10 Key Facts about our Learning Centers

Small is beautiful. If you look at the results of the recent survey among our 16 Community Heroes, you will be thrilled by what each one of them invest in improving  job and life chances in rural areas of Mongolia and Cambodia. As we want to be transparent around what we are doing, we are happy to share 10 key facts around our learning centers with you.

Since the start of BOOKBRIDGE, we have setup 16 learning centers in Mongolia and Cambodia. We are proud of our Community Heroes running them. With the exception of Kadet Mam in Ang Tasom, Cambodia, all Community Heroes are still running their own learning centers. Sokoeurn Touch in Takeo Town transitioned into a government job in February 2015 but still teaches at the learning centers and is involved at a strategic level.

But how do our Community Heroes run their learning centers? Why do they do it and what makes them proud of? What are their plans for the future? We ran a survey among all 16 Community Heroes from November 2015 to January 2016. In this blog article, we share the key facts and results out of this survey openly and transparently with you.

First and foremost, each learning center is unique. What they share is the process on how they were setup: in close collaboration with local community members in our Capability Program. They differ in what they offer and who they target as key stakeholders in their respective communities.

Key Fact #1: Our 16 learning center divide up into 9 entrepreneur-run and 7 government-run learning centers.

Types of learning centers

Out of the 16 learning centers, 9 are run by independent local entrepreneurs and 7 are run with the government as the key client. The local entrepreneurs have full freedom in what they offer and need to earn their salaries by paid courses. The government-run learning centers have restrictions in their paid course offerings. The local government pays for them to be financially self-sustained.

Government-run learning centers can only be found in Mongolia. This is due to the fact that the Mongolian government offered us to collaborate very closely in 2011 and 2012. However, when legislation changed in 2013, our learning centers faced restrictions in the course offerings.

Entrepreneur-run learning centers is how we started in 2009 with Uuganaa as our first Community Hero in Arvaikheer, Mongolia. This is also the type of learning center which we have decided to focus on since 2013. The government may still co-invest in a learning center but the entrepreneur should be free in how to run the center. Otherwise, it is not their learning center and the entrepreneurial idea gets lost.

Key Fact #2: We reached out to 196,000 community members in 2015.

What a big number! Our 16 learning centers touched the lives of 196,000 community members in 2015. This means 12,200 community members per learning center. Incredible! The following chart shows how community members split up by learning center. READ means visitors and users in the library. LEARN means participants in the free activities and workshops which each learning centers offers. EARN describes the number of students participating in the life skill courses offered.

As you can see in the graph below,

  • 166,425 community members visited and used the library of our learning centers
  • 18,206 community members participated in workshops and activities
  • 11,392 community members are students in life skill courses

Hence, our learning centers are doing an amazing job to sensitize their communities for the value of education and to provide a space in the community where people can meet and discuss – all is free of charge and open to everyone.

You might wonder why Lazzet, Khisgee and Narantuya in Mongolia have not reached out to any community members. Lazzet  only opened up her learning center in January 2016 as she gave birth to her child in December. Our learning center in Baganuur operated by Khisgee is currently renovated and not operating until the new building is ready. And Narantuya‘s learning center in Ulziit Hooro is hosted in a house made out of wool which can only be used during the summer months.

Key Fact #3: 12 out of 16 learning centers are financially self-sustained.

Isn´t this great news? Partly yes, partly no. Our 7 government-run learning centers in Mongolia always show sustainability rates of 100% as the government pays for whatever the learning center cannot earn to be sustained. We see the government as our key client in this case.

Among our 9 entrepreneur-run learning centers, 6 have already reached break even. Uuganaa, Battuul and Ankhiluun in Mongolia even show great profitability rates of 117%, 120% and 220% in 2015. Sanith in Siem Reap, Cambodia and Lazzet in Chinggis, Mongolia only started their learning center in November 2015. Sokoeurn with Sreydieb and Sophia in Takeo Town achieved 86% sustainability rate in 2015.

Time to reach break even varies between 1 month and 6 months. Isn’t this amazing? Businesses in Europe usually take 2-3 years to come to that point. However, the challenge for most learning centers is to move from financial self-sustainability to profitability. Only then they can re-invest and pay back the loan.

Key Fact #4: We have invested USD 131,558 into our entrepreneur-run learning centers since 2013. USD 2,300 have been paid back so far.

Investments in learning centers

Investing in a learning center is a high-risk investment. Why? Because you invest in an unknown market and in people and cultures you don’t know. We are proud that our learning centers have started to pay back the original investment. We use the pay backs to invest into the setup of more learning centers.

All Community Heroes receive an interest-free loan of EUR 20,000 to setup their learning center. At the end of each year, we look at the profits generated. 1/3 of the profits is used to pay back the loan, 1/3 is re-invested into the learning center and the last 1/3 is put back as a reserve. The graph shows the revenue/profit rate of those learning centers having received a setup loan.

Profits and losses of learning centers

In 2015, we have started to receive the first paybacks from our investments. USD 2,300 may sound small given the total investment of USD 131,558 but it is a great start. Every Dollar counts! And we have it in our own hands. The better we mentor our Community Heroes, the better they run their learning centers.

Key Fact #5: 67 staff members work in our learning centers.

Our 16 learning centers provide jobs for 67 teachers and librarians. Some learning centers only have one or two staff members but many of the entrepreneur-run learning centers have as much as 8-10 people on their payroll. In total these 67 staff members correspond to 28,6 FTEs (full-time equivalent).

Paid staff members and FTEs by learning center

Who are these 67 staff members? The following table shows staff members per learning center. Please note that teachers and librarians as well as other staff members like cleaners are paid for their services. Local and international volunteers, called BOOKBRIDGE Fellows, support the development of the learning center on a voluntary basis.

Type of staff members in our learning centers

Staff members have been working at the learning center for an average of 2 years. Our longest standing staff member is Buynaa Ochirbat from Arvaikheer Learning Center, the first we opened. She has been working at the learning center for 6 years. Starting off as a librarian, she became a teacher after some years.

Half of our learning centers employ their teachers by fixed working contracts as well as as freelancers teaching part-time. At six learning centers, all staff members receive fixed working contracts. Two learning centers work with freelancers only.

11 out of 16 learning centers provide health insurance for their staff. At the remaining 5 learning centers, it is up to the staff member to decide whether to be health-insured or not.

13 out of 16 learning centers invest in further education of their staff. They offer regular trainings, staff exchange programs with other learning centers or mentoring programs.

Key Fact #6: English, IT and kindergarten are the most popular educational offerings, supported by a large variety of activities offered and ambitious plans for the future.

All learning centers offer paid courses to the local community with the goal to improve the job and life chances of the community members. Here is a list of paid courses offered by our 16 learning centers as of January 2016:

  • English courses for a large variety of target groups and learner levels
  • IT courses
  • Kindergarten
  • University entrance exam classes
  • Korean language classes

Besides these courses, the learning centers offer a wide range of activities. We asked each Community Hero for their three most important activities in the last 6 months. Here is a list of what they have told us:

  • After-school library activities with kids coming to practice their English
  • Adults coming to the library and reading books for kids
  • 13 students participated in the 2016 BOOKBRIDGE Calendar Project
  • Educational games like “I Like You” and “Jump in and jump out”
  • Movie Club
  • Playing soccer
  • Karaoke
  • Contributing to District arts, School arts, Martin arts festival and brass plate arts festival
  • Mobile library created for summer camp students so that they can borrow books
  • Speaking Club
  • Creativity Club
  • Competition for Halloween in six local secondary schools
  • Sports day with all students
  • Training with girls club students on communication skills and relationship building
  • Olympics in Dundgobi
  • Trip to reindeer families with mobile library
  • Volunteering Days to serve disable children
  • Teenagers’ club to do community service
  • Scout club with around 30 students
  • Books exhibition at Bulgan local library
  • Mobile library with scouts offering fun activities, games, and small competitions
  • Origami classes
  • Daycare program
  • Window to the World Program with participants from Switzerland, Australia and the Phillipines
  • BOOKBRIDGE English Olympic with 168 students from learning centers Chinggis and Arvaikheer
  • Preparation of risk management workshop for all learning centers in Mongolia
  • Special Olympics for disabled kids with scouts helping to prepare it

All learning centers plan to expand their activity and course offerings in the first half of 2016. Here is what they have put as their goals:

  • IT course
  • Workshops on personal goal setting in life
  • Workshop on environmental care
  • Chinese course
  • Advanced level English classes
  • Speaking Club
  • English and IT courses
  • Children‘s English Camp
  • Exchange program with Germany
  • Paid English course for business and government workers
  • Olympics for intermediate and advanced level students
  • Spelling bee for beginner students
  • Game club
  • Kindergarten
  • University entrance exam courses
  • Readers‘ Club
  • Girls‘ Club
  • Elementary computing classes
  • Workshop on child abuse
  • Stipends for children from poor families
  • Scout club
  • Adults‘ club

Key Fact #7: Each learning center has on average 6,956 English books, 371 local language books and 6 computers.

Over the past six years, our book champions have collected, sorted and shipped 104,000 English books to our 16 learning centers. On average, each learning center has 6,956 English books. Since 2014, our learning centers order new books each year with our book champions and share their satisfaction. For 2016, the centers seek 13,000 English books, primarily in the categories “information” and “fiction”.

371 local language books on average seem to be pretty low compared to 6,956 English Books. However, you need to take into account that there are far less books available in Khmer and Mongolian than in English. Also, our learning centers need to buy local language books on the market while English books get delivered for free – thanks to the support of our book champions and Kuehne + Nagel.

Each learning center has on average two computers for staff use and four computers available for public use in the library. 6 learning centers offer IT courses and are equipped with IT rooms. In addition, learning centers are equipped with tablet computers (39), TV (8), DVD players (6), CD players (3), beamers (2) and video recorders (1). Our learning centers in Chinggis and Takeo Town even have a piano.

Key Fact #8: All learning centers interact with each other on at least a monthly basis.

Our learning centers interact frequently with each other. Half of the learning centers talk to each other on a daily (2) or weekly (6) basis. The remaining learning centers interact at least on a monthly basis with each other.

Interaction among our learning centers

It is great that they interact but how? Most learning centers meet each other at the bi-yearly staff training and communicate via Facebook. 4 out of 16 learning center also participate in a staff exchange program. 3 Community Heroes use personal visits to other learning centers to learn and stay up to date. Since last year, we also regularly meet on ZOOM video calls to increase our network activities.

Type of interaction

Key Fact #9: All learning centers partner up with organizations from all sectors.

Our learning centers are community-based, run by locals for locals. This means that the learning centers are not another private tuition school but they serve as a platform for the entire community to come together and tackle the challenges they face.

We are very proud that all our learning centers work together with partners from all sectors. The most important partners are government and local schools followed by local NGOs and local businesses. Type of collaborations range from joint activities to joint courses and joint projects to welcoming partners as clients in the course offerings.

Partnering with local stakeholders

In the future, all learning centers would like to win more partners. 10 learning centers plan joint activities or projects with the local government. All learning centers aim at increasing their bondings with local schools. 10 learning centers would like to collaborate more intensively with local NGOs and local businesses.

Key Fact #10: Governance structure is in place at 12 out of 16 learning centers.

At 12 out of 16 learning centers, a formal board is involved in making strategic decisions in the learning center. On average, each board has 3 members. Number of board members range from 1 to 10.

Board Members include by number the BOOKBRIDGE Country Manager (10 learning centers), the Community Hero her/himself (6 learning center), friends and family (4) as well as the local government (1) or a local NGO (1).

Boards meet every month in 4 cases, every 3 months in another case and once a year at 4 other learning centers. At two learning centers, the board meets when there is demand for a meeting.

Half of our learning centers record the board meetings in a written way while the other half does not take notes of the outcomes of their meetings.

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