15 Feb Good on the Ground in Liberia: Good360’s Visit with More Than Me Shines Light on Transformational Collaboration
Beginning in 2016, Good360 established a partnership with More Than Me (MTM), a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the dire educational system in Liberia.
It’s a monumental task, to be sure. Our team saw firsthand some of the herculean educational challenges facing this West African nation on a trip to the capital city of Monrovia, hosted in early February by MTM for its board of directors and key partners to personally see the organization’s work.
Sub-Saharan Africa struggles with the lowest school enrollment in the world, and Liberia stands out even within this dismal picture. Only 43 percent of the country’s primary-age students attend school, according to UNICEF. Less than half of 15-24 year-olds are literate. Many schools have little in the way of supplies and sometimes lack even basic desks and chairs. Teacher absenteeism has been a persistent problem.
This is the legacy of two gruesome civil wars, followed by the public health crisis brought on by the spread of the Ebola virus in 2014.
The beleaguered state of its schools prompted Liberia to launch a grand experiment — the country has outsourced its entire education system. More Than Me, which began with one all-girls academy in Monrovia, serves as one of the key operators and now runs 18 of these Partnership Schools for Liberia throughout the country. MTM expects to roughly double this number for the 2018-2019 school year.
These schools are public, but backed by the government and operated by MTM. What makes them different than previous government-run schools is in the efficiency of the operation and the focus on the “whole child” that is a cornerstone of the MTM model. And thanks to $300,000 in in-kind donations facilitated by Good360, they are much better equipped with adequate school supplies and student uniforms.
Our team returned from Liberia with the following personal accounts of what they witnessed on the ground.
Howard Sherman, Good360 CEO:
Good360 is the global leader in product philanthropy. This leadership position gives us the opportunity and responsibility to think creatively about how to achieve our mission of empowering local nonprofits and the communities they serve around the world. Our partnership with More Than Me is an excellent example of how we’re driving innovation across private and public sectors.
More Than Me is working to reinvent how education systems in developing countries can be developed and strengthened. Its goal is to create a holistic, scalable, and sustainable model for education. But the vision is bigger than education. The More Than Me model is based on multiple pillars, which include not just education, but also health, community engagement, and safety:
- By engaging the local communities, More Than Me is able to elevate the importance of committing to education, which helps drive better attendance.
- By providing health clinics within each school setting, the model enables students to stay healthier in high-risk communities.
- Safety is also critical to this model. In developing countries, including Liberia, children face real threats such as child labor, and early marriage and pregnancy. They need to have confidence that their learning environment is safe and be educated on how to safely navigate their life circumstances.
- By working closely with the government, More Than Me is developing a sustainable and scalable model for cross-sector collaboration.
The work that More Than Me is doing truly is being watched by the world. This is the ideal partnership for Good360 — one that is innovating, absolutely committed to a critical mission, and shows a strong belief in the power of collaboration.
We are like-minded organizations that complement each other in terms of addressing a significant challenge. We both believe in the power of a vision where we’re putting the challenge at the center of the table and surrounding it with commitment, ideas, action, and accountability.
Tiffany Everett, Senior Director of Disaster Recovery:
More Than Me recognized that merely changing the curriculum or adding teachers would not be enough. Instead, MTM approached reform by providing access to basic healthcare for students, safely transporting them to and from school, equipping students and teachers with adequate supplies, and rehabbing the school buildings themselves.
We are proud to have sent approximately $300,000 in school supplies and school uniforms for the 2017-18 academic year, helping to outfit 18 schools. We hope to scale our work alongside MTM’s expected growth in the 2018-19 school year.
Our partnership with More Than Me is a perfect illustration of our commitment to long-term disaster recovery. The devastation wreaked by more than a decade of brutal civil wars and the Ebola crisis crippled the country’s progress in monumental ways. Together with MTM, we want to provide sustainable solutions that will support the country’s lasting recovery.
Our collaboration also underscores the importance of having a great partner on the ground. More Than Me began by providing access to schooling for extremely vulnerable young girls in a rough community within Monrovia. After several years of working in-country, More Than Me staff members have developed a good understanding of the cultural nuances, as well as the barriers and bridges in the community where they reside and work. This local knowledge makes them the right partner for us.
What is a school without backpacks, pencils, markers, blackboards, and composition books? We have worked with the More Than Me team to identify the products that are needed but that cannot be sourced locally. For example, we don’t seek out donations of blackboards because MTM can engage (and pay) people locally to produce them quickly and efficiently. However, we know that blackboard paint would be a very useful donation to provide a finished, usable product.
Looking ahead to the 2018-19 school year, we have already identified product needs in the categories of student supplies (e.g. backpacks, composition books, pencils and more), teacher support supplies (e.g. reading glasses) and general personal care items (e.g. socks, rain ponchos, toothpaste and toothbrushes).
Shari Rudolph, Chief Marketing Officer:
The education reform that MTM seeks to ignite goes beyond providing more school supplies. It’s also about improving access to education, increasing the availability of skilled teachers, and leveraging the community at large to advocate for the value of education. It’s this holistic approach to surrounding a problem that Good360 fully endorses – and one that we can support with the right goods.
Our partnership with More Than Me represents an unprecedented opportunity to be part of a truly transformational, highly scalable initiative. Happily, MTM’s mission also ties well with Good360’s own mission to transform lives. The prolonged civil wars and the Ebola crisis contributed to the destruction of much of Liberia’s (trained) workforce, so rebuilding the education system and arming the next generation with the tools and knowledge they need to thrive is critical.
And it’s not just academic skills, but also life skills that students are learning. For example, one critical goal is to promote cleanliness and sanitary habits among students.
MTM has developed a unique and innovative solution called the “tippy tap.” For less than $5 in materials costs, this simple device allows students to easily wash their hands before coming to class or after using the bathroom. The students are taught the hands-free approach of stepping on a stick which acts as a lever to pull a string and tip a container of water forward. It doesn’t require setting up a complicated plumbing system and figuring out how to pipe in water — or figuring out how to pay for this expensive infrastructure.
The nonprofit world is often charged with solving some of society’s biggest challenges like hunger, poverty, and access to education. While the temptation is to come up with massive civil projects, in this case, all that was needed to promote cleaner hands was a creative $5 solution.. It’s this kind of innovative, agile thinking that defines what More Than Me and Good360 are trying to achieve in reforming Liberia’s education system.