Edupreneurship #1: A Library for All
Edupreneurs are entrepreneurs from the education sector who are changing the lives of millions of people around the world. The digital change especially offers many opportunities for advancing and reshaping existing analogue approaches, while developing new ideas and helpful advice that give children and adults access to education. This applies equally to school systems in western countries and to educational opportunities in developing regions. In a two-part blog series, we will introduce you to two Edupreneurs of the empowering people. Network database. They both share their solutions, their challenges and how important it is to stay on track with educational ideas and technologies.
Today Isabel Sheinman, who has been part of the “Library For All” project from the very beginning, shares her story with us on the epBlog.
Isabel, “Library for All” aims at unlocking knowledge and opportunities for children in developing countries with limited access to educational materials. Where are you standing right now with your project?
My team and I have worked for four years to build a digital library platform that is globally scalable, with content that is highly localised by country. Our solution is designed to provide readers across the world with access to books on devices they already have, like low cost smartphones and android tablets. 2017 was a game-changing year for us. After four years of trial and error, we have finally built a software solution that we are confident will meet the needs of both our readers and our content providers globally.
That sounds like a very successful year, Isabel.
Yes, it was. Additionally, we ran a 2017 pilot called writer-workshops, a new method for acquiring content for our library. We decided to try out these workshops as a solution to address the extremely limited supply of local language content available from publishers. We tested the model in Haiti, with the goal to produce new children’s books in Haitian Creole for our library. Through our pilot workshops, we mobilised over 50 aspiring Haitian authors and created 260 original Haitian Creole children’s books. This is a model we can now adapt and apply to create content for the other language groups our library serves.
Pupils using their low cost smartphones and tablets to access the online library and educate themselves individually.
Really amazing! But there were also many challenges in 2017?
Yes of course. The greatest challenge we faced last year was fundraising. We’re at an interesting stage in our development – beyond a pilot phase but not yet at scale – which makes finding foundation and corporate partners a challenge. On the bright side, our fundraising challenges have driven us to push forward with designing and implementing earned revenue streams that will sustain our organisation in the long run.
What made you take this courageous step into Edupreneurship?
I joined the team for two reasons. Firstly, I was drop-dead inspired by the passion, ambition and creativity of our co-founders. Secondly, I was dumbfounded by both the simplicity and scalability of this solution. I knew from the minute I heard the words “Library For All”, that this could and would be a world-changing platform. It was impossibly hard work, building something from the ground up, but I loved every minute of it and four years later, I’ve never once looked back!
So you gained a lot of experience over the last years. What advice would you give to young social entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the field of education?
The best advice I can offer is to look at what is already out there in the world. There are so many brilliant people working on brilliant ideas. Before starting a completely new venture, look for what already exists that can be improved, adapted or scaled. Too often I see people starting from scratch and repeating the mistakes of others, or creating identical solutions. The world is a big place, and there is plenty of room for innovation, but innovation doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. What can you learn from others? What innovative ideas can you bring to existing solutions? I’d highly recommend having an honest chat with yourself and ask these questions before launching a brand new business.
What characterises ‘Social Edupreneurship’ in your eyes?
‘Social Edupreneurship’ to me means being part of a group who is constantly thinking about how to improve education, whether in a small or seismic way, whether by equalising access, improving quality, scaling reach, the list goes on. Edupreneurship is about innovating to improve. The ‘social’ part is about doing so with people at the core of the innovation. This isn’t about coming up with the next big, sexy, education idea for the sake of innovation, but about creating impactful solutions to real challenges in the education sector.
A young woman reading to curious girls.
What trends and developments do you see for the future of Edupreneurship?
More and more I’m seeing self-learning and teaching environments and products in the marketplace. Tools that teach children how to read, removing the role of a teacher; programs that teach university students to code. The pendulum has swung far in the direction of technology-driven classrooms and self-guided programs, which leaves me to wonder when and if it will swing back.
What are your plans and goals for 2018?
My big wish for 2018 is to see our digital library take off in Rwanda. I’m living through quite a major turning point as we speak. I recently relocated to Rwanda to drive forward our expansion plan, building partnerships and a team who will help us reach the 8 million smartphone users in the country. While I am of course supported by my team back in NYC, I am operating largely as a one-woman-show for the time-being. I have been managing departments usually outside of my scope – communications, program development, technology, content. The experience has taught me a great deal. When we work as a team, we tend to fall into specific roles and flex certain muscles within those roles. The greatest lesson I’ve learned since being here, is to continually push myself beyond the boundaries of my given role or job title, not letting lack of expertise get in the way of trying new things.
My other big wish is to see books from local publishers in Haiti and Rwanda sell their content in the global marketplace. Right now their distribution is so limited, but many publishers have beautiful content that would be competitive in the international book arena. I would like my team to play a role in facilitating this distribution to support our publisher partners.
Stay tuned: In part two of the Edupreneurship blog series we talk with Silvana Bonnet from Canales Asociación Civil about enabling deaf children access to literature and reading through videobooks in sign language.