Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Educate! Social Entrepreneurship for Social Change

When a teenager begins an organization, it’s likely to be a shoestring venture. And when Eric Glustrom began Educate! in 2002 at 17 years old with the dream of providing an education to teens in Uganda, funding was certainly limited. But neither the need for support nor the daunting task of educating a nation hindered his drive; they only furthered it.

Now, eight years later, Educate! is wholly committed to bringing lasting change to Uganda through the education of its people. The non-profit focuses its efforts on empowering young Africans and providing knowledge, guidance, and mentorship to unleash their potential. Educate! helps young Africans transform their enthusiasm into action proving that the youth of today can solve the greatest challenges Africa is facing.

Eric’s inspiration to start Educate! began in high school. He was involved in Amnesty International, and there learned about a population of refugees from warring countries in Africa–Sudan, Rwanda and Congo–that lived in Uganda. Starvation, disease and violence are rampant among these peoples.

“I wanted to learn more about the refugees of Uganda and to show fellow students in the U.S. what life is like in a much different part of the world,” said Eric, Educate!’s founder and executive director.

So after his junior year in high school, during the summer of 2002, he committed to seeing firsthand what had so moved him in Amnesty International, and he travelled on his own to two refugee camps in Uganda.

On his trip, Eric worked with the refugees and distributed anti-malarial medicine to several hundred sick individuals. He also contributed to the removal of a corrupt commandant from Kyangwali Refugee Camp who was beating, raping and even killing refugees. Upon returning to the U.S., he wrote a report describing the conditions in the refugee camps and possible solutions. This report has been used by several Ugandan and American refugee-related organizations.

These events were certainly memorable, but Eric’s inspiration for Educate! came more from a friendship than an experience. In Uganda, he became close friends with Benson Olivier, a refugee about his same age. Throughout Eric’s trip, Benson guided the American around, translated for him in all the local languages of the refugees, and helped him with the filming of a documentary, Dream Deferred.

One night, Benson invited Eric to dinner in his home: a small, mud hut no larger than the size of an American bathroom, furnished only with a wooden stool, a few books to write in occasionally, and a hay bed.

“He told me about losing his family to the guns of rebel soldiers and how he had learned how to grow his own food and survive in terrible conditions. For dinner, we each had one ear of maize that Benson had grown in his small garden, and I knew that normally Benson would not eat much more than our dinner in a day. I was tremendously impressed by Benson’s ability to survive, but even more so by his warm heart, kind personality and great sense of humor in spite of his past hardships. More than a friend, Benson was a role model to me.”

Before leaving Uganda, Eric wanted to help Benson and the people of Kyangwali, and in asking Benson what Uganda needed, the refugee humbly responded that he desired only an education, a chance to learn how to solve the problems in his community and homeland. From this simple request, Educate! was born.

In its first years, Educate! funded scholarships that enabled high-school-aged Ugandans to go to school, but today, the organization reaches further. Educate! is directly addressing the country’s most fundamental challenge: the lack of socially responsible leadership across diverse sectors of society. To do so, it equips and mobilizes students to help solve the greatest difficulties faced by African communities.

And the difficulties they face are significant. In Africa today, nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 18. These youth face problems of poverty, disease, and environmental degradation and a new generation of African leaders are needed to create and drive sustainable solutions. While passion to become the leaders who will solve these problems isn’t lacking, opportunities and support for developing leadership talent are. Moreover, the current rote-memorization based education system stifles creativity and passion.

“Youth graduate without the proper preparation to tackle the serious challenges facing their communities. They desperately need the right knowledge, guidance and mentorship to unleash their potential,” said Boris Bulayev, president of Educate!, who coupled with Eric when they were sophomores at Amherst College. Boris has had significant impact on making Educate! what it is today.

Providing an in-depth education is precisely what Educate! seeks to do with the Educate! Experience, a trendsetting, two-year program for high school students, or Educate! Scholars. Using a model called exponential empowerment, Educate! invests long-term in a few so that these individuals can positively impact many others in the future. The Educate! Experience is a proven mix of leadership instruction, long-term mentoring, practical experience solving a community problem, and an alumni network for high-school-aged youth.

The curriculum focuses on the skills and experience students need to find solutions to problems in their communities. Teachers do more than instruct, they mentor, building powerful relationships that give youth confidence to lead change. These mentors go through a rigorous selection and preparation process and are then placed at partner schools to lead Educate! Scholars through the Experience. The Experience consists of two components: an innovative leadership curriculum designed with the help of our worldwide partner organizations; and a student led social enterprise that effectively and sustainably addresses a community need.

The Educate! classroom is not a building, but the community itself. There, students start initiatives to improve the lives of those around them. These grassroots movements find local solutions to local problems, and Educate! supports these young leaders as they work to create sustainable change. The Experience empowers the next generation of socially responsible leaders who will develop creative solutions to the challenges facing their country. Empowering 830 young leaders at 24 high schools across Uganda, the leadership of 15 Ugandan mentors has impacted over 17,000 lives. The Scholars have started 48 community initiatives, planted 20,050 trees and begun 12 businesses. Among these self-sustaining initiatives and enterprises are a business that turns waste paper into bulletin boards and a tree nursery that has helped over 10,000 people.

Another Educate! Scholar, Lilian Aero Olok, created a jewelry business that gives women with HIV/AIDS a chance to earn money by selling handmade jewelry. Lilian attends the Namugongo Secondary School where she has been taught an innovative and practical approach to education. Her school focuses on its students’ futures beyond exam results. She lives by the personal mantra to “persist until something positive happens.” Through that defiance of adversity, she founded the Namugongo Good Samaritan Project with the mission to change and empower the lives of both men and women in the community affected by HIV/AIDS. She is working to increase awareness in the community about HIV/AIDS, to train women affected by the disease to become social entrepreneurs, and to provide access to Anti-Retro Viral drugs and counseling.

Her Good Samaritan Project provides counseling services and community support to 36 widows and HIV/AIDS infected women. She trains them to make jewelry out of recycled paper and then buys the jewelry from the women, thereby providing employment where there would be none otherwise. Lilian sells the jewelry to larger markets (including to Educate! in the U.S. for our fundraising events) to provide the Good Samaritan Project with revenue. She has also begun training the group to make mats and is currently researching how to make homemade herbal soap. Lilian is excited about the prospect of being able to provide more income for the organization and its members.

“Educate! came into my life at an opportune moment. It helped me focus, grow, think critically, be creative and believe that I am responsible for my success or failure. My passion for change and that same passion within my community keeps me going,” said Lilian.

Lilian is one of many Educate! Scholars who has built alliances with individuals and organizations to further empower their community. These students have a passion for community development, and they are unleashing their potential to serve the poor and marginalized through entrepreneurship, knowledge and skill transfer.

While Educate! mentors, visionaries and students work in Uganda, the public relations and fundraising facets of the non-profit operate out of the United States, primarily Boulder, Colo. and New York City, N.Y. Striving to get the word out about their cause, they have won numerous awards and been recognized in many different publications. Educate! is a recent winner of the Champions of Quality Education in Africa competition, a collaboration between Ashoka’s Changemakers and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The organization was also recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as one of 100 Brilliant Companies in 2009. DoSomething listed Eric as one of America’s top five change-makers under 25, and The Echoing Green fellowship noted Educate!’s potential as a social change venture to be among the highest in the world. Educate! has also been featured in publications like Entrepreneur Magazine and the Denver Post.

But there is much more work to be done, and there are many ways to get involved with Educate!. Here are a few ideas:
Let others know about Educate! and that you support what the organization does. Become a fan on Facebook or help raise awareness and donations for free by adding Educate! to your email signature.
Sign Up for the newsletter to stay updated on Educate!’s progress.
Become an Educate! Angel, a person who supports the organization by holding an event to introduce his or her friends and family to Educate!. Typically very informal, this event includes a screening of Educate!’s documentary, Lighting Africa’s Future, as well as a short discussion about what Educate! does. Contact Educate! today to become an Angel.
Volunteer and become part of the cause by volunteering with us in Uganda. If you’re a student, consider applying for the Educate! Internship and spending a summer in Uganda working side by side with Educate! staff and students.
Start an Educate! club at your school to help raise awareness about the work Educate! is doing and to raise money to invest in one or more Educate! Scholars.
Blog about Educate! and spread the news about all the organization does, or even easier, subscribe to the Educate! blog.
Sponsor an Educate! Scholar and help to ensure they will have the funding to make it through the program.

Educate!’s many volunteers, supporters and evangelists have made the organization what it is today, and it is the support of you and others like you that will allow Educate! to continue growing and empowering more socially responsible young leaders in Africa.

Courtney Holden, public relations coordinator

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