• Social Entrepreneur Index

Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: United World Schools


Tim Howarth, CEO of United World Schools talks to us about partnering with local communities to teach the unreached, how they got started and what they are planning for the future.

Tim Howarth, United World Schools


What does your social enterprise do?


United World Schools (UWS) works in some of the world's poorest regions to give every child access to free education. We have developed a scalable and sustainable model, in which we partner with local communities and supporters around the world to teach the unreached.


What made you start your business up?


Education is a fundamental human right. Yet 61 million children around the world do not have access to basic primary schooling, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and exploitation. We believe that investing in education gives children the knowledge, opportunities and skills they need to fulfil their potential.


How do you measure your impact?


Our in-country teams measure our impact by visiting the schools and collecting quantitive measures of progress on a regular basis. We measure a wide range of factors: student attendance, girl to boy ratio, exam results ... as well as multiple education quality indicators (including student engagement and teacher-student interaction). Our mission is not only to provide free education to out-of-school children but to ensure this is a quality education, which relies on quality teaching.


What help did you have to start your social enterprise?


A number of friends and family initially donated... and from small beginnings, since then we have had the support of thousands of donors around the world. We have partnered with 150+ schools, 20+ corporate partners and 50+ individuals... their ongoing support and commitment inspire us and the work we do really wouldn't be possible without them.


How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?


In the UK, we are a registered charity, as the support of our donors is absolutely central to our work. In the countries we operate, currently Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar, we are a registered NGO, which allows us to work in partnership with government ministries and ensure ongoing sustainability for all UWS schools.


What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?


It's got to be seeing the impact of your work and making a real difference to people's lives. In our case, it’s enabling some of the poorest children on the planet to go to school, learning to read, write and count, which is vital for them to be able to access a better future.


What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?


Our biggest challenge has been maintaining a focus on our mission - working with very disadvantaged groups, they often have multiple social needs and challenges, so 'scope creep' is a risk. But it's all about balance... a holistic approach is also central to the work we do and we respond first and foremost to the needs of the communities we work with and the local context.


What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?


It’s 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration … and you always need both!


What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?


A good coffee shop, a budget to buy 20 cups of coffee, and meet with as many people who will give you 30 minutes. There are so many great people in the sector, and they are the most valuable resource you’ll find.


What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?


We want to continue to develop our schools and the UWS model, aiming to increase our reach to 50,000 previously out of school children. We want to become an industry-wide respected educational NGO serving remote areas internationally, measured by both quantity and quality. Finally, and most importantly, we want to maintain community empowerment, sustainability and collaboration as core pillars of our approach.


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