A Quality Education for All

Educate! is exploring several models of financial sustainability to make the organization less dependent on donor funds and enable more youth across Uganda to receive a quality education.  Eric Glustrom, Educate!’s executive director, talks about the progress and steps the organization has taken.

In Uganda, as much of the developing world, 50% of the population is under the age of 18.  The youth of today are faced with growing problems of poverty, violence, disease, and environmental degradation, yet if they want to bring change and create a better future, little infrastructure exists to help turn their ideas into reality.  What is more, the current rote-memorization based education system stifles creativity and passion such that youth graduate and can recite the regions of Germany, but are not prepared to tackle the serious challenges facing their communities.

Educate! is working to develop a new model of education that capitalizes on the huge, untapped potential of youth to become not part of the problem, but the solution itself.  The curriculum is focused on the skills and experience students need to find solutions to poverty, violence, disease, and environmental degradation.  The teachers are mentors who build powerful relationships that give youth confidence to lead change.  And the classroom is the community itself where the Educate! students find solutions, work for the rights of all, and contribute to the social and economic development of their country. 

Today, Educate! is working with 415 high-school aged youth across Uganda, and developing a model of education that can be applied universally.

True Education in Action – Esther Nakiirya, Educate!’s Mentor in the Mbale region, speaks with Kenneth, an Educate! Scholar at Mbale High School. Educate! believes that the learning and confidence we see our Scholars develop and apply in their communities, stem from the powerful relationships that are built with their Mentors. With Esther’s support and teachings, the Mbale High School Scholars have started several initiatives including a successful landscaping business, which has found large scale customers in their community.

Yet a new model of education that is accessible to only a select few is not enough.  We must also find a way to make a quality education accessible to youth of all backgrounds, such that social responsibility can be built on every level, and across diverse sectors of society.  Providing a scholarship to every student in Uganda who is currently out of school would cost approximately $700,000,000 annually, more than twice the total budget of the World Bank and USAID in Uganda.  This figure will only increase as the population grows.  Thus, in addition to a new model of education, we also need a new model of financing education that does not limit a quality education to a select few, but rather makes a quality education accessible for all youth.  Such a model of financing must be more sustainable, and less donor-driven.

There is a wonderful organization called Teach a Man to Fish which has developed a model of education that actually pays for itself through student run businesses and other creative methods.  An innovative organization called PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools) is exploring ways to make private education affordable and therefore accessible to even the poorest of the poor.  These are just two examples of organizations developing financially sustainable models that have the potential to greatly increase the accessibility of a quality education.  Educate! hopes to contribute to this effort and is currently exploring two primary areas of financial sustainability:

  1. Using aspects of the curriculum and model to generate income – best exemplified by the revenue-generating teacher training program launched this year which serves to both select Educate!’s 2010 team of Mentors and create a force of well-trained teachers to enter established schools across the country.  Applicants pay approximately $150 to go through the six-week, intensive training (a few need based scholarships are offered).  While Educate! explores other avenues in this category, we will continue to keep the curriculum “copylefted,” or in other words freely available to interested organizations, schools, and governments around the world.
  2. Scholar tuition fees – Educate! keeps the costs of the education we provide low by 1. Partnering with established high schools to take advantage of the infrastructure that already exists, and 2. Teaching only a curriculum directly relevant to the challenges and opportunities students face after graduation, rather than the myriad and oftentimes irrelevant subjects offered in many schools in Uganda.  The possibility exists to help finance the education we provide through tuition fees based on a sliding scale that is dependent on family income, while still offering a significant number of merit based scholarships – a model similar to the financial aid systems created by many private universities in the developed world.  It would be Educate!’s goal to bring the same bold commitment offered by Amherst College – where any student that is accepted through a need-blind process is guaranteed to be able to afford the education with financial aid, and graduate with no loans – to students of all backgrounds across Uganda.  

The teacher training and other revenue generating activities Educate! is working on will bring in approximately 1-3% of our revenue in 2009.  Although a small number, this is a big step for the organization, and we will be looking to increase this number significantly in the years to come.  In five years, financing for Educate! will probably come from a mix of sources, but the goal will remain the same: to find a mechanism of financing that can provide a quality education for all, and in doing so bring up the next generation of socially responsible leaders across diverse sectors of society.

There is another benefit to increasing the financial sustainability of Educate!: Last year Lawrence Senyondo and Kenneth Bahindura – two pilot Educate! Scholars at St. Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) who created an innovative social enterprise pig-keeping business that pays for schools fees of children in their community – approached me with a concern: “Educate! encourages us to create innovative, financially sustainable initiatives that will create long-lasting benefits for our community, without being dependent on foreign aid.  And we love Educate! for the experience and knowledge we have gained,” they explained.  “But we are concerned that Educate! itself is completely dependent on donations, and what will happen if those donations go away?”  Lawrence and Kenneth’s words have stayed with me, and their insight and success in their community inform much of our work today.  Like Lawrence and Kenneth expressed, as Educate! becomes more financially sustainable we will also be modeling what we teach. 


Educate! Scholars at St. Mary’s College Kisubi (SMACK) – Lawrence Senyondo (center) and Kenneth Bahindura (right) along with their fellow Scholar Nixon pictured in their school compound. Lawrence and Kenneth’s insight has helped encourage Educate! to explore areas of financial sustainability and therefore model the type of sustainable social venture we encourage our students to create.

As we follow Lawrence and Kenneth’s advice, we greatly appreciate the generosity of the individuals, groups, and foundations that give Educate! the ability to both build a model of education to empower the next generation of socially responsible leaders and explore methods of financial sustainability to make that model of education accessible to all.