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Hungry for Change

The young people effect

Remember the girl effect? The idea that if you give a girl an education she’ll transform her community and change the world?

I want to propose a similar phenomenon, and I’m calling it the young people effect.

To prove it, I’m going to tell you a story. 

Seven years ago, a Cambodian education organisation called KAPE approached Oaktree with a project no-one else was willing to take a chance on. KAPE’s project, the Beacon School Initiative, was ambitious but risky. Few would have anticipated that the project would live up to it’s name: that it would become a ‘beacon’ of hope for the Cambodian public schooling system.

Corruption is rife in Cambodian schools. Many teachers are underpaid and poorly trained. In theory, education is free. But teachers across the country often charge informal fees to make ends meet.

No matter how hard they work, without access to the curriculum through the “special classes” young Cambodian students are in danger of failing. This means some families have to make the heart-wrenching decision to remove their kids from an education that is likely to fail by design.

Across three schools, BSI regulated informal fees and offered teachers performance based pay, trained teachers, awarded scholarships to struggling students, and built badly needed infastructure like science and computer labs.

In 2014, Cambodia’s Minister for Education caught onto the project’s success. Last year he signed it into national education policy. The pilot is running in five schools in different provinces this year, with a vision to expand to twenty.

This is the young people effect in action. And it works in two ways:

1. The risk takers and innovators back home.

Like I said, no-one would touch the Beacon School Initiative because it aimed to take on a system of deeply entrenched corruption. The model was untested, and it wasn’t a sure thing at all.

As an organisation, Oaktree is at the cutting edge because we’re willing to take well-thought-out risks - and they really pay off. We’re innovative because we’re young people - not in spite of that.

Every single one of our staff and regular volunteers are 26 or under. That might sound risky to some people, but for us, the fact that we’re young feeds into our optimism, energy and hunger for change.

We’re not convinced that the old ways of doing development are best. That’s why we don’t work on the ground. We trust that our partners are the experts on creating change in their communities, not us. 

And when KAPE came to us with their plan, we saw the brilliance of their vision.

But we only nudged the first domino. Which brings me to the second part of the effect.

2. The brilliant young Cambodians who wholeheartedly embraced their education.

If you want to capture the program’s success, take the Demonstration school as an example. Before KAPE’s involvement, the school had such a poor reputation that it was facing closure. In 2015, it won second prize for Best School in Cambodia at the Annual National Congress of Education. 

It’s not just KAPE at work here. The program paid off because young Cambodians are bright, driven, and hungry for opportunity.

What’s the central message here? Empower young people and they get stuff done. They make change.

That’s the young people effect.