The quarantine was only supposed to last a couple of weeks. We thought it was just an early Spring Break. But as the days and weeks dragged on, quarantine became the new normal, and the world embraced distance learning. Teachers and students alike found themselves scrambling to make up for lost time. Teachers had to cram several weeks’ worth of lessons into foggy student brains that were struggling to remember what they learned four weeks ago.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Pabari.
Raj Pabari is a social entrepreneur who believes every venture is an opportunity to serve a broader purpose. He’s a driven, inquisitive, outgoing self-starter with a passion for learning and inventing. Pabari finds unique solutions to real-world problems and has innovated in various fields including portable charging, peer-to-peer tutoring, biotechnology, online education, and water leak detectors. His interests include FRC robotics (The Agency 3021), debate (Classical MP in Policy Debate), trivia (Academic League), investment (Young Investors Club), and programming (USACO). When he’s not thinking about the next billion-dollar idea, you’ll find him playing chess, caring for foster kittens, or laughing with friends.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Born and raised in southern California, I’ve been brought up in a place where going to the beach is a weekly affair and rainy days are considered terrible weather.
I caught the entrepreneurship bug when I was ten years old. My first “company” was called iTutor and I taught senior citizens how to use their Apple devices. I identified a gap in the market, shared my skills, and earned $20 on my first day. I’ve been hooked ever since.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
My organization, TutorsForGood.com, provides affordable peer-to-peer tutoring for students around the world. At a time when students struggle to get individualized help from teachers, Tutors For Good fills a critically important gap in distance learning. My goal in offering free tutoring sessions is to give back to the community. Families should not be forced to pay high prices for their students to get the 1:1 help they need, especially during this unforeseen pandemic.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Whether as an unofficial tutor or as a tutor for hire, I’ve always been the one people turn to for homework help. I’ve often helped my carpool friends cram for tests on the way to school. I’ve also tutored students through the traditional model of going to their homes, sitting at the kitchen table, and poring over problems from a textbook.
When quarantine hit, face-to-face interactions stopped abruptly, but the need for help became more pressing than ever. Students suddenly found themselves at home fending for themselves, often with no one who could help or understand what they’re going through.
Being a charter school student, I have been immersed in various forms of distance learning for over a decade. For some, it can be difficult to adjust to learning independently without face-to-face time with friends or teachers. I want to be that friendly face that students can turn to for homework help, test prep, and other things.
I founded Tutors For Good during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020 to help students get the academic help they need during distance learning.
I also realize that there are many talented students out there who would love to share their skills. I invite them to join Tutors For Good and teach others. It’s a win-win — students teaching and learning from one another in a supportive online community.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Quarantine was only supposed to last a couple of weeks. We thought it was just an early Spring Break. But as the days and weeks dragged on, quarantine became the new normal, and the world embraced distance learning. Teachers and students alike found themselves scrambling to make up for lost time. Teachers had to cram several weeks’ worth of lessons into foggy student brains that were struggling to remember what they learned four weeks ago.
To cope with this, my classmates started informal chat groups to help each other with their assignments. I tried to help students much in the same way as I would in-person. However, it was very challenging. It’s nearly impossible to type math equations and Greek symbols into a text. I even tried scribbling formulas on paper and posting a photo. This only led to more frustration and many students were ready to just give up. I knew there had to be a better way, and that’s when I stepped up to the plate and launched Tutors For Good.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
In my mind, businesses need to be able to scale and adapt over the long run to be truly sustainable. When I created Tutors For Good, I thought that we’d be returning to school after Spring Break. But I still wanted to launch it because I believed in the idea and mission. I incorporated automation into my operations so that when the tutors and I return to school full time, the business would mostly run itself.
Given the nature of offering a schedule-based service, I needed to find a way to handle bookings virtually. The most popular solutions include handling them through email, Google Forms, or booking directly on a calendar. Provided with so many options, I spent some long hours weighing the pros and cons of each. The scheduler that I decided on was actually none of the ones I considered initially. I chose a new platform that few companies use but seemed to meet all of my needs. This exercise taught me the value of doing original research and thinking outside of the box to find solutions.
I use an automated booking platform, automated email reminders, and automated scheduler so that many things can happen without having to wait on me. Designing the website with FAQs and making it clear how to book sessions or join the team was another way for me to streamline my processes. I still receive and respond to many emails, but by automating many of the administrative functions, I have more time to pay attention to quality assurance and recruiting/retaining customers and tutors.
Aside from designing a platform that leverages automation, I’ve also taken steps to ensure that this idea is viable after the pandemic is over. My business was designed to function during quarantine, which is the opposite of most businesses that existed before the pandemic. While most businesses scramble to pivot under extreme restrictions and are counting the days until they can go back to “normal,” I am spending time planning how to retain students once they return to traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
I firmly believe that Tutors For Good will continue to thrive even after quarantine is lifted because the model is flexible and convenient for both students and tutors. Tutors are able to set their schedules and students are able to book sessions from any device which makes it convenient for all. I am offering free tutoring sessions for all at the moment. As Tutors For Good continues to grow, I am looking for sponsors and donors to underwrite our free sessions so that we can continue providing them in the future.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I founded this company to help struggling students succeed in distance learning. An interesting by-product is meeting like-minded students who wish to share their skills and make a positive impact. I know that it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: a perk of running a service-oriented company is that I get to work with some really great people.
My tutors are a group of dedicated people who genuinely care about making a difference. Before I onboard a tutor, I ask them to prepare a 5–10 minute lesson and teach it to me as if I was a student. I let them choose any topic they wish. My intent is to put them in their comfort zone and let them practice tutoring in a low-pressure setting.
And I have certainly encountered a wide range of comfort zones. I’ve learned about calculus, common essay mistakes, and even the rules of cricket through these micro-lessons. Some tutors prepare by presenting slides, others by practicing their lesson on their families, and others speak from the heart. It’s interesting to watch them come alive as they share about something that they’re passionate about. It’s really touching to see so many selfless students volunteer to help others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Note to self: when starting a global organization, time zones matter!
I learned this lesson about a week into going live. A student booked a math session starting that was scheduled for “4:30 PM.” I showed up at 4:30 PM Pacific Standard Time, with no student to be found.
After five minutes, I emailed this student gently reminding her of our session. She replied that she showed up two hours earlier and was wondering where I was! Turns out she was in Texas and thought she booked a session for 4:30 PM Central Standard Time. Fortunately, we were able to reschedule, and since then my messaging has been much more explicit in regards to time zones.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My parents are my biggest cheerleaders and I’ve turned to them for guidance throughout my journey. One example of this was the backend process of writing a contract for my tutors to sign. I knew that I needed something in place, but I had many questions. Could I make it a virtual form? How should I format it? How specific should I be? What if something changes in the future?
I was drowning in this sea of questions, so as usual, I turned to Google. Sadly, it was not as useful to me in this scenario as it had been in others. Instead of having my questions cleared up, I was buried in legalese and was even more confused!
Naturally, my next place to turn was to my parents. My mom has a legal background, and my father has started a few companies of his own, so I consulted them. They were glad to help me by giving me pointers and collaborating with me on the wording of the form. Like many other nights, we ended up springboarding into broader discussions about my visions for Tutors For Good. We figured out the simplest, most direct way to distribute the form to prospective tutors and made it very robust to account for many possible scenarios.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One student came to Tutors For Good for help understanding probability. This student had transferred schools in March, just before quarantine started, and was really struggling with the adjustment to distance learning. Not only did he have a boatload of difficult coursework to catch up on, but he also struggled to make new friends in the virtual environment. After I worked with him over many tutoring sessions, he got through that difficult chapter in math with excellent grades and understanding. I helped him get a conceptual grasp of probability with the use of graphs, intuition, and formulas. The peer-to-peer aspect of Tutors For Good was really powerful here — it gave him someone to talk to and work out the problems with while still having a good time.
Tutors For Good was actually so useful for him that he ended up requesting other tutors in subsequent weeks for help in Spanish and English. I’m really happy that our breadth of subjects is able to help all types of students, no matter their academic strengths or weaknesses.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Absolutely! In my eyes, the root of the problem stems from primary and secondary school curriculum, and various changes can be implemented to improve the educational landscape. My suggestions come from the flexible, personalized education that I have enjoyed as a lifelong charter school student.
1] Individualized education — it’s time to throw out the tired old worksheets and give students the opportunity to shine by allowing them to choose how they demonstrate understanding. This allows students with different learning styles to excel in their own way instead of trying to morph all students into the same mold. For example, instead of requiring every student to turn in a 1000 word book report, why not allow them to show what they know through an original song, a filmed book report, or by writing an alternate ending or epilogue?
2] Experiential learning — reinforce content learned in class with experiences such as field trips and experiments. This will allow content to really stick for students. Though it seems difficult to foster interaction in a virtual environment, teachers should engage their students by incorporating virtual field trips, asynchronous labs, and hands-on assignments into their content. This could be achieved by finding experiments that use everyday household items (remember those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes?) or taking virtual field trips (many museums including the Smithsonian, Louvre, and Guggenheim offer virtual tours).
3] Project-based learning — some teachers may find the most practical way to take advantage of distance learning is by implementing project-based curriculum. Project-based learning replaces homework with a group project through which students apply the lessons they learn in class. It’s very rewarding for students to get behind an idea and for them to see how they can apply what they learn in class to real life. Project-based learning has been successfully implemented in many schools across the country and more schools should follow suit.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1] Perfection is the enemy of progress — I wanted to provide students the best experience possible. This perfection paralysis almost stopped me from getting Tutors For Good off the ground. But there were students out there who needed my help. They didn’t care how polished my website looked, as long as I could get them through their tests and assignments. They kickstarted me into action, and looking back, launching early was 100% the right choice.
2] Build a scalable model — I started off handling all the administrative tasks manually. Though I was able to manage it initially, I quickly ran out of bandwidth to both cope with demand in a reasonable time frame and get enough sleep! Starting with the idea that I could receive 100 emails a day would have pushed me to incorporate automation sooner than I did.
3] Don’t lose sight of the big picture — it’s easy to have tunnel vision and spend all of your focus on one tiny thing. I’ve done it many times — after a long day of tinkering with the website or responding to emails nonstop, I’ve been completely wiped out. But, whenever I get to connect with a student and watch as a concept clicks, I am reminded about the impact we’re making and I am ready to work even harder.
4] Simplicity is key — even with the best of intentions, overcomplication ensures that you will never be able to make a large social impact. Whether it’s simplicity in the actual service or simplicity in messaging and graphic design, I believe that it’s essential to be clear and to the point.
5] Think outside of the box — just because something has been done a certain way does not mean that it’s the best way to do it in the future. Not only has Tutors For Good reimagined tutoring, we’ve also reengineered the little things to make a bigger impact. If you stick to the script, don’t expect the story to change.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Everyone can give back in some capacity. It doesn’t have to be big — it’s the little things that add up to make the world a better place. The first step isn’t starting a brand-new socially impactful organization, it’s cooking dinner when you don’t have to or grabbing groceries for people who can’t get their own during this pandemic.
When you help others, you help yourself as well. The world is a big place, full of opportunity and awe. Get out of your box and get engaged. It’ll substantially improve your emotional health and make your life more fulfilling.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Burritos are a sacred food where I come from. It would be an honor to sit down at the local burrito shack and throw back a Gigante Burrito with Philipp Dettmer, founder of the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell. Dettmer has mastered the art of presenting complex subjects simply through elegant presentation and animation. An incredible amount of research and time goes into producing his edu-films, but the final product seems effortless. I would love to meet Dettmer to personally thank him for feeding my curiosity and to just talk about some of my favorite Kurzgesagt videos. I’m also curious about how spicy he likes his salsas.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can visit TutorsForGood.com to book tutoring sessions or to pay it forward by joining the team as a tutor. To follow us:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for the opportunity!