Education in Eden

Education that Pays for Itself (the annual conference sponsored by Teach a Man to Fish) nestled itself this year into the hills outside Cape Town, South Africa in a little town even the natives hadn’t heard of called Karatara. I spent the week surrounded by a couple hundred bright, compassionate, incisive people from all over Africa, South America, Australia, and several other former British colonies (my accent was a mess by the end of the week, even I couldn’t tell where I was from!) brainstorming, debating, reporting and planning…changing the world.


Karatara is home to a remarkable little school called Eden Campus…and not much else. The school is a long way from self-sufficiency, but they have some electrifying ideas about getting there. Here are a few of my favorites: Continue reading


Vote for the Escuela Agricola!

Great news! The Escuela Agricola de San Francisco made it to the finals of the BBC World Challenge–a top social innovation competition! Now you get to vote to help them win!

All the projects featured in the World Challenge this year are fabulous ideas driven by remarkable people. If I wasn’t so shamelessly biased, it would be hard to choose. Seriously though, here’s why I think EASF should win:

The self-sustaining school movement is all about empowerment–treating the poor with dignity and providing them with the only thing they really lack; opportunity to apply their intelligence and their energy to gain skills to change their lives and the lives of their families and communities. EASF is doing that. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen shy, nearly silent farm boys grow into agribusiness mentors giving presentations in the capitol. I’ve seen girls whose friends have all been pregnant before age 16 finish school and go on to study nursing, planning to open a clinic in their home-town then settle down to raise a healthy family.

But EASF doesn’t stop there. Perhaps the best thing about this idea is that it’s so scalable; projects are already underway to build up half a dozen more self-sustaining entrepreneurial schools and the organization has committed to 50 schools in 50 different countries by 2018, with each of those core schools serving as a replication hub to spread the liberating power of literacy, and vocational/entrepreneurial training further and further into the strongholds of poverty around the world.

San Francisco has proven that it can be done–and now organizations and communities around the world have a strong model to follow and willing mentors to help them succeed.

Here’s the link to vote.

A “Self-Sustaining” School

I’ve spent most of the last week working with the Ulysses team from PWC [thanks Marisa for the clarification on that] and I’m struggling a little with the semantics. The tagline for Teach a Man to Fish [the umbrella organization/network for this new paradigm of education for the poor] is “Education that Pays for Itself.” Hence, “self-sustaining education.” So, pretty logically, most people call San Fransisco a “self-sustaining school” and what we’re working on is a plan to create more “self-sustaining schools.”

But here’s the rub:

A school is a thing. Having no agency, no volition, no energy, nor light, it is utterly incapable of sustaining itself. To borrow a phrase from Nephi, it is a “thing to be acted upon” The school is sustained by the people inside it. The instructors, the administrators, and especially the students sustain the school. Their agency, their volition, their energy, is responsible for everything the school produces; tangible and intangible.

Especially in the case of the students, I feel like that agency isn’t being engaged like it could be. These kids are smart. They’re innovative. They’re passionate. But, here, they’re kinda stuck. I feel like the school relies on students for work, nada mas. There isn’t really a feeling that they can contribute much else. Right now, the school is actually making enough to cover costs, but just barely. In talking with each of the technicos, the potential production of the resources we have is somewhere on the order of double what we’re getting currently. Some of that gap is a lack of money, but much of it is a lack of productivity.

So, I want to try an experiment. I believe that if the students truly had some ownership in the school; were involved in the business development, the financial tracking and analysis, the budgeting etc; if they had some say in decisions about their education and got to do some of the problem-solving, they could quite easily increase production at the school by 50%.

My plan at this point is to form a student council and start with the least productive area of the campo [the huerta] working on the premise that whatever they can get that area to produce above and beyond the current level, they get to allocate. The money stays in the school, of course, but if they decide that it gets added to the food budget [as I imagine they will], that’s where it goes.

I think they will surprise us.