The Evolution of an International Education Vision

International School-to-School Partnerships and
Global Education Partnership

ISSP LogoFor over a decade, from 1994 to 2005, Global Education Partnership (GEP) was very successful working with rural communities, starting in Africa, to address the challenges of youth education development, employment and entrepreneurship training. GEP was established in 1994 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, with international divisions in, Kenya, Tanzania, Guatemala and Indonesia. When GEP dissolved all international support in 2005, division offices continued as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) within the countries in which these divisions were originally established.

Background of Global Education Partnership

geplogoAlthough International School to School Partnerships is a “new” non-profit organization, its roots go back to a problem-solving conversation in the early 1990’s in Kenya which resulted in the creation of Global Education Partnership (GEP). Peace Corps volunteer Tony Silard had approached his director Jonathan Berkey with a sense of frustration. While teaching mathematics in a rural school in coastal Kenya, Tony had discovered that the community-run “Harambee” self-help schools lacked basic educational resources such as facilities, desks, and even textbooks. Tony’s math students shared one textbook among ten students, making even simple homework assignments difficult. Jonathan and Tony strategized a solution whereby Tony would focus full-time on education development work during his second year with the Peace Corps. Within nine months, Tony’s living quarters were packed with textbooks from floor to ceiling; narrow aisles between the texts allowed him to navigate his rooms. The success of this venture, which engaged school headmasters, staff and parents in the Coast Province Region of Kenya, became the foundation for the partnership model based on needs assessment and the formation of Global Education Partnership. Jonathan became a founding GEP board member, and Tony, the organization’s first Executive Director. A GEP Division office, was in established in Kenya in 1994, with US Headquarters based in Oakland, California, that same year.

In the mid-1990’s, GEP grew quickly, becoming an innovator in youth education development programs globally and opening up additional divisions in East Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia.

By 1999, GEP had adapted its focus as a learning organization to address a second growing need: youth job skill training. While the academic education component was successful, parents of students had sacrificed so much to keep their children in school that they needed the students to be able to apply that education to employment immediately after completing their education. Out of this need, a youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Training Program was developed. Participants in this new program learned to plan and start-small businesses. These programs were intended not only to stimulate economic growth opportunities in line with new market realities, but also to deal with the increasing problems facing under-employed and unemployed youth in developing countries in general. Such innovative programs became a fundamental component in addressing national approaches to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities that these young people were facing at that time. Preventive measures promoted and facilitated both social and economic integration of at-risk youth into rural community economies.

By the beginning of 2000, GEP’s entrepreneurship training programs had offered over 1,000 impoverished youth access to business skill training courses including the use of computers as tools for developing and writing business plans, marketing, buying and selling goods.

In 2001, Nancy Hafkin, a pioneer in introducing Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) in Africa, described the GEP project as “an excellent example of a locally led initiative that is using information technology to give hope and possibilities to the youth of rural Africa.” That year, GEP was awarded the prestigious Africa Hafkin Communication Prize recognizing innovative initiatives using ICTD.

Jon Berkey and Tony Silard

Jonathan Berkey and Tony Silard

From lessons learned from our GEP experience, we decided that the timing was right to continue our work with international education development, on a new level, beginning in East Africa. In 2008, we set-up a pilot program in a semi-rural central coast region of Kenya, introducing a computer center and lab program at a primary school (US elementary plus middle school level equivalent). Over the next two years, we experimented by introducing computer hardware (desktops, laptops and a LCD projector), connected Internet wireless technology, expanding terminal use through a process called N-computing, experimenting with education software, and determining program staffing needs.

In 2012, ISSP was established to continue this challenging mission. Tony Silard and Jonathan Berkey are once again teamed-up to launch this new vision, with the   mission of linking classrooms globally.

When GEP International divisions were dissolved in 2005, they had accomplished the following:

Education Development

The GEP Educational Resource Development Program raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational resources for low-income children and youth in over 130 primary and secondary schools in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), Central America (Guatemala) and Southeast Asia (Indonesia). These programs required – and received — a significant in-kind or cash funding match from the communities and schools involved in these education partnership programs.

GEP also conducted numerous education development workshops with Kenyan community leaders, school administrators, parents and teachers in five year strategic school development planning sessions, focused on capacity building, infrastructure development and maintaining student enrollment numbers specifically focused on keeping primary school students moving on to secondary school.

Youth Entrepreneurship Training

GEP taught employment, entrepreneurship and work readiness skills to over 1,000 students from 1999 to 2005, and awarded start-up funds to over 50 small businesses developed by students through a Venture Capital Program*. These small business enterprises, which were developed and run by GEP graduates, included: general stores, small dairies, chicken operations, beekeeping projects, produce production, sales and marketing operations.

Business Incubators

At its rural training facilities, GEP also provided additional technical assistance with follow-up services to further support youth established businesses, services including the writing of business letters, development of balance sheets, income statements, and marketing.

Venture Capital Fund

The GEP Venture Capital Fund allowed trainees enrolled in entrepreneurship training to present their business plans to a panel of small business owners (already a component of each division program). Based on content, presentation and the viability of the business plan, the panelists select 2-4 business plans to fund, which received approximately $500-$1,000 each as start-up capital grants. Trainees also received technical support for their start-up businesses from their Small Business Mentor and GEP follow-up support staff.