On September 28, 2011, I left New York. Little did I know that the entrepreneurial seed planted in me while training in New York and working for Husk Power Systems in India as a part of the Acumen Fund Fellows Program was going to blossom in the coming months. The growth of that seed was so vigorous that the job I found after the fellowship could not contain it, and I felt the sense of urgency to start Wedu.
Wedu’s mission is to catalyze the development of women leaders in the Least Developed Countries by providing inspiring mentorship and financial access to university education. Like Acumen, we value the importance of local leadership. That’s why we work in higher education in Cambodia and Myanmar, with a focus on encouraging these young leaders to improve the communities they come from. At the same time, we hope they use their skills to design scalable models for improvements that can work in other parts of the world.
Sustainability is another important aspect of our work. Social impact comes first at Wedu, but we are striving to become financially sustainable by pursuing several revenue streams. “You are what you eat,” a mentor at Acumen told me, referring to Wedu’s sources of capital. Indeed, while we are starting with grants and donations we already see opportunities for equity and debt investments in our for-profit entities. With an eye toward the future, we have reason to believe we are off to a good start: Cambridge University recently recognized us as Social Enterprise of the Year.
Since starting Wedu, the biggest discovery I have made is about the enormous amount of positive energy out there available for those who are committed to social change. This energy and help comes from many sources. It comes from people like Kamil Klamann, the intern at Husk Power Systems (HPS), who believed in Wedu from its very beginning and is willing to help take the idea from a spreadsheet to the real world by financing the first student. Gyanesh-ji and Manoj-ji, co-founders of HPS, provide us with a continuous source of inspiration and connections. Acumen staff has given us valuable advice on communications, community building, finance, fundraising, and business modeling. Acumen’s community has also been instrumental in refining the model, and connecting us with pioneer “Education Angels,” as we call Wedu’s supporters.
I live and work with these words in mind: “A moment will come when the difference between your idea succeeding or not will only depend on how strongly you want it to happen.” I am getting ready for that moment. And don’t get me wrong, not everybody is supportive, several people say “no, this is not going to work!” and I really appreciate their input as well.
But I know we are on the right track because I am inspired on a daily basis by the amazing young women that we are supporting, like Ly Chhay (pictured above), who is such a strong and intelligent person who deserves all the support we can offer and more. I am thankful for the partners who believe in us in Cambodia and Myanmar and connect us with such inspiring young leaders.
I am proud above all for the sweat-equity provided by the 33 volunteers who have worked with us so far. They labor tirelessly, often late into the night. One volunteer, Xiju, who has worked with us for over a year, created this unexpected gift depicting our team (below).
As Seth Godin beautifully said in a recent blog post, if you receive grant capital, you have a charter to be an innovator. Wedu now has a duty to innovate. The only real failure I see ahead is that of not having tried hard enough, not having taken enough risk, or not having been bold enough in our vision.
I am very much obliged to the Tokyo Foundation for their early recognition, and to all the early stage supporters of our ongoing crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo who believe that we should “Invest in a Woman, She Will Change the World!” So far we’ve raised enough to pay for one degree and we hope you will join us as a funder or volunteer by spreading the word.
I want to thank in advance all of the future supporters who I don’t know yet. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know more about Wedu or the Acumen Fund Fellowship.