The other side of Uganda, how Educate! is creating 25,000 entrepreneurs

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Educate!Uganda is an east African country with a population of around 35 million. It was  recently in the news when it approved an anti-homosexuality law which will send every gay person to prison for life. But beyond these shocking and unjust developments, there is a quiet revolution brewing in the country. Today, let me share an amazing story that is changing the landscape of this nation one person at a time.

It started when Eric Glustrom was just a teenager. He was shooting a film on the refugee settlements in Kyangawali in Northern Uganda when he became friends with a guy named Benson. He asked him how he could help the refugees and Benson answered that the only way to help them was to give them an education. Eric returned to the US and started Educate! At first its aim was to provide funds to guarantee a scholarship in Africa. He continued to raise funds during his college years but right after he came back to Uganda, he had an important realisation — students needed more than just education, they needed qualitative education that connects them with the reality they will find after school. So together with Boris Bulayev and Angelica Towne, who became his co-founders, Eric decided to shift the focus of Educate! creating one of the best educational program in the world.

In 2007, they decided to implement a program to develop entrepreneurship in schools. Year after year the program grew achieving great results.  Rebecca Richards, in-charge of communications at Educate!, says, “In those years we had touched 25,000 students through our program, but the important thing was it was not the scale but the quality of our reach that mattered. These students now earn a salary 160% higher than other students and 56% of them have become entrepreneurs.”

Their program is the result of years of experience and constant evaluation of it. “One of the important aspect of Educate! is to incorporate the lessons learnt into the program. Every year, we improve it thanks to experts in the field and a strong evaluation system we have in place. We track the progress students are making and we have a great system to measure that. We also measure the skills the students are developing. If we want our students to engage with their community and develop they have to have skills training and empathy building,” explains Rebecca.

Educate! 2Educate! is not just another entrepreneurship program, their model is pretty unique. They don’t just teach entrepreneurship, but they provide an entire experience to their students. “Mentor fellows build relationships with the scholars based on empathy. Relationships with caring adults help scholars gain confidence in their abilities to solve challenges they face themselves and those they see in their communities. That confidence and empowerment translates to entrepreneurship and leadership when scholars take action to start enterprises and create change. The positive change scholars create directly reflects the empathy the relationship with their mentor is built upon. Thus, with understanding of the empathy at the heart of their successful relationship with their mentors, scholars go on to use that same empathy with people they work with on enterprises and other initiatives,” explains Rebecca.

Though entrepreneurship can be taught, it needs to be experienced for the education to be complete. Says Rebecca, “With continuous training and education, young people can learn to develop skills needed to become an entrepreneur. For example: money management and bookeeping are very important things that can be taught. But also leadership skills and discussing social issue can help, including good public speaking. If you package it all as a big thing, it cannot be taught, but all the smallest things that make business strong and individuals capable to do business can be taught. And we do it by providing a space where people can make mistakes,” states Rebecca.

Despite their successes they are facing different challenges. “We are now working in more remote parts of the country farther away from our main office in Kampala.These villages often have intermittent electricity and less reliable email communication, and yet we are still committed to gathering regular data about our programs and impact. Since we do not want to waste resources by sending staff long distances to gather this data, we are working with a mobile technology partner to receive and process mass SMS program data. We are also using mobile technology to pay the salaries of school coordinators located around the country. Improving this technology and communication is new territory for us, but it is crucial to the work we are doing and to our growth,” says Rebecca.

Educate!’s work has been recognised worldwide. They are Ashoka Fellow, 30 under 30 Forbes Social entrepreneurs, Echoing Green and Segal Fellows. When we asked them about their success, Rebecca said, “Collaboration is very important to us. Our program director and country director went to India and spoke with a lot of social enterprises to understand what worked and what didn’t. And we are trying to do the same in Educate! by sharing our model and our progress with everyone. Moreover, Segal Family Foundation helped us a lot to spread our model and story and Clinton Global Initiatives did the same.”

Speaking about the future, Rebecca reveals their 10-year plan to us. “We want to expand in other countries after 2017 and want to impact 100,000 students in 1,000 schools. It’s a big plan, but with what we have already achieved we are confident of making it happen,” adds Rebecca.

For more information visit their website