Global Challenges | Education Part II

In our previous article, Global Challenges: Education (part I), we introduced the issue at large, focusing on understanding why is education so important to everyone living on earth, no matter if we come from a developed or a developing country. Furthermore, we spent a lot of energy looking at what are all the issues, that we referred to as “sub-issues” of the larger education issue, so we could all be on the same page as to all the small challenges that create the global one. The tone of the previous article might have been slightly depressing to some readers, but rest assured, as we say, after the rain, the sun always comes out. And this article will surely be a warm glimpse of sunlight as we will solely concentrate on presenting a few inspiring social initiatives and businesses that have already done a lot to solve part of the “global learning crisis” that the UN refers to when addressing the actual challenge of education. Without further ado, lets travel around the world and see what are some of the inspiring solutions that have emerged from the creative and determined minds of social entrepreneurs, Humble Dreamers just as us.

Teach For All

Let’s start our journey with an organization that truly is a global one. The solution imagined by the founder of Teach For All, Wendy Kopp, is based on the idea that to succeed in providing education to every child on earth, local leadership needs to be developed and encouraged. Teach for all’s approach is to create a global educational ecosystem that supports regional and global organizations, which work together as a global learning infrastructure. As Wendy’s puts it, this ecosystem “supports leadership development among local stakeholders, and helps create effective channels for knowledge and best-practices transfer among communities”. Teach for all was born in 1990, in the United States, and has not stopped growing since. Today, it is a network of over 46 independent partner organizations that spans across 46 countries in 6 continents. It is also a global organization that works to accelerate the network’s progress, as it enables partners, teachers and alumni to share ideas and innovations across borders and adapt promising ideas within their own countries. Also, what makes Teach for all such a nice organization is that all the network partners are independent, locally led and governed in a way that they share common core purposes, approaches and commitment to the global organization’s core values. Thus, it truly invests itself at developing and supporting local leadership, within the communities in which the issues are most felt, whom will contribute, on the long term, to solve the education issues that their countries face.

Global Partnership For Education

Let’s continue our journey with another global organization working at solving the worldwide education challenge. Established in 2002, the Global Partnership for Education is a multi-stakeholder partnership and funding platform that aims to strengthen education systems in developing countries. Its goal is to dramatically increase the number of children who are in school and learning. It is the only global fund solely dedicated to education in developing countries, as it is currently supporting 65 developing countries. In those countries, GPE’s objective is that every child receives a quality basic education, as it prioritizes on the poorest, most vulnerable and people living in conflict areas. As a global organization, the Global Partnership for Education has the capacity to bring together developing countries, donors, international organizations, the civil society, teacher organizations, the private sector and foundations of all sorts in order to work towards the same goal, solving the “global learning crisis”. In its short history, GPE has been able to achieve impressive results, each in connection to some of the “sub-issues” of education that we presented in part I of this article. Here are some of those results. Since 2011, the organization has helped train over 300,000 teachers around the world. With a successful replenishment, the objective is to make teacher recruitment and training a top global priority for delivering quality education in the regions that most need it. Also, in the past seven years, the Global Partnership for Education has helped build or rehabilitate over 53,000 classrooms in developing countries. Another impressive result it has achieved concerns the lack of learning materials issue. In just three years, between 2011 and 2014, GPE and its developing country partners have distributed over 55 million textbooks to children in need of material to support their learning. These are just a few of the results that the Global Partnership for Education has been able to achieve over the past decade. You can read much more results by visiting their web site. Finally, a last interesting fact to share about this global organization is that, as of 2016, it has added a global ambassador to its strategy. And it is not any ambassador, as they were able to reach out to one of the artists able to connect the most with the younger generation, and on a global basis. Indeed, Rihanna is a name that is practically known to everyone around the world, and not only within the younger generation, but all generations, as we all have been hearing, and probably dancing to her songs for over ten years. The objective is for Rihanna to encourage world leaders and policymakers to boost their support for global education, as well as inspire the younger generation in developing countries to focus on elementary education and understand the importance of gaining learning and technical skills for their future.

Emerson Collective

After seeing two global organizations, let’s scale back to the national level. To demonstrate that social initiatives and businesses are not exclusive to developing countries, the organization we next present is in fact in one of the most developed nations on earth, on an economic standpoint at least, the United States of America. Emerson Collective was founded in 2004 by Laurene Powell Jobs, largely inspired by one of the most influential American philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is where the name of the organization comes from. Although the USA is one of the richest nations on earth, it is second to last, among developed countries, in economic and social mobility. Indeed, today, with a few exceptions, where a person is born in that country determines how far he or she can go in life. Which is what Emerson collective aims to change through its ideals and values. As we will see, many of the organizations key ideals are directly derived from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy.

The fundamental mission of Emerson collective is to remove barriers to opportunity so people can live their full potential. The key element to Emerson’s philosophy was the notion of self-reliance, which is at the heart of the organization’s values. As it explains, “students will be self-reliant when we clear paths to meaningful education”. Thus, Emerson collective believes it is up to every stakeholder, students, parents, educators and advocates, to design the tools, systems and environment that students need to succeed. And that is what they work to facilitate. As the organization puts it, “together we can restore the promise of education as America’s great equalizer and of public schools as gateways of opportunity”.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to Laurene Powell Jobs, this saying is what drives Emerson collective every day. If they help someone transcend the limits of circumstance and chart a new course for themselves and their families, the people at Emerson collective know they are fulfilling their mission. Although the organization deeply believes in self-reliance, they recognize that the road to self-reliance often leads through reliance on others. This belief, that Emerson taught as a Harvard professor, implies a double obligation: an obligation to rely on ourselves and one to rely on each other. By helping individuals to achieve their dreams, Emerson collective truly believes it unleashes the full force of the world’s most powerful resource: human potential. Inspiring stuff! It is this double imperative that underpins the moral and practical mission of the work done at Emerson collective: they are idealists with their feet on the ground, just like us at Humble Dreamer.

The first initiative of Laurene Powell Jobs was to create a program called College Track to fight a great injustice she first saw in the 1990’s. She wrote: “It takes a unique brand of boldness to envision and pursue a future so different from the world that surrounds you”. The students that inspired her to launch College Track possessed courage and drive, but lacked the gateways to achieve their dreams. That is what motivated her to invest her life as a social entrepreneur. Her vision is simple: qualities of character must be supplemented by policies and inspiration, as the lives of individuals in underdeveloped communities are gardens of promise that only need water in order to flourish.

Barefoot College

The last social business we want to present is one that is very near to our hearts, as it is an incredibly inspiring story. But to discover it, we need to leave the American continent and travel all the way to India, the second most populated country of the world, and one of the most under-educated nations in terms of absolute numbers. The story of Barefoot College started in 1972, when its founder, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, who was a young post graduate student at the time, went as a volunteer to live and work in one of India’s poorest states. He was amazed by the level of rural wisdom that he encountered, so he wanted to create a learning infrastructure based on an alternative “school system”. Barefoot college emphasizes on a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach. They focus on poor, isolated communities in order to tackle social norms regarding gender and access to education. The organization has a deep appreciation for what they call the “Rural Hero”. With a combination of traditional wisdom and practical skills, Barefoot college strives to empower children to become active participants and leaders in their communities.

Since it was founded, over 40 years ago, Barefoot college has designed new ways to nurture and support journeys of empowerment, one village at a time, one woman at a time. This is where they decided to put a lot of focus, as women respond much better to this form of learning, where no degrees are handed out, but only practical skills to empower individuals and communities. Barefoot college’s strategy is to demystify and decentralize technology and put new tools in the hands of the rural poor, with the singular objective of spreading self-sufficiency and sustainability throughout India and the world. Thus, the organization has trained women, in many developing countries, as solar engineers, innovators, nurses and educators. The goal is for these women, once they return in their villages, to bring light, health and learning to their community.

Breaking The Cycle Of Poverty

Furthermore, Barefoot college offers alternative solutions to breaking the cycle of poverty on the conviction that families, especially women, who educate themselves will go on to raise educated children. The logic is that children who go to school will be healthier, happier and have access to more opportunities throughout life. Here are examples of three different programs that have been created at Barefoot college to achieve their goals. You will see that these have been developed in respect to local reality, culture and tradition. The first one is called “Rural crèche for working mothers”. The organization sets up balwadis, the Indian way of saying rural crèche, so that young children have a safe and engaging learning environment while their mothers work. It is a kind of day care, a rural Indian version of it. This program benefits more than 2,000 families on an annual basis. A second program is called “Solar bridge school”, where children between the ages of 6 and 14 gather at night to learn by the light of solar lanterns. Barefoot college provides hands on, practical education to children who are not able to attend school during the day because of family responsibilities such as farming, livestock breeding and household chores. They create an informal environment that utilizes innovative learning tools to teach literacy, democratic values, environmental sustainability, and mathematics and scientific skills. Finally, a third program called “Bridge transition schools” allows children who have not been previously enrolled in the formal education system to catch up with their peers, then continue their education in the formal school system. In a time-lapse of only 4 to 6 months, the program fills the gaps in these children’s knowledge, from mathematics to social sciences, geography and English. Over the past 30 years, more than 4,000 Indian children have chosen to continue their formal education after the bridge course, often continuing onto college.

Their Social Impacts

The Barefoot college story is truly inspiring, and it has amazing results to demonstrate what they have been doing for the last 40 years. Today, the social business educates more than 7,000 children each year by making academic subjects relevant to rural lifestyles. Over the years, it has been able to enroll 75,000 children in night schools and build these night schools in 700 villages. In 2013, Bunker Roy was honored with the Clinton global service award, which inspired the Indian government to give $2.5 million to Barefoot college so it could launch five regional training centres in Sub-Saharan Africa. The impact this organization is having on the world is astonishing. It operates in 1,300 villages in 80 countries worldwide, as it has recently developed schools for solar engineers in Zanzibar, Guatemala and fourteen pacific island countries. Barefoot college’s impact of direct training and services ripples out to impact about two million people, giving communities access to clean water and safe, reliable energy. All this is why Barefoot college is such a relevant and inspiring story for us at Humble Dreamer.


In conclusion, we have been able to present only a glimpse of what is being done today by social entrepreneurs all around the world. Hopefully, these stories have been a source of inspiration and hope for a better world. Although there is still a lot of work to be done to solve the “global learning crisis”, positive results happen every day. We have collectively been improving the situation over the past few decades. In fact, just between 1999 and 2011, pre-primary gross enrollments, worldwide, has increased from 33% to 50%. The number of primary school aged children out of school has been cut in half, from 114 million, in 1999, to 57 million children, in 2011. Also, the proportion of countries achieving universal primary enrollment has risen from 30% to 50% in the same period. On a national basis, countries like Ethiopia and Burkina Faso have seen interesting improvement. First, by applying an education sector plan with affirmative action toward girls, Ethiopia went from a girls’ enrollment rate in primary education of 40%, in 1999, to 90% in 2008. Second, the government of Burkina Faso has been able to change the label of girls’ education from ‘worrisome’ to ‘progress’ within a couple of years, as the number of girls enrolled in school increased by 73% between 2002 and 2008.

All these results are definitely encouraging, but they have come through all the hard work of a number of organizations, such as the ones we have seen in this article. This work has to be continued and amplified in order to solve the global issue of education and make sure not a single child on earth is deprived of the right to education, the single most important tool in a human being’s socio-economic development. This mindset is what motivates us, as Humble Dreamers, to spread many of the great initiatives launched by social entrepreneurs around the world, so it can inspire other entrepreneurs to apply these ideas or innovate and develop new ways of solving social issues and challenges, such as education.

By Tobi Rodrigue

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