Chris Janssen: Focusing Our Impact on Education

Over the coming months, Textbooks for Change will be sharing stories and updates from our trip to Ethiopia and Kenya. Our first update is from Chris Janssen, sharing our shift in focus from social impact in general, to becoming experts in education.

In 2012, I was first introduced to concept of micro-finance and the impact this movement was creating across the world through classes I took at the Ivey Business School. I experienced this first hand when I traveled to a rural village called Zurzular in Honduras on a study trip in 2013. Here, a group of peers and I analyzed the coffee supply chain for this small village to determine how to eliminate the middlemen or “loan sharks.”

Coffee beans — a major source of income for the families in Zurzular
Setting up our micro-finance cooperative in 2013

We created suggestions that would increase the average income of the villagers, allowing them to meet their basic needs. However, these suggestions could only be put into action with a small capital injection for transportation costs, and education on how the supply chain operated. Over the course of this journey our team set up a micro-finance cooperative and educated the farmers on the next steps to take.

This experience further sparked my interest in micro-finance, so I decided to conduct research for a professor on small-scale entrepreneurship throughout Kenya. I discovered that many entrepreneurs had ambitious plans, but lacked access to the capital needed in order to scale their businesses. During these travels I also lectured a business course at the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali, Rwanda. Throughout my travels, I saw library shelves essentially bare and a lack of educational resources to adequately support the students I met.

Upon my return to Canada, I took these lessons and further developed Textbooks for Change (T4C), which was a growing, but small project I worked on while in school. T4C had a broad focus of both providing educational materials to students and delivering micro-finance loans to entrepreneurs through an organization called Kiva.
A sample of our Kiva metrics
JP, a personal friend I met in Kenya and a recipient of our micro-loan portfolio.

Kiva is a platform that allows people to lend money to low income/under-served entrepreneurs and students. Over the past few years T4C has distributed nearly $80,000 in micro-loans to entrepreneurs in 68 countries. T4C has also delivered some direct loans to entrepreneurs we met along our journey, including John-Phillip an entrepreneur in Mombasa, Kenya.

This July T4C traveled to Ethiopia and Kenya to visit the universities who have received and will be receiving textbooks. We were able to meet countless students, faculty, and librarians who helped our team further understand the fast growing educational landscape. This experience opened our eyes to the impact T4C had the potential to create if we focused our time, energy, and money solely on education. We captured this whole journey on film and can’t wait to share the documentary with all of you.

We will now strengthen our post-secondary partnerships in Africa, and take steps to ensure the efficacy through every step of the model. There will be changes in the near future to optimize this impact, and we will make sure to provide updates along this journey. Micro-finance is still something we are all very passionate about and we hope to work with student groups focused on global development.

Tom and I with Professors at Moi University in Kenya
We are proud of our history with micro-finance, but need to take steps from being a social company with a broad focus to a social company that strives to become leaders in the education sector. We envision a world where all students have equal access to educational material (physical & digital), and we want to be the organization that pushes the envelope forward.

Big things are yet to come…