We May Be Onto Something...

Educate! President and Co-Founder Boris Bulayev just returned from a one-month visit of Educate!’s programs in Uganda his first visit in more than two years.  He was stunned by the progress on the ground, and here he discusses why he believes Educate! has the promise to grow substantially and unlock the potential of many more young Ugandan men and women.

I came away from my one-month trip to Uganda more inspired than ever.  I had heard much about our program’s progress and success, but I hadn’t fully understood the transformation that has occurred thanks to the hard work of our team in Uganda, led by Country Director Emily Lutyens and Program Director Angelica Towne.

Visiting school after school, I listened to countless stories about students who had started businesses and initiatives to solve problems in their communities.  More than ever before, our students believe that they are the solution to the problems facing their communities.  At just one school, Greenhill College, I met two brothers, Samuel and James, who, over their holiday, made 10,000 bricks and planted 150 banana trees to pay their school fees.  

One of their classmates, Nelson, organized a group of female jewelry makers in his hometown into a cooperative.  He just completed a business plan outlining how they can get greater access to markets for their products.  Nelson’s story was an example of exponential empowerment at its finest. 

As I stopped to process everything I was seeing and hearing, it occurred to me like never before that we have really stumbled onto something. The idea that Educate! could grow – substantially – suddenly became much more real.  The reasons are twofold: the program model we’ve designed, and the results-driven organization we’ve built behind it.

Early Success of Our Program Model

We’ve had several strong validations of our program’s success already, both internally and externally.  Internally, two examples stand out:

  1. 76% of our students have taken on a new leadership role.  To be honest, this statistic didn’t mean very much to me until I went to Uganda and saw that many of the schools’ student officers were Educate! Scholars – though most weren’t before.  Several teachers told me that Educate! Scholars were taking on greater leadership roles in their schools. These teachers told me that they wished more students could benefit from Educate!’s program. 

  2. Educate! Scholars have started 48 community initiatives and 12 business in less than a year.  This is a massive number, and it includes many businesses – like Mbale High’s flower growing business or Royal High’s hair salon – that were started with no seed capital.  But what surprised me, along with the rest of the Educate! team, was how many initiatives, mostly businesses, were created by students during the holiday break after their first year as Educate! Scholars.  The level of leadership exhibited by such young students is inspiring, and has far exceeded our expectations.

Externally, we are seeing increasing interest in adoption of our program model:

  1. AfricAid in Tanzania, another winner of Ashoka Changemakers Quality Education in Africa Award, is using Educate!’s curriculum, and innovating on the model in great ways with girls in Tanzania.  14 other organizations worldwide are using the curriculum as well. 

  2. SOS Children’s Villages, a major international NGO, paid Educate! $1,100 to run a condensed three-week version of our program for 9 of their students.  This might say the most about how far our amazing team has taken our program – someone is willing to pay us for it already!

These internal and external validations helped show me the degree to which our programs have developed in such a short time – it is, after all, just a year and a half since Emily and Angelica first arrived in Uganda.  I can’t wait to see us build on this progress over the next few years. 

A Results and FeedbackDriven Organization

Furthermore, I was thoroughly impressed by the organization and culture put in place by Emily and Angelica.   A few things stood out to me:

  1. Drive for results – One of Educate!’s mentors, Esther, told me that she liked working for Educate! due to our results-driven culture.  Every term, the mentors have clear, measurable goals for their students, and students are evaluated by their success in meeting those goals.

  2. Focus on feedback – Every Monday, the mentors all get together with program support staff and discuss what worked and didn’t work the previous week, and what needs to improve for the following week.  Teachers and administration provide formal feedback every trimester about what can be improved.  Even in the classroom, students discuss what worked and what should be changed at the end of each trimester.  This emphasis on feedback has led to a rapidly evolving, and, more importantly, a much improved program model.

  3. Professional development – Almost all of our mentors told me that they have grown tremendously since joining Educate!.  Why, I asked?  Because Emily and Angelica, as well as great support staff like Maggie Sheahan and Rachel Santos, have put so much energy into their development.  It shows!  The mentors all have great presence and command true respect in their classrooms.  From all I saw, they contribute to the development of the program model every week. 

  4. Dedication of our team - Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I was inspired by the dedication of our staff in Uganda.  Each and every member of our team puts everything they have into their work – from Emily and Angelica, to Maggie and Rachel, our intrepid volunteers, to our 14 amazing mentors, and even our support staff.  For all I knew we were a startup working in the Silicon Valley - everyone passionately works 60+ hours a week - except everyone is making little to no money for all their effort.  They are just transforming the lives of 830 16-18 year old youth in Uganda.

Our vision is to make our program model easily replicable so it can spread and be adopted by schools, NGO’s and eventually governments in other parts of Africa and beyond. These two achievements – a strong, externally validated program model and a results- and feedback-driven culture – show me that we’re firmly on the right track, and that we have a real opportunity to achieve our vision. 

Thanks to everyone who has helped us get here, and to those who will help us continue moving towards where we want to be.