Social Entrepreneur Index nominee: United World Schools
We meet Tim Howarth, Chief Executive of United World Schools and one of our nominees for the Social Entrepreneur Index 2020.
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 establish, support and develop small and medium-sized primary schools in remote regions with large populations of out of school children. We partner with local communities and supporters around the world to teach the unreached, as well as give young people around the world the opportunity to be active global citizens.
What made you start your business up?
As a family of teachers, we know first-hand the value and importance of education – so we started UWS around twelve years ago. We target areas around the world where there are large numbers of out of school children. Our mission is to improve - through education - life opportunities for some of the world's poorest children living in remote and marginalised communities.
How do you measure your impact?
Student attendance at school, engagement in lessons and improvements in literacy/numeracy, as well as numbers of students going on to high school/further education.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
A number of friends and family initially donated, as well as pro-bono time and advice; since then we have had the support of thousands of donors around the world.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
Charitable status in the UK enables Gift Aid; NGO status in Myanmar/Cambodia/Nepal allows us to work in partnership with government ministries.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Seeing the impact of your work – in our case, it’s enabling some of the poorest children on the planet to go to school. And working with a team who are all aligned to the same mission, and so pulling in the same direction.
What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?
Before COVID-19 hit… maintaining a focus on our mission … when we work with very disadvantaged groups, they often have multiple social needs and challenges, so ‘scope creep’ is a risk.
Once the pandemic hit, we quickly adapted a number of our programmes to focus on community awareness programmes, sanitation, hand-washing and distance learning programmes. The shift in a matter of weeks was (and still is) a huge challenge to work on.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Tell your story and stick with the mission. Why? Storytelling inspires people, and people give to people who are passionate about causes. Stick with the mission because it’s hard work and resilience is a vital skill! Someone once told me success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration … and you always need both!
Why do you think social enterprise is important?
Social entrepreneurs offer business-like solutions to challenges people face every day – and can do so with agility and local expertise. Being part of the 2019 Index really showed me some of the best solutions to social challenges that directly improve our nation’s long-term economic, social and cultural health.
And social enterprise is required more than ever. Despite the circumstances of COVID-19, it is social entrepreneurs who are stepping up and continue to demonstrate how vital their work is, and the incredible role they play in transforming our world for the better, as they adapt to this new reality.
Whatever happens as a result of COVID-19, it is clear we need an economy, democracy and society that is built on enterprising people and organisations who serve the public good, drive change, foster togetherness, healing and fairness.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?
Hearing the story of a young girl in Nepal who was the first member of her family to learn to read, write and count when we opened a school in her village. It was the first one we opened in Nepal (and we now have 35). That little girl is now a teenager, she’s gone on to high school and has a transformational change in her life pathway.
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) 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’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?
How good business principles apply to non-profits, and how people-focused principles are equally transferrable back into successful businesses. Profit/non-profit … we are alike in so many ways!
What are your plans for the next two to five years?
Continue to develop our schools and the UWS model, aiming to increase our reach to 100,000+ previously out of school children – with community empowerment and sustainability as core pillars of our approach. We will also transition our schools into local education authority hands, with strong community support, so that we are able to strategically exit from our projects.
What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?
Our approach to business taxation; let’s embrace it, pay it and hold governments to account to use it well. Governments should – of course – set sensible, clear and progressive rules when it comes to tax… and I’d also like to see business leaders providing politicians with the confidence that they’ll embrace tax regimes which are reasonable and fair.
We should call out corporations who use loopholes to reduce the tax they pay. As a social entrepreneur, I strongly believe business leaders have a moral obligation to approach taxes responsibly. Leaders are able to run successful companies because the state provides crucial services paid for by taxes—education, hospitals, transport, policing, the rule of law and so on—and because of the social stability guaranteed by some measure of wealth redistribution.
What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?
So many! Catalysing a movement of thousands of Partner School students, each committing to supporting education as a global citizen, makes me personally very proud.
From a team perspective - bringing together colleagues from Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and the UK to share and learn from each other was inspiring.
And from a mission delivery point of view, every time I visit one of our schools and see the hundreds of children each school is serving is very humbling.
What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?
To build on a well-used expression… revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is king… but galvanising people to be a force for good is inspirational.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more information visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk