Investing in Africa: Enterprising Education and Microtechnology
When I first sat down to research the Ugandan market, I read a statistic which made me first smile with giddy anticipation and then shiver in trepidation: over 50% of the Ugandan population is under the age of 18. Uganda has a population of over 32 million people. I smiled because that means my field, education, must be a thriving industry; however, as a teacher I know the hazards of fitting such a large a number of youth together into classrooms and the dangers of leaving them out.
I am in the business of Enterprising Education. It is a new field of social entrepreneurs who recognize that the factory-model education we inherited from the 19th century cannot be exported around the world to markets such as Uganda where there are millions of young people living on two dollars a day. The solution is neither more low-quality public schools nor more traditional private schools. The growth is in entirely new models of education enterprises. I am part of a global network of social innovators with solutions on how to educate the world in self-sustainable schools or without classrooms. This method allows students to earn and learn at the same time by using new cost-saving technology such as cell-phones, community-based web portals, and even youtube.com!
My organization, Educate!, is at the forefront of this new wave of Enterprising Education. Educate! unlocks the potential of youth in Africa to combat poverty, disease, and environmental degradation. We provide a proven mix of a social entrepreneurship course, long term mentoring, and an alumni program that empowers high school aged youth to create effective solutions to the most intractable problems facing their communities. Educate! has over 1,000 young people from every major demographic group in Uganda: urban, rural, wealthy, impoverished, etc. The government of Uganda asked Educate! to incorporate our curriculum into the national education system, which will reach 100,000 youth by 2015 and be the first national social entrepreneurship curriculum in the world. This curriculum pilot will also include an extensive randomized impact evaluation. Educate’s core model is exponential empowerment – a long-term investment in youth so they can positively impact and empower many others. Educate! students have directly impacted over 15,000 lives and created thousands of dollars in value for their communities.
Our newest initiative iterates on the Microfinance Institution model by tailoring it to youth (who are not legally permitted to take out loans in Uganda) and to green technology. Educate!’s MicroTechnology Institution (MTI) is a sustainable answer to challenges associated with a small-scale start-up: lack of information and training, inability to absorb R&D costs, lack of access to capital, and most importantly, poor cash-flow management. Instead of loaning young people cash which can be appropriated by parents and caretakers or misused, MTI loans ready-made sets of technology equipment. MTI focuses on appropriate technology such as solar power, energy-efficient stoves, sustainable agriculture, water filtration, etc. First, we train students on the creation, maintenance, and usage of existing development technologies. Then, we give them the tools to organize community based social enterprises. Finally, we open a free space for them to experiment and innovate. It borrows a system for financial sustainability from MFI by operating as a revolving loan program. MTI can thus incubate a new generation of “technopreneurs” in Uganda!
I believe the best investments in Africa are in MicroTechnology and Enterprising Education. The MTI model, similar to the MFI model, has the potential to become a global tool in the fight against global poverty, turning knowledge and potential into concrete social ventures and projects. And, our disparate group of small giants in Enterprising Education needs large numbers of patient capitalists who believe as we do that the future of education is not in financing more classrooms. Educate! has created a model of education: the curriculum is tailored to the skills and experience students need to lead enterprises, the teachers are mentors, and the classroom is the community itself where Educate! students start social businesses.
Educate! student George William Bakka started a microfinance organization at age 19. Most recently, Phiona Ntegeka, also 19, initiated the planting of 20,000 tree seedlings in a heavily deforested area of her community. A young Educate! alumni named Lillian Aero is currently leading a social enterprise with international sales, employing 36 women affected by HIV/AIDS.
Ultimately, isn’t that exactly what we need in Africa– the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs?
So, when you sit down to research the next emerging market to invest in, remember two questions: How many people are under 18 yrs old? And how can I invest in them?
By Angelica Towne
Angelica Towne is the Program Director for Educate! in Uganda. At Educate!, Angelica designed a trendsetting model of social entrepreneurship education that has transformed the lives and communities of 830 students, is being used by nearly 20 organizations in 8 countries across four continents, and was translated to French and Swahili. The Ministry of Education of Uganda recently asked Angelica to write the social entrepreneurship unit of the national entrepreneurship curriculum – the first of its kind in the world.
Educate! has been backed by Echoing Green, the leading venture philanthropy fund, won the Ashoka Changemakers Quality Education in Africa award, received first place in the Pan African Awards for Entrepreneurship in Education, and was recognized by EntrepreneurMagazine as one of 100 Brilliant Companies of 2009.