Building bridges of learning
In a nutshell
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. To help communities in Mongolia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka meet this need, BOOKBRIDGE created its community-based Learning Center approach, challenging local entrepreneurs and business professionals from around the world to collaborate on setting up such centres and by providing loans to get them 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) in 2015 to marshal the expertise and know-how of Swiss Re employees to help build up Learning Centers in disadvantaged communities. GEP aimed to attract high-potential managers with an abiding interest in sustainability and social engagement, who had to go through a rigorous application and selection process and be willing to invest considerable personal time in the programme over six months.
GEP participants assumed 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 took place both face-to-face and remotely.
Goals and Impact
From 2015 to 2019, a total of 66 Swiss Re employees participated in 10 iterations of the Global Entrepreneur Program, building four Learning Centers in Mongolia, two in Cambodia and one in Sri Lanka all together. In 2019 the Swiss Re Foundation and BOOKBRIDGE decided to develop the GEP further, in particular, to broaden the set of initiatives and partners with which participants collaborate.
Swiss Re employees act as pro bono consultants to support social start-ups that have partnered with the Foundation. In 2019, the two start-ups in question, MSABI and CASSA, were both former ReSource Award winners that serve low-income communities. MSABI offers a subscription-based system for maintaining water points in Tanzania, and CASSA builds safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable housing in Guatemala. Together with MSABI, Swiss Re employees have come up with a new business plan to better serve the communities by providing water tanks instead of the water pumps installed in the previous year.