Educate!'s Founding Story
Educate! started in 2002 when our first founder, Eric Glustrom, an American high school student, visited a refugee camp in the poorest corner of western Uganda. He made a range of contributions at this time – from distributing anti-malarial medicine to filming a documentary – but the act that felt most important and lasting to him was giving a young refugee named Benson a scholarship to go to school. Benson believed with a formal education he could change his life and solve the problems in his community.
Eric came back to the U.S. energized by the opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives in Uganda, sharing Benson’s story and inspiring others to help more youth like him. In Eric’s efforts to grow his impact, he recruited our second founder, Boris Bulayev, during their junior year at Amherst College. Boris was a refugee himself who believed in giving other young people access to the opportunities he had found when he came to the U.S. Together, Eric and Boris traveled to Uganda to visit Benson at school. They were shocked to meet student after student struggling to stay in school because they couldn’t pay their school fees, fending off deadly diseases, growing their own food, and surviving in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Boris and Eric saw the huge opportunity to transform classrooms into training grounds for students to learn to help themselves. By teaching students leadership skills and techniques to start small businesses, students could not only pay their own school fees, but would also have the skills and opportunities necessary to succeed after graduation.
Eric and Boris hired our third founder Angelica Towne to craft this solution. Angie knew firsthand what it meant to be literally saved by youth organizations, growing up in inner city New York. She had graduated from Middlebury College after writing her senior thesis on leadership programs she implemented in Jamaica and the U.S. Angie moved to Uganda, launching the first Educate! Experience model in March of 2009.
2009 was a big year for Educate!: We received funding from Echoing Green, a leading venture philanthropy fund, and won a number of awards. We triumphed over 460 other organizations to win the Quality Education in Africa competition put on by Ashoka Changemakers, placing Educate! among the most innovative new education programs on the African continent. Throughout the year we continued to deliver and refine our model.
Early in 2010, Educate! gained recognition for its innovative model, coming in first place out of over 260 in the Pan African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education. Later that year the biggest testament to our impact to-date arrived when Educate! was asked by the government of Uganda and the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) to incorporate its program into Uganda’s national entrepreneurship curriculum. Educate! became a partner with Uganda’s National Curriculum Development Center and provided insight and advice for the national curriculum.
Throughout 2011 and 2012 we continued to run our Educate Experience! programs, refining our model and proving its effectiveness. In these years Educate!’s leaders received the Empact100 Top Young Entrepreneur Award, the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize, and the Forbes 30 Social Entrepreneurs Under 30 award.
In 2012 the curricula that Educate! advised were officially rolled out through the Ministry of Education in Uganda, reaching more than 50,000 youth annually. In addition, Educate! was a technical advisor to the National Curriculum Development Center as it revised the national exam for its entrepreneurship course. Educate!’s suggestions to make the test less focused on rote memorization were accepted, and the exam now assesses what students actually accomplish through their Student Business Clubs. We see this as an important first step for Uganda in evaluating experience-based learning, and are thrilled to have had the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
In 2012 we also launched our Experience Associations to support schools in delivering Educate!’s experience-based education model on their own. This program helps teachers to teach with more interactive methods, mentor students in school, and give students actual experience starting a business. It also supports administrators in building a welcoming context for the Educate! model and in holding teachers accountable for their commitments to Educate!.