Guest blog by Ella Haley, Marketing & Communications Intern, Beneficial Returns
COVID has upended plenty of businesses, but few suffered the challenges that Inspiring Teachers (2018 Miller Center graduate) faced. Launched in 2011, and formerly known as LRTT, Inspiring Teachers matches seasoned teachers from high-resource countries such as the UK, Australia, and the US, with their counterparts in under-resourced regions in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for one-on-one teacher training. Revenue flowed from fees paid by the high-resource teachers for this mutually empowering travel and learning experience.
According to founder and CEO, Simon Graffy, “We were accustomed to obstacles in our business, but never did we expect that a pandemic would close schools throughout the world and make international travel nearly impossible.” Its clever business model became untenable in a matter of weeks. The hundreds of teachers who had signed up to travel in the summer of 2020 canceled their plans. In the spring of 2020, Inspiring Teachers went from a social enterprise on the rise to an organization fighting for survival.
A $50,000 emergency loan from Truss Fund 1.0, along with a matching facility from Open Road Alliance, gave the enterprise a second wind as the organization pivoted its business model to deliver impact and generate revenue in an entirely new way. Long-term plans for a library of video recordings and a mobile app suddenly became immediate priorities. Staffers who were experts in international travel arrangements quickly got up to speed on providing lessons by radio, educational materials via Whatsapp, and instructional videos on YouTube. What didn’t change was their commitment to improving educational outcomes for low-resource children through peer-based teacher training.
Rather than sell a summer of enrichment and adventure to teachers in the developing world, the Inspiring Teachers team switched to pitching Ministries of Education and development agencies that wanted to promote professional development for teachers. Contracts with the Ugandan government, along with emergency grants from philanthropists, kept the doors open at Inspiring Teachers.
The past two years have been painful ones for Inspiring Teachers: staff size has shrunk, and the remaining team is doing more while earning less than they were two years ago. Cash remains tight, and Truss Fund restructured its loan (along with Open Road Alliance) in recognition of the fact that it may be years before the organization can regain its financial footing.
This past summer, 95 teachers traveled abroad under the auspices of Inspiring Teachers. Most were encouraged by a recognition that the pandemic hurt all children academically, but disproportionately so in the developing world where Zoom lessons and laptops are impossible luxuries. The one-on-one training that resumed is now augmented by multimedia resources that grew out of the COVID crisis. Early indications are that next summer will be even stronger for teacher enrollment barring a major new outbreak.
It would be wonderful to report that Inspiring Teachers is on solid footing, its impact and financial health on an inexorable upswing. But life is messy, and the outcome is still very much unknown. Meanwhile, millions of children in the developing world deserve better education, and this fact continues to motivate the team at Inspiring Teachers to innovate and persevere.
This article originally appeared in the Truss Fund 1.0 Quarterly Update, August 2022.
The Truss Fund was created by Miller Center and Beneficial Returns, which manages the fund. It provides emergency loans to Miller Center social enterprise alumni that are employing market-driven solutions to end global poverty and protect the planet.