streamline implementation capabilities of state systems. This could include strengthening state-level agencies and departments, building capacity of officials, or streamlining key processes from textbook delivery to accountability.


Some other areas of interest for us include School-to-Work transition and Services for affordable private schools.

However, in no way do we limit ourselves to the above mentioned areas. We are also open to other innovative models in education, driving improvement in learning outcomes, as long as they qualify the criteria laid down for our portfolio organisations.

The Edustart Advantage

At CSF, we invest deeply in our grantee partners to build strong, mission-driven organisations creating real impact in the ecosystem. We aim to forge long-term partnerships, with comprehensive, customised support for each stage to help our grantees achieve their goals.

Financial support:

CSF provides unrestricted/non-programmatic funding support to grantees for overall organisational development. The support is typically for a duration of one year, renewable based on review. We fund our grantees in 3 stages:

  1. Incubation Stage (EdCelerate): INR 8 Lakh - INR 20 Lakh per year
  2. Acceleration Stage (EdVenture): INR 20 - 70 Lakh per year
  3. Growth Stage (Growth - Given only to existing grantees): INR 70+ Lakh per year

Strategic and Operational Support:

At CSF, we provide extensive, need based support and value added services to our grantee organisations. Key areas of support include:
Solution, Strategy, Scale, Systems for learning, Structures, Sustainability, Staff and Skills, Stakeholder Engagement

Ecosystem support and Mentorship:

Through our vast networks, we provide access to relevant experts and mentors, potential partner and service-provider organisations, the government and in select cases, fundraising opportunities to our grantee organisations.

Responsible exit:

We assume responsibility for making a responsible exit from grantee organisations. From inception, we work with organisations to establish clear benchmarks that incrementally reduce their dependence on our support and help them identify resources to grow independently beyond our direct involvement.

How to Apply?

We want to work with people who are passionate, committed to the education sector and want to push the boundaries of what’s possible. It doesn’t matter if you are already running an organisation or just have an idea in your mind. If you believe strongly that every child deserves and can achieve excellent education, we would like to support your venture.

We accept applications throughout the year, but also watch out for targeted cohorts that we run from time to time.

  • If you are an entrepreneur with just an initial idea (as long as you are willing to take the plunge full-time),
  • If you are an organisation which has already hit the ground running (even if you are a one woman army running few pilots, and are yet to register),

Selection Process

Application Stage (2 weeks)

  • Initial shortlisting happens through a rigorous selection process within two weeks of application. Applicants might receive a call by our team for queries.

Due Diligence Stage (5 weeks)

  • Selected applications are invited to submit detailed proposals.
  • Proposals are evaluated by relevant teams at CSF within three weeks after the submission. Our team might ask for a visit to learn more about your organisation.

Selection Stage (4 weeks)

  • Organisations with selected proposals are asked to work with relevant teams at CSF for 2-3 weeks to prepare a pitch.
  • Final pitches presented to the CSF’s Investment Committee.

Total process is completed within 3 months of the application.

Have Questions? Connect with us.

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