"Where do you get outfits for fancy dress competitions in school?” “Is there anyone in the city who offers French tuition?” “Who takes Maths tuition in your area?” “Does my kid attend school properly every day?” Like every parent, 44-year-old B Chandrasekar, a software engineer, encountered these questions every now and then.
Having moved to India in 2005 from USA where he was working with anti-virus company Mcafee, Chandrasekar got his one-and-a-half year old daughter admitted to a playschool. He would drop and pick her up every day. During these daily visits, he would meet several other parents. Soon, the school became his one-stop shop for every information concerning his daughter, such as “who is a good pediatrician?” or “is there a music class nearby?” It wasn't long before an idea struck him: Why not start a website which would connect parents, children and their school?
In 2007, Yokibu.com was born. An online network of parents, Yokibu helps them communicate with one another and with the school. It is a platform for discussion where parents share notes about children’s health, education and behaviour, post articles, book reviews, participate in quizzes and also get expert advice. Subala Ananthanarayanan, principal, Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School in Chennai, says the first time she met Chandrasekar, she understood that “the idea had come out from their own experience and difficulties they faced as parents.”
Today, the school uses Yokibu’s SMS and report card service to connect with parents of around 2,100 students. Report cards, attendance, event updates, and holiday intimations are sent through the site. Anantha-narayanan says this has helped the school save paper and cut cost.
The principal of one of the schools says that they were spending Rs 10 per month per child to issue circulars. Since it started using the Yokibu service, the school has saved around Rs 50,000 a month.
The concept which originated in a playschool now has a network of around 550 schools and half a million parents, mostly from Chennai, though some from Mumbai and Bangalore have also come on board recently. Chandrasekar hopes to take the concept to all the metros. He explains the meaning of the word: “Yokibu” in Indonesian means “mother”. It also refers to “parental”. “Yoke” means “binding” or “connecting.”
Chandrasekar recalls the challenges he faced when he was just building the concept. One of the biggest ones was winning the confidence of schools which were required to share a huge database, with details of students and parents. So, did parents have security concerns about sharing such information? Ramesh, a parent whose son studies in the 10th standard at Alwin Memorial on the outskirts of Chennai, says. “When schools don’t have an issue and trust them, we should too.” Ramesh now tracks his son’s homework, report card, attendance and school updates on his mobile phone.
Yokibu is strict about who gets to join the site. It’s by invitation only and though it’s free for both schools and parents, one can join only if one has a child. “And, only after your information has been verified and authenticated,” adds K Ashok, vice president (business development), Yokibu. Every parent can connect with the 30 other parents in his/her child's class.
The site has proved helpful in times of crisis as well. On the day of the Tsunami scare, April 11, 2012, mobile phone networks were clogged for three hours after the tremors shook the city. It was a Wednesday, a school day. Some parents of students of Chettinad Vidyasharam, one of the biggest schools in the city, used the website to send out messages to parents of over 8,000 students saying, “Children are safe and school transport is on the way.”
While the site does not charge for membership, it makes money by way of advertisements. It sends updates to parents about camps and workshops in the city which are relevant to their child’s age. Yokibu charges a commission from the organisers of the workshops and the parent if this reference translates into business.