Edify: Making Sustainable and Global Christ-Centered Education a Reality

Image courtesy of  Edify.org

Image courtesy of Edify.org

In slums and rural hamlets across the world—from Accra, Ghana, to Manipur, India, to Lima, Peru—the non-profit organization Edify focuses on delivering key resources to help Christ-centered independent school entrepreneurs lift their communities out of poverty.  Beautiful Christian Life recently had the opportunity to connect with Chris Crane, CEO of Edify, about the important work the organization is doing to provide training, capital, and educational technology in nine underserved countries around the world.

Chris, can you briefly summarize the mission of Edify for the readers of Beautiful Christian life?

Edify’s mission is to improve and expand sustainable and affordably priced education in developing nations. We believe that one of the most long lasting and profoundly transformational things we can do is to impart Christ-centered character and quality education to children. In many developing countries, there's a culture of corruption. With a Christian education, children can overcome the corruption, violence, and self-serving leadership that so often exists by learning the honesty, peacemaking, and servant leadership taught by Jesus. In this way, nations can be transformed, and they can prosper and be a blessing to other countries in the world.

You just mentioned the problem of self-serving leadership. What obstacles do you see in the world that are preventing children from receiving a Christ-centered education?

There is self-serving leadership in developing and developing countries. There's no real distinction there. There are some altruistic leaders in both; so there's a mix in that regard as well. But the challenge for children, first of all, is that the ministry of education in many developing countries is under-resourced. I've heard ministers of education tell me that they only have one-third of the resources they need to educate all the children. In some countries, all public schools and private schools are required by law to teach about Christianity, and there are other countries where it's illegal for any school to teach about any religion.

Image courtesy of  Edify.org

Image courtesy of Edify.org

It can be a big challenge for children to receive a Christian-centered education, due to both the availability of a Christ-centered school nearby and the affordability. We work with low-fee schools that charge very modest tuition fees, typically fifty cents to a dollar a day, which is generally affordable to parents who are in the category of the working poor—mothers earning maybe two to three dollars a day, and dads getting about the same amount. They will send three of their children at seventy-five cents a day each. They will sacrifice and devote a third of their income to educate their children, just like many families in the United States do that spend a third of their income to send their children to Christian schools.

What do you see as the biggest factor that could make receiving a Christ-centered education more attainable in third world countries?

Typically, Edify makes small and medium enterprise loans. Micro-finance or micro-loans are typically $50 to $1000 with a common number being a $200 to $400 loan. We're typically making $5,000 to $25,000 loans, which are small and medium enterprise (SME) loans. We call this segment of micro-finance the “missing middle.” It's too large for most micro-finance organizations, as they typically stop at $1000 or sometimes $2000, and then the commercial banks want to make $100,000 plus loans usually. There are very few institutions serving in that missing middle market of the $5,000 to $25,000 to $50,000 loans such as we do.

How do you actually make the loans?

We make loans to a country’s micro-finance and SME licensed-lenders and Christian micro-finance organizations that have the bricks and mortar as well as the loan officers. We get the leverage off of the structure they already have in place; they make loans to schools; and they go out every month to the school to get a loan repayment. So they're the ones who re-collect the loans, and they recycle loans to other Christian schools after that.

So, any money that you send to a country to be loaned out stays in that country.

Generally, the loan is repaid to us in the first year or two. When we first start working with lenders, we may have them wiring repayments just as a precaution, to make sure that they're able to repay and that the bookkeeping is right. But when we get confident with them, generally they put our funds in a separate account so we can see that the funds are collected from the schools, being repaid, and loaned out again.

Why do you think Edify's model has a particularly strong opportunity to succeed in its goal of transforming children's lives, both economically and spiritually, versus other models that people are employing?

We think it is important to come alongside existing school entrepreneurs. Generally, it's a poor person in a poor community who starts a school. This person starts with a kindergarten; these entrepreneurs don't start with eight classrooms. Then they'll add a classroom every year or two, and they work their way up. Typically, when we catch up with them, they have eight or ten classrooms, and they want to borrow money to build more classrooms, equip a computer lab, or build a wall around the school compound, which enhances child safety and might be required by law. They have a larger capital need than they can provide from just the internal cash they generate. With Edify’s model, it’s not foreigners coming in, building with a foreign model. There are some institutions that do that, and we are impressed with them and like their models. Still, we have leverage because we come alongside nationals who have already proven that they can build and develop a financially sustainable school.

It’s difficult for people to grasp that these schools charge such little money. They are fully financially sustainable at fifty cents to a dollar a day of school fees. They get no subsidies from the government. The government doesn't pay their teachers. They have no donations from the West. They are covering their costs from the fees that they collect, and this forces them to be accountable to parents and the children to make sure that they're providing a good education. The parents can take their children out of that school and put them in a different one.

Your website states that you are primarily concerned with transforming the children spiritually and bringing them into a relationship with Christ, and you are also acutely concerned with their economic future.

The number one goal is that Christ-centered character is imparted to the children—that they're loving, caring, and servant-leaders. But they also have to get jobs, so they need good math and English skills. English skills are very important in upward mobility.

We also emphasize computer skills. In the 2,400 schools we work with, we've only been able to bring a computer lab into a little over thirty of those schools. But the children in those schools get a chance to learn about computers. So that's important. We think that the costs have dropped dramatically on technology recently; we think we can get computer usage into many more schools.

What is a particularly special memory for you since launching Edify?

Image courtesy of  Edify.org

Image courtesy of Edify.org

I remember visiting a very humble school with a cement floor and cement walls and no glass in the windows. They need the ventilation because it's usually so hot. I was introduced to a ninth-grade girl who had just come in third in the national ninth-grade examination. That means she scored higher than everybody in the country except for two children who went to elite private schools that cost $5,000 to $10,000 a year. She was flown to the capital where the president gave her a medal. The owner of this school is a great educator.

In these humble schools, the students will work so much harder than children from the rich families, because the children from the rich families know they're going to have it easy when they get out. But the children from the poor families—most of them know that the only way they can succeed is if they really study hard and then they work hard once they graduate.

What is a future special memory you would love to have for Edify?

Seeing some of the students from our partner schools become heads of state, become presidents of their countries; that they govern with the love of Jesus Christ, with integrity, peacemaking, and servant leadership; that they banish self-serving leadership, and rid that country of corruption.

They don't have to become president. They can become heads of companies; they can be senior people in universities, medicine, law, science, and the media; they can be honest in doing things that are truly helping other people and transforming their culture.

Chris, we wish this article was a podcast so that our readers could hear the enthusiasm in your voice! Thank you for this opportunity to get the word out about the important work Edify is doing to help children and their families around the globe.

Thank you. I love talking about my favorite subject.

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