A historical record of 2018

The fate of “un-brilliant” pupils

Jente Rosseel, Strategy & Business Development

29 December 2018

There is no doubt that Kenyans are very philanthropic. Only this week, while form one admission is going on, I have seen numerous occasions were Kenyans have teamed up to secure opportunities for the bright but underprivileged students to join the schools that they were lucky to be called. Behind the Mshenzi hashtag, social media is a breeding ground of kindness as gestures of good wishes are shared across. From the deserts in the up north, through the ranges and mountains of central past the rift valley all the way to the lakeside and surrounding regions. Kenyans are supporting their next generation in all ways possible. Governors are also busy launching scholarships worth millions to bright students. students are smiling all the way as parents shed tears of relief. Thanks to everyone. Sincerely.

So, today, looking at this wave of kindness shared across the social media I sneaked myself sometimes off the calls and summoned myself for a meeting. I have been making a lot of calls of late and if am not on a call, am busy updating my progress with the principals on pipe drive. The agenda of the meeting with myself was to try to find out answers about all these scholarships and sponsorship going around. I always have a lot of other pending questions but due to their scary nature, I normally avoid talking about it with myself.

The meeting was called to order and the first question was raised. Have I ever been part of those people who are there for others? Have I ever lent my financial aid to whoever deserved it to finance his or her education? Have I ever trusted someone on social media enough to give my contribution? This question left me with a lot of questions than answers but one thing I concluded is that those people who help others are genuinely kind. It takes a lot of courage and sacrifice to offer financial aid bearing in mind the fact that we can never satisfy our own needs. And from that, I genuinely appreciate those guys.

The second question was about those students who are from poor backgrounds and are not bright. What happens to them? I arm myself with imaginary armour and sail to the imagination. A student from a poor background who his or her parents can only afford to be alive for their children. They lack food, just like those bright ones claim on TVs and social media, they live in the deplorable state and if lucky to go to school, they go to the neighbouring poorest school that they can be tolerated. The schools with nothing but a name of the surrounding environment as a school. They are absent most of the time as they are busy looking for food or taking care of their parents or siblings. They give their best and score below 150 marks or even worse below a hundred. This is their dead end. No school fees to proceed or let me be honest and say no one is willing to admit them.

So, I rush to Google to seek more answers if underperforming in class and examination is a choice. Does genetics affect grades in school? I get about 68,600,000 results in 0.76 seconds. The first one says, ‘Genes can have up to 80% influence on students’ academic performance.’ I wish not to proceed from there but I am building an opinion in my head. For some students, it is not by choice that they don’t perform very well.

The scholarships, the sponsorship is strictly for bright students from poor backgrounds. Sometimes it is easy for bright kids from well off families   to secure scholarships than those from backgrounds in abject poverty and they did not perform well. I will describe these scholarships as selective empathy whereby others are extolled while others are dragged publicly in shame by the same system. I can imagine how they feel. Unlucky in every way.

What do we need to do then? For sure we don’t have enough resources to assist everyone. But some of these students need whatever help possible to at least help them help their families and siblings. But since we are not looking at that need, then I suppose that after forcing them to attend poor schools, eating poor diet, clothe in tattered clothes, embarrassing them by being always the last in every exam, frustrating them by offering selective empathy, we rank them and display their names in public, praise those who are better than them and denying them the scholarships and sponsorships. I don’t wish to imagine of the emotional torture that they are subjected to.

The only thing that we can do, therefore, is to kill them. Since we don’t need them. It is evident from our actions. We should then ensure that all of them are in the graves resting in peace rather than being subjected to public ridicule. These are the people we always suspect of being thieves, loiterers, accuse them of being dirty and having bad manners. We are quick to wrap them in the tyres and burn them when they seek solace in the theft. I thought at least the person who need help the most is the one who is struggling with poor grades. But we have done the opposite. Support those who are at a better position to help themselves and kill whatever glimpse of hope that was existing on the people who needed us the most. Kill them.

I believe it is high time that we stop social media PR and antics and concentrate on making quality education accessible for everyone. We should never allow the squandering of potentials of our children to happen again. Not in this century. It might not ring a bell to you because it may not affect you at your office, you are not a teacher, you are not a decision maker in education, you are not poor. I promise you one day you will face the consequence of neglecting the poor who are not bright. We better act and act now. Let us join hands and support whatever initiatives that are there to improve the access  to education quality education.

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.

Construction

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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