What We Have Learned From Our First Year In Northern Uganda


Just over a year ago, 38 Educate! Mentors taught their first Skills Course in over 90 schools across Northern Uganda. We had been preparing for months. Northern Uganda is a unique and challenging region – it is the most impoverished in Uganda, and has high poverty and youth unemployment rates, low economic development, and very limited access to basic services. Launching in Northern Uganda meant delivering our program to youth who need it most, so we had to make sure we did it right.  Our goal was to maintain the same quality of our program as we scaled into more challenging conditions, so we did our homework, hired the best, and launched operations in February of 2016. Now, with a year under our belt and nearly 4,000 Scholars graduating from the region this spring, we’ve learned a few valuable lessons that have strengthened our operations and impact.

Managing Our Program Across Big Distances

Unlike the Central and Eastern regions of Uganda, the North is vast, with greater distances between schools and unreliable infrastructure. Mentors in the region must spend much more time to traveling to schools than their counterparts in other regions of the country, leaving less time for them to juggle other responsibilities. Youth Leaders, who rely on cellular networks to transmit monitoring data from the field to our database, found they were unable to report on time because of the unreliable network.

To address the challenges caused by the remote and rural landscape, we made the following programmatic adjustments:

  • We grouped schools by area so that staff can plan visits to more than one school at a time and stay in each school grouping area for several days.
  • We based our Northern Region Program Coordinator in the field instead of at our Kampala office like the other Coordinators. This helped the Coordinator to monitor the program more directly and resulted in high performance from our staff and schools. Since this was so successful, we decided to shift our Eastern Region Program Coordinator into the field as well. This lesson learned has the potential to improve our program across the country.

Overcoming Unique Regional Differences

As the school year started, we learned about challenges from our Mentors that were unique to delivering the program in Northern Uganda. Specifically, mentors reported:

  • Lower literacy levels in Northern Uganda, which made it harder to explain concepts to their Scholars. To address this challenges, we asked Mentors to break down words and definitions in the lessons to make them more accessible, and to have Scholars read materials and case studies in class instead of at home to improve their comprehension of the concepts.

  • Student attendance had dipped below our target, largely due to obligations at home which prevented girls from attending Skills Courses. Mentors now work with school administrations to identify optimal lesson times during the school day that allow all students to attend regularly.

Due to the challenges specific to this region, in addition to regular meetings, we also planned special trainings for our Mentors in the North to talk with them about the challenges they were facing, and motivate them in overcoming them.

Adapting for Scale

We’ve learned important lessons from adapting our program to fit the impoverished, rural context in Northern Uganda. We’re proud to share that our monitoring statistics remained consistent with other regions, demonstrating we were successful in implementing a program of equal quality, despite the challenges of operating in Uganda’s most impoverished area. These lessons will be a valuable part of our future scaling strategy in Uganda, as we gear up for another big expansion into Western and Southern Uganda next year – a crucial step towards our goal for full scale - to be in 1,000 schools across six regions in Uganda. 


Building an Expertise in Gender

Today marks International Women’s Day, when women and men across the globe come together to celebrate women’s achievements and to advocate for continued opportunity.

At Educate!, we believe opportunity is only possible when youth have access to an education that prepares them for life after graduation. This basic right is one that alludes tens of millions youth around the globe and is a particularly significant challenge for girls.

Educate!'s Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action

We're proud to announce that Educate! has been recognized at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting.  

Our new commitment affirms our intention to continue scaling our proven experienced-based education model to 550 schools and more than 190,000 students in Uganda by the end of 2018, while also preparing to expand to an additional African country in 2019.  This new Commitment aligns with our Vision for 2024 to impact one million youth annually across Sub-Saharan Africa, empowering them with the skills they need to solve poverty for themselves and their communities.

Bill Gates Mentions Educate! in Speech at Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture

We're honored to share that Educate! was cited by Bill Gates in his speech for the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa.

In his moving speech Mr. Gates said:  "A good education is the best lever we have for giving every young person a chance to make the most of their lives. In Africa, as in the U.S., we need new thinking and new educational tools to make sure that a high-quality education is available to every single child. In Uganda, young innovators at an NGO called Educate! are helping high schools prepare young people for the workplace by teaching students how to start their own business."

The Brookings Institution Publishes In-depth Educate! Case Study

Recently released as a continuation of the Millions Learning project, the new Millions Learning case studies provide an in-depth look at 12 of the programs and policies explored in the report. Educate!'s case study highlights the most important lessons learned from the Brookings Institution's exploration of our organization. Specifically, Educate! is noted for our strategy of designing for massive scale from the start, our deep commitment to rigorous monitoring and evaluation, and our high-level partnerships with Ministries of Education to reform entire education systems. 

Scaling So Millions Learn: Educate! Highlighted in New Brookings Report

Educate! is featured in a new industry-defining report from the Brookings Center for Universal EducationMillions Learning seeks to understand the crucial factors driving major improvements in educational outcomes around the world, distilling lessons learned from case studies of Educate!, Pratham, Room to Read, Sesame Workshop, and other leading organizations. The Millions Learning project specifically focuses on education innovations that can be implemented efficiently, effectively, and sustainably on a large scale. Out of over 100 potential cases, Educate! was chosen as one of only 14 solutions to become a detailed case study for the Millions Learning report.

Educate! Launches in Rwanda

Educate! Launches in Rwanda

Educate! is thrilled to announce a monumental opportunity to reach more youth than ever before. This year we are launching in our second country: Rwanda. Through our education reform efforts, we will impact the education of every secondary student across the nation-- that’s 215,000 youth annually. This expansion is a major milestone toward sustainably impacting youth livelihoods through education systems change.

Educate! Director of Policy and Partnerships to Present at CIES Conference

This month, Educate!’s Director of Policy and Partnerships, Maggie Appleton, is attending the 60th Annual Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Conference. The CIES conference is the premier global education event, focusing on fostering cross-cultural understanding, scholarship, academic achievement, and societal development to address education policy and implementation issues in developing countries.

Entrepreneurship Training Works: Evidence from S4YE Report

An important report from Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) details how the odds are stacked against youth around the world, and includes several mentions of Educate!'s proven solution!

Did you know that in the next 10 years over 1 billion young people will enter the global job market? There are a record number of young people alive today—nearly 1.8 billion – and 85 percent of these young people live in developing and emerging economies and fragile states. Nearly one third of these young people are not in school, employment, or training.

The Global Innovation Fund Selects Educate! as an Inaugural Investment

We are excited to share that Educate! was selected as one of the Global Innovation Fund’s inaugural investments.

The Global Innovation Fund (GIF) is a new fund backed by the US Agency for International Development, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, Omidyar Network and other industry leaders. Educate! was one of only eight organizations selected out of over 2,000 applications as an inaugural investment.

How I Launched Two Businesses and Put Myself Through University

All my life, I had admired accountants and wished to be like them one day. But after graduating from high school, I had lost hope that I could go to university to continue with my studies because I couldn’t pay the school fees. My dad told me he could not manage to pay millions of shillings every semester. Despite this, I was determined to achieve my dream, so I searched for a job that would allow me to save for university. I believed that with education I could move mountains.

Reaching Uganda’s Most Impoverished Youth in 2016

Next month, Educate! will launch our program expansion in Northern Uganda. This post-conflict area is the most impoverished region of Uganda – the poverty rate, at 43.7%, is nearly twice as high as the next-poorest region of Uganda, and more than two times the national average. After 23 years of conflict, two million people in Northern Uganda were uprooted from their homes and over 20,000 youth were abducted.

Educate! Accepts WISE Award at Education Summit in Doha

Last week, Educate!’s co-founders-- Executive Director Boris Bulayev and Global Director of Programs Angelica Towne-- were in Doha, Qatar accepting the 2015 WISE Award, the pre-eminent global education award.

Educate! is a 2015 WISE Award Winner, and Boris and Angelica had the opportunity to present Educate!’s award-winning model to Summit attendees, as well as participate in a panel on the importance of skills-based education for youth and how to prepare a generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.