Vancouver’s Education Generation Making News

Living in North America, we often overlook the luxury we have to access the quality and quantity of educational opportunites. We are able to get affordable education in almost any field, at any time of the year.  But around the world, it’s a different story.

That’s why I was glad to learn about a Vancouver-based non-profit start-up, Education Generation that makes it their mission to provide education to students around the world.  Using technology, they bridge the gap between those wanting to provide education and related services to those in need, students. Here is a brief Q&A with two of the principals on the team, Shawn Smith and Behrad Bayanpour.  Here is the Georgia Straight article that started it all.

How do you begin a not for profit start-up, other than the idea? 

[Behrad] Very much so like any start up but with no expectation of compensation. A lot of a lot of work goes into getting the idea off the ground and with minimal budget, in our case lack of a budget, everything is done as a grass root organization.

[Shawn]  Carefully, and with no money or expectation of financial reward. The most important step is sharing your ideas with people you respect and truly fleshing out all of the pitfalls and potential….and then convincing these people to help you! You must rely strongly, nearly entirely, on social networks to get an idea off the ground, and usually with no or extremely minimal revenue sources (and so, extremely limited expenses). This is from my experience with Global AFC and Education Generation, I’m sure some people would never start without a large grant or backer, but that runs the risk of removing the entrepreneur factor from the social entrepreneur in my mind…and of paralysis from action. Move and the world will move with you in surprising ways. 

Inspiration for the name? 

[Behrad] Education Generation stems from our ideology of providing access to education to the youth of a generation will hopefully pave the road to provide access to youth of generations to come. 

Is there a difference between a social entrepreneur and a regular one? (This is based on the Straight article and how Shawn calls himself that.)

[Behrad] A social entrepreneur is really a category of entrepreneur who decides to become a catalyst to solving a social problem and ultimately cause social change. An entrepreneur will typically measure success in the profit generated where a social entrepreneur will measure success in terms of impact made. 

[Shawn] There are great similarities as well. Both identify a perceived need in society and move to fill it. The primary difference is the motive for financial gain for a business entrepreneur, and the lack thereof, or limited role, for this in a social entrepreneur. The fascination is with coming up with solutions that can be sustained in a systemic and long term way…to create real lasting change. 

Can you tell me about crowd-sourced funding and how it pertains to Education Generation? How much have you raised to date? Does everyone get a cut?  

[Behrad] Crowd funding as the name suggests is created through contributions of the masses. We bridge the gap between eager students and supporters and utilize the concept of crowd funding to provide scholarships to students. As mentioned we are purely not for profit, none of the staff are getting compensated by any means. 

Do you have investors?

[Behrad] Sure if you consider the time spent by the staff of the organizations as investment. Otherwise, no. We have had zero dollars invested by external investors into development of the organization.

[Shawn] None. All sweat and tears, and a small amount contributed directly from our donors (can explain this process if needed) that covers very basic expenses like hosting etc. 

Most difficult time in the last two-years, most rewarding?

[Behrad] Most difficult: making initial decisions to get the pilot moving.

Most rewarding: reaching our initial goal of raising sufficient capital in half the targeted time! Proof of concept was reached in 6 months.

[Shawn] Managing the first growth spurts have been both difficult and incredibly rewarding…recognizing that the model must remain flexible in serving the students, partner organizations, and donors, without compromising on any of the core issues.

Tell me about the partnership in Peru with Mosqoy and the first fellow? 

[Behrad] Mosqoy is one of our many partners who is at the ground level working with students. We have started a pilot program which allows fellows to visit and engage our partners at the ground level. The idea is to provide additional support partners while providing exposure to our fellow. Zaya Kadryova is the Fellow Program Manager and also the first fellow. Visit our site to get her news updates and pictures from her fellowship.

How you plan to scale this worldwide?

[Behrad] Word of mouth has played an enormous role in our growth and will continue to do so. Our user base is spread across North America and Europe and we are considering starting other chapters in other countries.

[Shawn] Organic growth to begin, and work of mouth explains all of our success to date. Strategic partnerships with other organizations to increase our exposure, and we are actively seeking support from organizations with funding, technical or marketing expertise to help us continue this growth pattern. We continue to gain donors, and potential partners, and the simplicity and effectiveness of the platform seem to speak for themselves – now we just need to dig up the resources to keep up!

What’s next for Education Generation?

[Behrad] Our goal is to fulfill $10 million scholarships by end of 2012 and in order to achieve this goal:

1. We are drafting design documents to conduct major development in our website capability and hence in desperate need of developers. 

2. We are also actively looking into adding to our repertoire of partners

[Shawn] We are also adding fellows and concerting efforts to increase public exposure and attract a few more developers to help build out a growing list of desired features.

How can people participate?

Participation can take many forms:

1. Become an agent of change by spreading the word.

2. Volunteer! We have a fun team and we need people particularly with web development, accounting, legal, and marketing prowess. Email us at if interested in volunteering time.

3. Fellowship! Email us about future opportunities in 2010.

4. Donate to a student, or consider donating to the project in general by inviting your friends & colleagues to the community.