Building bridges of learning
In remote communities, particularly in the developing world, school is often a bare-bones affair. Children who attend the local public schools of Mandalgovi, Mongolia, for example, receive instruction in basic subjects like math and Mongolian but not on topics that would equip them to do high-skilled jobs or start their own businesses as adults. This city of 14 600 people has no public library or playground, and about 84% of adults are illiterate – making it difficult for them to help their children with schoolwork.
To make the most of their potential, people in communities like Mandalgovi need more education in a wider variety of subjects, access to reading material and opportunities for lifelong learning. BOOKBRIDGE helps communities in Mongolia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka meet this need by challenging local entrepreneurs and business professionals from around the world to team up and build community-based Learning Centers and by providing loans to get the centres started. Operated as social enterprises by locals for locals, the Learning Centers offer quality education, access to books, room for children to play and exposure to different disciplines depending on local needs.
In collaboration with BOOKBRIDGE, the Swiss Re Foundation created the Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP) to marshal the expertise and know-how of Swiss Re employees to help build up Learning Centers in disadvantaged communities. GEP aims to attract high-potential managers with an abiding interest in sustainability and social engagement, who must pass a rigorous application and selection process and be willing to invest considerable personal time in the programme over six months.
GEP participants assume the role of entrepreneurs, teaming up with experts from other companies and local businesspeople to conduct a market analysis and needs assessment; develop a business plan, including a road map to financial sustainability; muster the necessary resources; and get the Learning Center up and running. The collaboration takes place both face-to-face and remotely and continues after the centre opens.
The first two GEP cohorts built up Learning Centers in Mandalgovi and Chreav, Cambodia, respectively, in both of which the Swiss Re Foundation was an investor.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
Learning Centers are intended to help children, youth and adults learn about topics relevant for their future development and employment prospects.
Key performance indicators include the average number of daily visitors, number of library members, number of courses on offer, number of students enrolled and revenues generated. Ultimately, the goal is for each centre to become self sustaining and pay back the start-up loan.