You can be pretty sure you’re talking to a social entrepreneur when they start their story by saying:
“I used to be one of the kids that I was going to serve.” – Surya Karki
In Surya Karki’s case, that meant poor and without enough resources for a quality education.
In addition, the farm offers both students and parents and opportunity to learn. “We use the farm as a classroom”, says Karki. The children learn valuable agricultural skills and when the farm work is done, parents are invited to sit at the back of the classroom to listen in. There are sessions on diversifying crops, microfinance and sustainability.
We don’t believe money is power, but we are convinced that knowledge is power. This way, we empower the whole community.
Joy Saunders notes that officials in Afghanistan cannot account for one third of official development aid money between 2002 and 2009. And as Saunders has witnessed through her work with Integrity Action, this corruption can deprive citizens from basic needs like health care, clean water, and education.
Take, for example, the story of the Noqra Road in the Injil District of Herat Province. Development money was allocated to the construction of the road, which was intended to serve 35,000 people. The contractor began construction on the road, but five months afterward, community monitors with Integrity Action’s partner organization, Integrity Watch Afghanistan, discovered serious discrepancies between what had been promised and what the contractor was providing; the road was only five meters wide, rather than the eight that were stipulated in the contract, and the quality of the road was poor.
Integrity Action is a network of over 468 partner institutions that enable citizen participation in measuring transparency, accountability, and outcome for development project governance in 26 different countries. They use technology to improve online data collection and reporting by citizens, such as with their latest tool, DevelopmentCheck.org, which collects findings and then disseminates the messages via community forums, social media, and radio. The organization is one of two Early Entry Prize winners of the Ashoka Changemaker’s “Closing the Loop” competition, which seeks to identify innovative solutions that are helping feedback loops to empower people, drive better decisions, and put resources where they’ll make a difference. The competition’s goal is to help citizens achieve better results in social services, philanthropy, and governance.
“We work with local communities and NGOs like Integrity Watch Afghanistan on the issues that matter the most to them—lack of access to health care, poor quality water pipes, insufficient waste removal, dangerous school buildings,” Saunders said. “We make sure that people are given a voice and that they are listened to. We train local people to monitor and gather evidence of service and infrastructure failings so they can talk with credibility as they present facts and figures to government staff and contractors. They then provide feedback on the availability of information, citizen engagement, and whether the service is being delivered effectively.”
In the case of the Noqra Road, the monitors compiled evidence and mobilized community protests and direct campaigning with the contractor, provincial council, and the governor’s office. In the end, the contractor rebuilt the road according to the terms of the contract.
Similarly, Surya Karki—the other Early Entry winner for the “Close the Loop” competition—is working directly with communities to pioneer a whole new system for community development in Nepal. With his Maya Universe Academy project, community members themselves design the three-pronged development approach, which includes an educational curriculum, community farming programs and agricultural microfinance, and investment in clean energy technologies. The most innovative part of the model? The communities themselves are co-owners of the business, with a 50/50 share model split between Maya Universe Academy and the community. So the community is as invested in the program’s success as the business is.
“We are a social business, reinventing the wheel for how businesses are run and how charity should be implemented,” Karki says. “In everything we have done and we will be doing, feedback loops are the most important aspect of our model. We started by providing free education to kids in poor villages, but our model—which includes the community and the parents in the education system—has an inbuilt feedback loop.”
Maya Universe Academy is called an “academy” because there’s also a skill share component built right in. Farmers trade volunteer hours at the school for agricultural, environmental, and marketing classes that enrich their professional knowledge.
The Maya Universe Academy has discovered that it is crucial for small rural communities to be co-creators and co-owners of development solutions, rather than allowing externally created solutions to be imposed on them. The communities experience economic and societal improvement that is much more profound when the communities themselves decide which crops to grow, what to teach the children, and which energy source the village should run on.
This is the fourth in a series of essays on the power and potential of feedback loops to dramatically increase the social benefits of development assistance (read the first one here, the second here, and the third here). It accompanies a call for projects related to feedback loops in an Ashoka Changemakers competition. This work is being catalyzed by Feedback Labs with support from the Rita Allen Foundation.
Come join us here.
Co-founder Surya Karki featured on AshokaU.
तनहुँको डुम्रे बजारबाट दुई घन्टा ठाडो उकालो चढेपछि एउटा विकट गाउँ आइपुग्छ, उधिनढुंगा। गाउँको छेउमै ठूलो जंगलमा एउटा अनौपचारकि विद्यालय छ, जहाँ ढाकाको दौरा-सुरुवाल र गुन्यू-चोली लगाएका बालबालिका देखिन्छन्। उनीहरू खेल्दाखेल्दै पढिरहेका हुन्छन् र पढ्दापढ्दै खेलिरहेका।
खासमा यो माया युनिभर्स एकेडेमी हो। संस्थापक हुन्, मञ्जिल राना, २४। बाजेको थलो तनहुँ भए पनि काठमाडौँमा जन्मे-हुर्केका हुन् मञ्जिल। तीन वर्षअघि अमेरिकामा ह्युमन इकोलोजी पढ्दापढ्दै अमेरिकी शिक्षा प्रणालीमै खोट देखे उनले। पढाइ र व्यवहारमा पटक्कै संगति देखेनन्। त्यही बेला अमेरिकी प्रेमिकासँग पनि बिछोड भइदियो। अनि, निर्णय गरे, नेपालमै फर्किने र केही नयाँ काम गरेर देखाउने।
काठमाडौँबाट सोझै बाजेको थातथलो हानिए। गाउँको सरकारी स्कुलमा पढाउन खोजे तर ‘ओभर क्वालिफिकेसन’ भयो भन्दै मौका दिइएन। उनले आफ्नै ३० रोपनी बाँझो जग्गामा छिमेकी दलित, जनजाति, चेपाङ र अनाथ बालबालिकालाई भेला गरे। जंगलमै खेल्ने र रमाउने वातावरण तयार पारे।
मञ्जिललाई उनको शैक्षिक यात्रामा साथ दिने अरू दुई व्यक्ति छन्। भारत र अमेरकिामा पनि सँगै पढेका कोरयिन साथी सिन चुल युन र काठमाडौँ, मैतीदेवीका आशिष अधिकारी। आशिषले सेन्ट जेभियर्स कलेजबाट मास्टर्स इन सोसल वर्क सकेका हुन्। युन उनीसँगै तनहुँमा छन् भने आशिषले उदयपुरमा अर्को शाखा स्कुल सञ्चालन गरेका छन्। तनहुँ र उदयपुरमा गरी ६ देखि १२ वर्ष उमेर समूहका ९० विद्यार्थी छन्। यी बालबालिका अबको १० वर्षपछि देशका हरेक क्षेत्रमा नेतृत्व तहमा पुग्ने आशा छ उनलाई।
बिहान स्कुल पुग्नेबित्तिकै केटाकेटीहरू शिक्षकका अगाडि ठिंग उभिएर सरस्वती वन्दना गर्नुको सट्टा धीत मरुन्जेल खेल्छन्, एकअर्कालाई अंकमाल गर्छन् र कक्षामा छिर्छन्। कक्षाहरूलाई १ र २ भनेर वर्गीकरण गरिएको छैन। यसले विद्यार्थीहरूमा सानो-ठूलोको मानसिकता उत्पन्न हुनबाट रोक्ने मञ्जिल सुनाउँछन्। बरू कक्षालाई विद्यार्थीहरूको प्रकृति र व्यवहार अनुसार नाम दिइएको छ। जस्तै ः ‘मंकी क्लास’, ‘टाइगर क्लास’, ‘बियर क्लास’।
पाठ्यक्रम अन्य प्राइभेट स्कुलजस्तो भए पनि उनीहरू फरक ढंगबाट पढ्छन्। ‘ए फर एप्पल’ भन्दै स्याउको फोटो देखाउँदै पढाइ हुँदैन यहाँ। ‘ए फर अपार्टमेन्ट’ अनि विद्यार्थीलाई देखाइन्छ, खरले छाएको गाउँको पुरानो घर। यस्तो शैलीले विद्यार्थीलाई आफ्नो वास्तविकता बुझ्न सघाउने बताउँछन् मञ्जिल।
विद्यार्थीहरू स्वयंसेवी र शिक्षकसँगै निर्धक्क खेल्छन्। विद्यार्थीको आत्मबल बलियो छ। विद्यार्थीहरूले विदेशी स्वयंसेवीसँग निर्धक्क अंग्रेजीमा बहस गरेको देख्दा मञ्जिलको मन हषिर्त हुन्छ। भन्छन्, “अरू ठाउँमा पनि यस्ता विद्यालय खोल्नुपर्छ भन्ने हाम्रो सोच हो।”
मञ्जिलले बालमैत्री स्कुल चलाउन आजसम्म कसैबाट न अनुदान लिएका छन्, न लिन चाहन्छन्। निःशुल्क शिक्षा दिएबापत हरेक विद्यार्थीका अभिभावक महिनामा दुई दिन स्कुलमा आएर श्रमदान गर्छन्। शिक्षकलाई तलब दिन स्कुलले एक सयभन्दा बढी लोकल कुखुरा पालेको छ। केही बंगुर, सुंगुर र बाख्रा पनि छन्। धानखेती सुरु गरिएको छ। यसबाहेक, स्वयंसेवा गर्न आएका विदेशी विद्यार्थीसँग मासिक दुई सय डलर लिन्छन्। उदयपुरमा अग्र्यानिक खेती गर्ने र सस्तो होस्टल सञ्चालन गर्ने तयारी भइरहेको उनको भनाइ छ।
विद्यार्थीहरू आफ्ना शिक्षकसँग घुमिरहन्छन्। तनहुँका विद्यार्थी उदयपुर जान्छन् भने उदयपुरका तनहुँ। यसलाई भिन्न स्थान र परिवेशमा हुर्केका केटाकेटीहरूबीच स्थानीय भाषा र संस्कृति बुझ्ने अवसरका रूपमा लिन्छन् मञ्जिल। उनी आफ्नै मिहिनेत र सीपलाई लागू गर्न पाएकामा खुसी छन्। भन्छन्, “उता पढेर ठूलो संस्थाको जागिर खाएको भए पैसा त कमाउँथेँ होला। तर, सन्तुष्टि अवश्य पाउँदिनथेँ।”
Recently Surya Karki held a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. He managed to raise the funds and will be teaching effective advocacy techniques to the educators and administrators of Maya Universe Academy in Nepal. Keep posted to this blog for updates on this project.
From http://beditionmagazine.com/bearing-witness-to-global-citizenship-education-in-nepal/. By Shelane Jorgenson, PhD candidate, ’09 MEd, ’05 BA
Climbing up the mountain to Maya Universe Academy (MUA) is like entering a different time and space. Not in the past, as you might imagine a small rural school in the Tanahun District of Central Nepal to be, but rather the future. As a Doctoral candidate in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada, I have studied and observed education systems around the world, but no form of education has captured my heart to the extent of MUA in the village of Udhin Dhunga, Nepal has. Though I spent only a few days at the school, I was greeted with open arms of the staff, volunteers, students and broader community like I was a family member returning home. It was not by any plan or aspiration to go to the school that I ended up there, but by some divine karmic path to show me the potential of education.
After spending a month at Oneness University in India, I came to Nepal at the beginning of May to visit a friend in Kathmandu whom I had met on a flight 13 years ago. In accordance with extraordinary Nepali hospitality, I was welcomed into the family and a seemingly endless network of family and friends that have guided and accompanied my journey. Knowing that I am interested in education, my friend set up an opportunity for me to visit MUA, which was started by his nephew, Manjil Rana in 2010. The Academy, which I learned is the first and only free non-government school in Nepal, is a non-profit, community and volunteer-run organization with about 60 students and growing daily. In response to the growing number of enrollments and seeing the need for free non-government education in other regions of the country, two more schools have since opened. One in the rural village of Chisapani, and another in the Syangja district of Nepal.
Maya, which means love or friendship, is a perfect depiction of the energy and spirit of MUA. After the long journey to the school (about a 5 hour bus ride, one hour jeep ride and one hour hike up a mountain) from Kathmandu, I was instantly welcomed with smiles and conversation with the children, foreign volunteers and devout staff that work tirelessly to maintain and sustain the operation and vision of MUA. The mission of the Academy is to “embrace social responsibility and creative-mindfulness to educate and inspire our students and their families to build community, gain greater independence, and transform their lives.” A tall order for a rural school operating on revolving door of volunteers, few staff and little funding. If you were to tell me a month ago that a school in a rural village in Nepal is providing free education, and in some cases boarding, to underprivileged kids without any government or NGO funding base, I would not have believed you. However, in three days, my world and ideas about education were forever altered.
The most integral insight I gleaned in three days was about passion and compassion. MUA was developed through the compassionate heart of its founders. Recognizing the deficiencies of government schools that were not meeting the needs of students and unaffordability of private schools, which are unattainable to the majority of Nepalese people, the founders saw a need for quality education that was also free of cost. Their compassion for underprivileged children and providing them with equal opportunities for quality primary education, called upon a network of local and international volunteers to make their vision a reality. It is with great passion that I see volunteers and staff working to sustain this vision. In order to make this a reality, families of MUA students are asked to volunteer two days a month undertaking tasks such as building classrooms, cooking, gardening and daycare in exchange for their children’s education. Everywhere I looked, there were educational spaces being opened through informal learning. Foreign volunteers were learning how to speak Nepali, how to build classrooms and toilets using local knowledge and materials, local gardening, farming, cooking techniques and more. Reciprocally, the local Maya community was learning from the experience and knowledge of its foreign volunteers. While I was at MAU, French and Theatre classes were developed and delivered by two young French volunteers based on their knowledge and experience being theatre majors in their home university. Mutual and reciprocal learning from the local to the global fuels growth for all Mayan community members in multiple ways- personal, intellectual, community and spiritual. I have never in my life seen such a committed and passionate group of volunteers, whose hearts and spirit are intrinsically tied to the Maya community.
The local and global connections of inter-cultural education are the subject of my doctoral research. As people from different parts of the world come together, there are tremendous possibilities for global citizenship- some encouraging for the potential of interactions to foster relationships and care for others beyond borders, but there are also risks in the ways that knowledge transmission is undertaken. I have come across too many educational programs that foster a one-way traffic of privileged North American or European students traveling to the global south to embark on a short international visit and returning home without learning the language or ways of their hosts. Global citizenship emerging from such one-way practices perpetuates many of the colonial trends that maintain inequitable power relations. The global citizenship education that I bore witness to at MUA was possibly the most genuine and encouraging that I have had the privilege to encounter. Maya students, most who have never been beyond the hills of their village, are receiving a global education that the volunteers from countries such as Holland, Malta, Malaysia and Korea, are bringing to their lives inside and outside of the classroom. Reciprocally, the foreign volunteers are learning and living the reality of a remote mountain village, where water is fetched daily from a nearby spring, eating food that one grows and is cooked on an open fire, and as one volunteer stated, “having little access to the outside world,” without internet or other media readily available. Yet, in the world of MUA, the conditions of rural living are embraced with great cooperation and humility. Everyone, learning, growing, becoming global citizens.
The community of Dhunga recognizes the power of education and the wonderful opportunities that are afforded to their children at no monetary cost. This is reflected in continual requests for enrollment and parents showing up more than their required 2 days to volunteer. As the Mayan community grows to meet this demand through increased registration, expanding schools, hiring staff and hosting volunteers, donations to sustain their vision and dream are paramount. If you want to be involved and support the Mayan community to educate and inspire students, their families and volunteers for social development and fostering global citizenship, please visit http://mischwald.ch/mayauniverseacademy/get-involved.
Chairman Rana featured in The Kathmandu Post.
Read full article → http://epaper.ekantipur.com/ktpost/showtext.aspx?boxid=1327962&parentid=24026&issuedate=2962013
Students and their parents, foreign volunteers and Maya founders work to make the Maya Universe Academy self-sustainable through farming and food production on the schools’ lands.
In recent months, I have worked a lot with currencies, as I’m involved with Dropis, a team of developers, researchers, and designers dedicated to creating a currency for the sharing economy. So, when I came across “Love is our Currency,” a TEDx talk by Manjil Rana, cofounder and president of Maya Universe Academy, my curiosity was piqued:
I was impressed with the video, and their gift economy model was exciting. The founders aimed to create a self-sustaining system to support quality education for children in Nepal’s rural areas. Impressive. Right after watching the talk, I got in touch with Manjil and asked to meet him in Kathmandù to get more details.
As the Maya (meaning “love” in Nepali) Universe Academy proves, love for your community and passion for solving real community problems can be new forms of currency—a new means of exchange that generate impressive changes for good.
Entrepreneurship in a Country with Systemic Crises
I landed in Nepal, eager to see the country and meet these amazing people. By the end of the first day, I hadn’t met with Manjil, as he was needed at Damauli School. But over the phone, he put me in contact with Prabesh KC, his cofounder.
I met Prabesh over a cup of tea, along with Prayas Cheetri, Maya’s IT person. They were in Kathmandu to buy some machinery for the production of juices and jams. The fruit for these products came from the lush banana and orange plantations the communities created at the various sites that now make up the Maya Universe.
Prabesh, me and Prayas in Kathmandu.
The chat with Prabesh and Prayas confirmed my impressions: Nepal is a wonderful country, but plagued by enormous social and political problems. A weak democracy, born after years of civil war, was recently threatened by the inability of parties to agree on a shared vision and the political climate is still unstable. The distance between the Nepalese people and the government is abysmal.
The first thing Prabesh told me was that quality education — both elementary and higher — is limited, if not absent, in Nepal. That was why he and Manjil spent most of their lives as students abroad, mainly in India.
At the end of their studies in anthropology (Manjil) and social business (Prabesh), the two felt very little excitement about creating a traditional business, or in working abroad for a corporation. Instead, they were aware of the enormous problems facing education in their country and decided to devote their themselves to finding a solution.
They resolved to challenge the government by showing that the quality of education provided to children, especially in rural areas of Nepal, was so low that they can do better with little or no resources.
Manjil owned a piece of land in the county of Damauli. It was here that Manjil, Prabesh, and Yoon from Korea began, literally, from inside a tent.
The very first “classroom” during a monsoon rain.
From Loans to Self-sustaining Social Enterprise
In the beginning, the school survived only through the support of friends, but soon infrastructure and more organization was needed. Incredibly enough, the guys were able to obtain bank loans to support their project by using family property as collateral. Although this helped the team to leave the tents and build better facilities, it strained family relationships.
These events instigated the entrepreneurial mindset of the team. From the very beginning, Maya Universe Academy started experimenting diverse models with the aim of making the effort self-sustaining.
Since the most accessible resource they had was land, they started with growing bananas and oranges and breeding pigs, chickens, and ducks.
In communities where schools were established, it did not take long for the villagers to understand the value of the project, and soon they began contributing — especially those whose children were attending the new schools.
These skills and labor exchanges are at the core of the project. This gift economy sustains the enterprise.
One of the current school buildings.
Explaining the Economic Model
Admittance at Maya Schools is effectively free, which makes them the first free private schools recognized by the government of Nepal.
In exchange for the children’s admittance, the parents work two days per month in operations. They contribute to the production process (eg: farming), or just help with facility construction and other needs.
As production is still not mature enough to make the full monthly bank loan payment (though it covers most needs), Maya asks volunteers visiting the schools to pay approximately $200 per month for food and shelter. This is the only money coming into Maya for now. The aim of the team is to eliminate the need for this funding source, which should be possible when production ramps up.
The founders’ vision is to avoid NGO funding, as it is not always transparent, and to operate solely on a self-sustaining model. These educational communities should be strong enough to hold their own in the long term, and create skilled and educated workers. This system repurposes the often under-utilized skills of the villagers, who are farmers, ranchers, and foremen, to ensure a very basic need: a good education for children who will eventually become key players in local development.
The Impacts of Maya on Communities
Today, the project educates more than 80 children, from six to 11 years old, in three villages (Damauli, Sagarmatha, Syanja). Word of mouth spreads very quickly, and numerous requests have been made for Maya to open new schools.
The quality of education Maya provides is more respected than the government-backed schools. Older children coming from government-backed schools must start in a lower-grade class in order to catch up.
The impact of the Maya schools is so positive that the local government schools have increased the quality of education out of fear of losing students to Maya.
Manijl and Prabesh with some students and foreign teachers.
Looking Out for Love
Discussing the future of Maya with the cofounders, it became clearer to me how projects like Open Source Ecology will be important in the future. For example, an open source approach could be used by Maya to build the jam and juice canning machines. This would be a more cost-effective solution than buying pre-made industrial machinery, but is still not feasible due to cost.
The daily life of Maya consists of experimenting with new ways to create wealth, and this reminded me a lot of the lean approach of hackers, which emphasizes continuous experimentation and iterative design. Both are key to the “changemaker” movement. I referred to this in a recent Shareable article.
What Can be Learned from Maya
When I arrived in Nepal, I was hoping to learn how a local community creates wealth and a more meaningful life. By the time I left Nepal, I had a lot of ideas and inspiration.
I’ve learned that gift economies could have a big positive impact on local communities. Maya’s work suggests that supporting social enterprises with the production of tangible wealth (like agricultural products) can work, and even teach the “rich” West a lesson. Those who wonder how to make sense of their lives and skills can take a cue from these men in Nepal who created something important to help their community.
Volunteering in one of Maya schools is not only an enriching experience, but could teach you a lot about how to organize sharing projects in your own community. Nepal is not the only country in crisis; we should all evaluate new economic models, and focus on our own communities.
Follow me on @meedabyte, and get in touch if you want more information about Maya.
Chairman Rana was featured in Teenz “A League of Incredibles”
There is a certain amount of moral fiber one requires to dream, but even more so to make someone else’s dreams come true. Heaven definitely has a place reserved in the name of Manjil Rana. This young man has abandoned his studies in the U.S., stripped himself off of all of societal wishes, and stepped into the world of providing education to the poor and underprivileged. His first project, Maya Universe Academy, Tanahu, where they follow the Maya Model- free education in return for 2 days of volunteering from the parents has become a tremendous success. People from nearby villages have begun sending their kids off to school and there is a positive change in the air around the villages. We asked him where the inspiration for his work came from, to which he replied” I believe in moving with the flow of the universe with a good heart and a smart head.”
Most people, no matter how smart and loyal to their country, sit around complaining about how the country is being run, none of us stand up and willingly become part of it, Rana believes that the revolution will finally begin the day the children in his school graduate. He has full faith in the children and the bright future ahead of them. When asked to describe himself, he says ‘I’m a dreamer’, and one that turns them into an enchanted reality.
Apart from being the 24 year old man who brought about a revolutionary change in the pre existing idea that we are ‘too young’ for greatness, he is also just a regular boy who enjoys an occasional drink with friends, travelling and meeting new people. There is not a moment of silence with Rana, no matter how long you’ve been around him for. He could discuss anything from social work, economics, philosophy and when it comes to politics, he is a man of a hundred opinions.He claims he would have loved to be a politician if not a youth movement leader. His future ambitions include sustaining his project in a number of ways, such as launching products in the city to help out the parents of the children studying in his school and gathering likeminded youth from Kathmandu to come and volunteer in the villages. He further adds, “I think I can definitely become a change maker in my field, life is like a long poem with never ending words, and I think I already added a few verses.”