Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Education is a human right and broadly understood as a crucial precondition for sustainable development, peace and equality. However, there is a lack of access to education in many parts of the world, especially in rural areas of the Global South. The problems are widespread and include no access to education, illiteracy, low quality education and gender inequality. The root causes of these problems are often more diverse, and because they are inherent in the local systems they are not easy to track.
To date, approaches to foster education in remote areas in Mongolia and Cambodia have failed to be effective and sustainable in the long term. Existing initiatives are often viewed as isolated interventions, failing to collaborate with other stakeholders across sectors. The public sector runs schools and vocational trainings that are community-based, but they often provide low quality education and are not financially sustained. The private sector has set up some for-profit schools mainly in urban areas, but they are limited in reach, lack quality, do not integrate the community and primarily aim for profit. On the other hand, local initiatives and international NGO’s focus on social goals, These, however, are usually dependent on donations, limited in reach and lack an effective follow-up. By focusing on empty benchmarks like number of schools or libraries opened, number of teaching materials shipped or number of teachers trained, they often don’t take into account how the inputs are being used and converted within the local systems. Furthermore, development interventions during the last decades have created an attitude of expectation for help and handouts in Mongolia and Cambodia, rather than empowering local communities to develop their own future.
Data from past decades shows that many resources and efforts have been misspent due to lack of understanding of local needs and failed collaboration of key stakeholders. By combining existing resources, facilitating collaboration across sectors, introducing an entrepreneurial approach and empowering local people, Bookbridge is able to break existing silos and create a community-owned educational landscape.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Carsten is pioneering work at the nexus of quality education and community building in rural areas of Mongolia and Cambodia. With a sound business model and a codified replication process, he ensures long term sustainability of both the finances and the idea itself. Starting out as a simple Scout exchange program between Germany and Mongolia in 2005, Carsten progressively developed what is now called Bookbridge, transforming a mere book supply project into a successful market-driven social enterprise. In a highly participatory process, Bookbridge sets up financially sustainable Learning Centers in remote areas that provide infrastructure, learning material and training courses based on the local needs. The first Learning Center was established in Mongolia in 2009. To date, there are ten centers in Mongolia and Cambodia with a total of 6,850 members that offer premium education tailor-made for the local demand in these rural areas.
Bookbridge does not invest primarily in infrastructure like many other organizations, but rather in people and collaborations. The main value added by Carsten’s approach is the comprehensive process it initiates and manages. Bookbridge does not act individually; instead, it is using the existing strengths and skills of community members as well as involving the local stakeholders like the government, schools, businesses and NGOs from the very beginning. Thus, Carsten empowers local actors, fosters entrepreneurial skills and creates a strong sense of ownership over the Centers within the community. Moreover, Carsten applies a peer-to-peer learning approach that values the skills and knowledge of the community members and facilitates a self-reinforcing learning process.
Aiming to create a self-sustaining practice, Carsten developed an innovative and impact-oriented financial model not only based on loans and in-kind donations (books and materials) but also includes revenue generation. Carsten established a sophisticated fee-based leadership development program (Capability Program) for leading professionals in the “Global North.” The program provides participants with the opportunity to strategically and operatively engage in the set-up and development of the Learning Centers for 6 months and to work in tandem with people from different sectors and cultures.
By placing Learning Centers at the center of his model, Carsten creates a way to transform the educational landscape and develops a new understanding of education, entrepreneurial thinking and rural development. With a process that ensures a replicable grass-root approach, peer-to-peer learning und financial self-sustainability, Carsten’s idea combats the lack of focus on education in the region while promoting the idea that individual and group empowerment is key to a thriving community.