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Charlie Leadbeater explores the role of social entrepreneurs in education in extreme environments in his latest report

3rd February 2010

Commissioned by Cisco, Participle's Charlie Leadbeater interviewed 100 social entrepreneurs seeking to meet huge needs without the advantage of traditional resources. The research focused on social entrepreneurs in Education in India, Kenya and Brazil.

Charlie and Annika feel that innovative radical new ways to take learning to the poorest places in the world can be learnt from studying these social entrepreneurs.

"In the next few decades, hundreds of millions of young, poor families will migrate to cities in the developing world in search of work and opportunity. Education provides them with a shared sense of hope. Many will be the first generation in their families to go to school. It is vital that the hopes they invest are not disappointed.

Yet even in the developed world, education systems that were established more than a century ago still under-perform, mainly because they fail to reach and motivate large portions of the population. These ingrained problems of low aspiration and achievement among the most disinvested communities in the developed world are proving resistant to traditional treatment.

This report outlines four basic strategies governments in the developing and developed world can pursue to meet these challenges: improve, reinvent, supplement, and transform schools and learning. [...]

To make learning effective in the future, to teach the skills children will need, on the scale they will be needed (especially in the developing world), will require disruptive innovation to create new, low-cost, mass models for learning. [...]

That kind of disruptive innovation may not come from the best schools. It is much more likely to come from social entrepreneurs who often seek to meet huge need without the resources for traditional solutions: teachers, text books and schools. Disruptive innovation frequently starts in the margins rather than the mainstream.

Governments should continue to look to the very best school systems to guide improvement strategies. But increasingly they should also look to social entrepreneurs working at the extremes who may well create the low-cost, mass, participatory models of learning that will be needed in future."

Through web and desk research, particularly by examining grants and awards made by organizations such as Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and
others, Charlie and Annika identified more than 100 examples of socially entrepreneurial organizations providing education and learning to underserved and poor communities and to people living in extreme environments, in cities and in rural areas. This is the first time the work of these social entrepreneurs has been brought together. Their case studies are just the tip of an iceberg of
many more projects that are underway.

The desk and web reseach was followed up with field study trips to Brazil (Rio de Janiero, Belo Horizonte and São Paulo), India (Hyderabad, New Delhi, and Pune), and Nairobi, the capital of
Kenya, to follow up the work of these social entrepreneurs in more detail. The field work focused mainly on city slums. Charlie and Annika visited several favelas in Brazil including Rocinha, the largest in Latin America. In India, they visited slums in all several major cities, including Madangir in Delhi and Hakimpet in Hyderabad, which are two of the most established slums in Indian cities. In Nairobi, they made several visits to Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, as well as a number of other slums in the city, including Mukuru, Mathare, and Dandora.

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