Leadership and Change
Case Study: "The Great Ones" Set Up an Affordable Preschool for At-risk ChildrenPublished: July 17, 2009
The 11 young women from rural Zambia who make up the group called "The Great Ones" were eager to set up an enterprise that would help vulnerable children whose circumstances mirror the challenges that they themselves experienced in their youth. Many of the women in the group lost one or both parents at an early age, and their guardians struggled with the cost of keeping them in school. Those childhood experiences prompted the women to establish an affordable preschool for street children with the goal of setting them on the path out of poverty. "Going to preschool gives children a healthy foundation," says 18-year-old Esnart, the group's marketing and creative director. "If we can enroll vulnerable children in school early, they won't be roaming around on the streets, which puts them at risk. It will help prepare them to make something of their lives in the future."
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Certificate Program in Young Women's Leadership and Enterprise, which aims to equip young high school graduates to drive the regeneration of rural economies, supported The Great Ones' social entrepreneurship aspirations. The program cultivates in young women the skills and the confidence to build strong, sustainable businesses that will stimulate the rural economy through job creation and economic diversification. The 11 Great Ones were among the 150 women who participated in the start of the Leadership and Enterprise program in Zambia, which ran through April 2009.
'Sitting Politely in their Seats'
The women launched their venture as somewhat of a pilot project in January 2009 with a modest start-up grant of $350, intending to test the market for such a school. To ensure that early education would be accessible to as many children as possible, the group decided to charge parents just 30,000 kwacha ($5.30) per term. For orphans who have no resources, fees were waived entirely.
The entrepreneurs went door-to-door to spread the word about their school. Their business plan called for a class of 30 children. They were surprised and heartened when on January 19, opening day, 68 children showed up. Undaunted, the women decided to run two sessions. It was clear from the first day of class that the children had [previously] had very little opportunity to learn and play. The school founders -- all of whom teach -- had a challenging task. "At first, the children didn't know how to play nicely together, or how to use the materials we gave them," says Naomi, the school's managing director. "Now they are different children. They are totally transformed. By the time their teachers arrive in the morning, they are all sitting politely in their seats, waiting for us. We are teaching them to count, sing and spell."
The success of the school's pilot phase suggests that the women have identified a pressing social need in their community. After the formal completion of their training in April 2009, the group decided to continue their preschool. Because there is a long waiting list, the young women are drawing up plans to expand the school to meet the demand.
Regenerating the Rural Economy
The Great Ones have met with an overwhelmingly positive response from their community, even receiving donations to help them cover basic costs. The Zambia Ministry of Education has also shown strong support for the young women by granting them permission to open the pre-school. Eager to develop their skills further, some of the women plan to apply to college to pursue formal teacher training.
The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative "is allowing us to take young women's aspirations, business skills and thinking to a sophisticated level that has never before been seen in their communities," says Ann Cotton, executive director of Camfed, an organization that works toward eradicating poverty in Africa through the empowerment of young women. "These young entrepreneurs are now poised to play a leading role in regenerating the rural economy."
During the final phase of the Leadership and Enterprise training program, the group exhibited photographs, drawings and teaching aids from their preschool. Their pride in what they have achieved has transformed them into confident, ambitious young women, says Naomi. "We want to show people that we have really worked hard for the children. We want them to walk away saying, 'Yes, those women have become social entrepreneurs.'"