• One Education founder and CEO, Rangan Srikhanta (SBS)
A few months ago Rangan Srikhanta's social enterprise, which provides laptops to school kids, was facing some business challenges. The Sri Lankan refugee had to make a desperate call to his manufacturer to strike a one-off deal to save his business.
Hannah Sinclair

SBS Small Business Secrets
15 May 2017 - 9:19 AM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2018 - 12:57 PM

At Ruse Hill Public School in Sydney's west, pens and paper go hand-in-hand with more modern learning tools.

Every child has an identical laptop and high-speed internet access.

The school is one of hundreds that have purchased laptops from Rangan Srikhanta's social enterprise, One Education.

"We enable the teachers to use that technology for the delivery of education in classrooms right across the country," Mr Srikhanta told SBS.

The not-for-profit is an off-shoot of a US charity Mr Srikhanta worked with ten years ago, called One Laptop Per Child.

The idea is that every child has access to technology, closing the digital divide between different socio-economic areas, including kids out-bush.

Teacher training, charging racks and repair services are also provided.

"I think it's really important that kids have the opportunity to use devices for academic purposes," Ruse Hill teacher, Nick de Wilde said.

Community-minded entrepreneurship

Born in Sri Lanka in the middle of a civil war, Mr Srikhanta was two-months-old when his family came to Australia in 1984, with only travelers cheques and the clothes on their back.

The computer science and business graduate says he felt compelled to pursue a less traditional career path.

"It was my father who really instilled this perspective in me that we were a minority in Sri Lanka, but Australia is our home.

"And there's a minority that needs our help and our attention and those were the Indigenous people here who were dispossessed here," he said.

Mr Srikhanta had what he refers to as "beginner's luck," striking sponsorship deals with major banks and Telco companies early on.

The Gillard government provided $11.7 million in funding in 2012, allowing 50,000 laptops to be delivered.

"And then we got to where we are now, where we re-branded and we turned ourselves into a social business as they would say," Mr Srikhanta said.

One Education is no longer funded by the government, instead relying on profit margins from schools that use the program. But changing financial models has been a challenge for the social enterprise.

The new laptops are made in partnership with Microsoft and cost $348 each.

A major flaw in the One Education business model became apparent late last year.

Schools weren't paying until they received the laptops, and the Chinese manufacturer was also requesting upfront payment.

"And so we, this little charity, we were getting squeezed in the middle and the banks weren't able to provide us with working capital, the social finance companies out there weren't game enough to provide us with the working capital," Mr Srikhanta said.

"So I literally just called up the manufacturer and said "I know you've only met us once but would you be willing to give us some credit?" And they said "sure." So it was a case of that old saying, "if you don't ask, you don't get."

After proving himself, Mr Srikhanta now was a $1 million line of credit with his manufacturer.

He also slashed overheads by requiring his employees to work from home instead of a head office, cutting $60,000 from base costs.

Despite the challenges, Mr Srikhanta is convinced he's found his calling, and so are the people who work with him.

"I've got a lot of time for Rangan because he invests his own time into the project," Principal of Ruse Hill Public, Paul McGillicuddy said.

"If we've got questions he'll take our calls and come out to the school on weekends."

One Education hopes to get more schools involved and invested in the program in coming months.

"I found myself passionate about this and I couldn't steer away from it," Mr Srikhanta said.

"I really don't see this as a job, it's a hobby really."

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