A historical record of 2018
Time flies when you’re changing the world
Jente Rosseel, Strategy & Business Development
29 December 2018
It was a grey afternoon early January 2018. From a warm, dark and rainy office in the middle of Belgians winter, I was working together with Mary, Limo and Mike some 6,000 miles away on the other side of the equator. That afternoon, we would make a commitment.
Almost three months earlier, at the end of October 2017, I remember us moving into our first office at Nexus Co-Work, posing in front of our uniquely branded office-wall with a pride and determination in our eyes that only fresh recruits have, ready to take off in search for the bask of success and glory. We were determined. Determined to fix the injustice bestowed upon us by our education systems. We were not without arms as well.
Mike and I had been preparing for this moment for three years now. Three years of intense market, educational, technological and business research. More importantly, we found ourselves surrounded by the right people. People with natural skills sharing our loath for the current education system and our determination to achieve a long-needed change. With minds aligned and a clear plan, we set off and started our journey.
The initial Elewa team, ready for the road ahead!
1st of November 2017
Back to January 2018, when we found ourselves challenged. That pride, determination and enthusiasm had made room for the realisation that the challenge ahead of us was a lot bigger than expected. We started with a solid plan; but soon learned no plan survives the battlefield. And so, on that rainy and grey January day, we came together, reflected and planned.
In January, Elewa was indistinguishable from what it is today. We had little to no proven processes; we had a direction and figured out the basis of our framework, but did not yet built the technology that is one of our core strengths today. There was no notion of the Elewa Network yet, and our content development method needed a lot more R&D than initially envisioned.
Furthermore, in the three years before the event, Mike and I had been mostly working individually, splitting tasks and leveraging our personal strengths and sheer power of will to build towards our dreams. Working in a team meant we needed to significantly adjust the way we do things to be much more structured. We also needed to learn how to break down our communication to much more depth, onboarding people who unlike us did not spend the last three years researching this problem.
All of us came together. Looking back, reminiscing, analysing those last months of 2017 and finally making a commitment. One that would mark the start of 2018. No matter what, we would be operating in schools by May.
We planned, learned, adapted and build a whole lot of tools and processes in a small amount of time. We started a content development circle, attracting more than 20 content developers contributing to our cause on a freelance basis. I came to Kenya myself, bringing in outside help in the form of two interns from Belgium who built our first software in just a month and a half, and testing out this software with our clients.
We invented our greatest innovation yet: the Elewa network of ETAs and ETFs. Our team grew rapidly both in number and, more importantly, skills, coming up from five in January to over 25 employees and collaborators in May. When that day came, we were ready.
Schools launched for second term in May, and we launched along with it.
Time for take-off. Team picture with our core-team and ETAs ready to pilot in five schools.
1st of May 2018
Testing the waters
The first month was challenging. Everything we had done so far was done in a lab-setting. Testing out our tools and approaches in controlled environments, with fixed variables and parameters. The real-world is a different animal. When they say building a start-up is like assembling a plane while falling of a cliff, these were the months where we really felt that. Yet again, with might as elusive as Thor’s hammer, we pulled through and quickly managed to control our operations in schools.
And it was that month, we were able to reap the fruits of our labour. As we went through the second term in Kenyan schools, the impact we were having became clear. Even halfway through the term, we saw a transformation of the schools we worked with. A transformation which catapulted the student learning outcomes as measured against the mid- and end-term exams.
More importantly, a transformation that saw all schools move from moving students through the curriculum, to actually educating them. “My students just look alive”, one principal said. Students became more motivated and participated more actively in class. Teachers had room to grow and focus on what actually matters.
ves for the challenge ahead.
A sharp improvement in learning outcomes due to our intervention. Our impact becoming a reality.
23th of September 2018
In just eight months, our team managed to pull of what many deemed impossible when Mike and I presented the plan in the early days two years earlier. In just eight months, we built a vast and holistic solution that addresses many challenges of schools while respecting their unique and personal nature. A sense of accomplishment fell over the company. A sense of calm giving us a bit of rest and allowing us to dream. And as our mission became real and visible, as we thought about what came next, another issue came creeping out of its shadow.
Slowly, we left the eye of the storm. Once again, we braced ourselves for the challenge ahead.
Becoming a company
Up to this point, we had been focusing mostly on developing products and approaches that served our clients in the best and most engaging way possible. But a company is more than just its product. As we reached the end of the year, the cost of running our program prior significant revenue was weighing down on our shoulders. We needed to find additional funds soon to ensure the company’s survival. Furthermore, we also needed to mature from figuring it out to an established company.
From the beginning, Mike and I have been very clear about the type of organisation we want to build. The only way we will be able to impact the education system on the scale we envision, is by building a true social enterprise dependent on revenue that can be supported by external funding, but is not reliant on it. Naturally though, before something is able to stand on its own feet, it needs the delicate care and nurture to grow and develop itself.
So with the need for funding and maturity nearing a crucial point, the company set itself to three missions. The first, to build revenue by building out and executing on a sales and marketing strategy. The second, to consolidate our solution by moving from almost complete experimentation to established products and processes. On the third mission, I found myself in the exact position I was in exactly one year before: setting out in search of investors.
Looking back on these three missions, I can confidently say all three of them became a major success. Once again, we faced the challenge head on and pulled through as a strong and unified team. In just two months, we created our own European investment fund. We are honoured and motivated by the sight of more than 30 individuals and companies now standing behind our cause as investors, more joining every day.
At the same time, we established a strong base of schools and partners which became very enthusiastic about our approach and are now working with us. Again, more joining every day. Finally, we have matured tremendously and are stronger as an organisation than ever before.
Up to 2019
In a nutshell, 2018 has been a year of rare opportunities, heroic action, tremendous growth, heart-warming support, determination and excitement about the road ahead. As we’re moving into 2019, I want to thank everyone who has been with us so far. Each and every one of you has had a great impact on our journey so far and, by result, who we are today.
2019 has many things in store for us, and I’m already looking forward to a year from now, when I’ll be able to look back to another year. We are determined to exceed the growth of 2018. The sky is the limit.
Toasting to our new office, as we move into 2019. Looking forward to see you there!
20th of December 2018
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Teaching students whose motivation levels are in a winter season somewhere in Scandinavian countries is not a walk in the park. A story from a person dreading his mathematics teacher, that then became one himself. Karma is real!
Students are not taught to communicate and express their ideas. KCSE puts emphasis on the technicalities of English and Kiswahili rather than on being able to use the language and to communicate. Yet communication is most important for the students lives. Why then, are we not teaching it?
The conclusion was silently reached after all the reasons for putting off had been watered down. We strolled out of the small pub where we always go in the evenings to pass time as we gallop the cheap beer if we were lucky to be owning some coins and wanted to be generous to ourselves. The humour we always possessed was fading down as time passed by.
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