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Project DEFY: Design Education for Yourself

How can you build a community culture of self learning?

At Project DEFY the mission is simple- to bring back education into the hands of people. Agency led and community based learning happens using ICT as a tool and not the end all. There is no hierarchy, no teachers, just the free choice based environment where each learner designs his/her own education, while within a community context and influence. Individuals create their own life paths.

HundrED 2022


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2022

HundrED 2021

HundrED 2020

HundrED 2019

HundrED 2018

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Target group
August 2023
We do not want education to be merely a transfer of instruction. Education is a much more interesting process of self-discovery and understanding of local and global surroundings. We want to make education a playground of curiosity, collaboration, fun and, most importantly, community building. The process of learning should be to build confidence and faith in oneself and not demean self-worth.

About the innovation

What is Project DEFY?

India and other developing nations struggle with high rates of teacher absence and student dropouts in rural schools. Addressing this means finding ways to educate young people without the aid of government officials and teachers.

We also need to explore different learning systems that allow people to learn for themselves - with the internet at our fingertips, it's time to see what we can master.

This becomes all the more important in communities that experience marginalization. Marginalization, in effect, reduces not only the opportunities wemay access, but also the confidence in doing so. Choices and the capacity to make choices are both attacked, and hence, we see looping cycles of social problems, from child labour to women being denied access to education and work.

Simply presenting more opportunities seems to have a limited effect, when work is not put into allowing the individuals to build their capacity to understand what they like and the life they would like to build. These opportunities currently providedbecome further cycles of limited options, which tend to deplete after a point.

For a community to escape its marginalisation, it needs space and time. It needs some resources to play with and explore. It needs sources of information and people around to support, in an attempt to build their lives together.

At Project DEFY: Design Education for Yourself, the mission is to change the way people think and ignite individual passions so students can believe in their abilities to educate themselves, others and their communities.

With a computer at hand, the community customizes a makerspace that fits their own requirements, and develops its own learning space, called a Nook. Projects can be anything - artistic, technical, or other - to fit each learner's own learning interests and experience.

Learners use the internet as their guidebook for learning. At the Nook, all ideas and information are shared and can be further developed by the community, which in turn can find ways to boost their economy.

Everyone can learn and contribute, meaning all community members can adopt both the role of the teacher and the learner. There are no set roles or hierarchies. As such, this creates a pure democracy system, where each learner designs his/her own education, while within a community context and influence.

Nooks are not the final educational destination. They play the role of providing the space and time, and some resources to help people to try and understand what interests them and what their needs are. Students build skills they are most passionate about and pursue knowledge that most interest them. Students try and fail and try again, without fear of judgment. Finally, students develop the confidence they need to make and pursue their choices. In essence, they learn “How to Learn”, and are supported by others doing the same thing.

Project DEFY is hacking the system from outside as well as within by partnering with organisations to build self-learning spaces within schools and universities too.


We are currently impacting more than 15000 learners.


So far there are Nooks 29, 3 Nook Hub and 6 learning spaces inside universities across 5 countries. DEFY has been able to integrate the model with a state government in India demonstrating system-level integration that is key in achieving scale. Having partnered with several grassroots organisations DEFY is looking to scale through partnerships and integrating the model into different national governments.

Impact report:

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Project DEFY is sparking creativity in underserved communities by creating NOOKS to improve education. A NOOK is a physical space (500-1000 sq ft) with working electricity and water is required. Equipment needed includes: Laptops, Internet and building tools (hammers, arduinos, etc.). With an ideal budget of $500 in the hands of the community of users, this initiative can scale.

HundrED Academy Reviews

This project is completely driven by learners curiosity and imagination. The community-focus also strengthens networks. It provides a safe space to explore new, meaningful concepts and projects to truly transform individual learning.

Wonderful mission to change the way people think and ignite individual passions so students can believe in their abilities to educate themselves, others and their communities.

- Academy member
Academy review results
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Building partnerships: Prework
Once a partner or an individual gets in touch with us in email or by filling the form we follow the process below.
Partner tells us everything about the community and why they think a Nook is what it needs?
The inviting partner raises funds that will be necessary to create the Nook and to run it for at least 3 year . Project DEFY then sign an MoU, where they accept the role of assisting the host from end to end, in creating a Nook that would be independently run by the community users.
Partnership building and Community introduction.
In this phase, we try to understand in depth about the issues of the community and try to listen to their stories. We also talk about the Nook and ask them what they would use it for. It is also the time for arranging for the physical space, purchasing materials and tools, etc. to make the community and space ready for the nook.
Nook Setup, Induction and Cycle 1. In this phase a DEFY team member will arrive at the location and stay for a month, conducting the induction program, to introduce self-learning and self-governance. It is also an important training phase for the first Admin of the Nook.
A learning culture, early impact and Cycle 2. The DEFY team member will return. From this point until the end of the project, another DEFY team member will stay in constant touch with the Admin and the community, and help the learner progress forward and create their own learnings. This period will involve a lot of learnings for the Admin.
Connect with the world, maintain the learning routine and culture. This will be a repetition of the cycle and a way for the community to practice using and managing the space. We will now take a smaller role and help only when challenges come, and let the community lead
Community takeover. DEFY will step out of the project, ensuring that the community completely owns the Nook and is able to manage it, and will not need any help from DEFY anymore.

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