TRIBE Secures Acumen’s Funding to Teach Entrepreneurship in Secondary Schools

Wainright Acquoi, CEO & Lexandinne Taylor, COO. Photo: Courtesy of TRIBE.

TRIBE is sparing no effort in attracting funding for its flagship model program to teach entrepreneurship in high schools.

The social enterprise has won a grant of fifty thousand United States Dollars (US$50,000) from the Acumen Angels Fund of the Acumen Foundation for the launch of its flagship program, RE-Novate, according to the chief executive officer, Wainright Acquoi.

“Essentially, we got the grant to pilot RE-Novate,” he said. “RE-Novate is TRIBE’s high school-focused entrepreneurial academy. Our goal is to build an entrepreneurial model that can be integrated into the Liberian high school curriculum.”

Acumen invests patient capital in businesses whose products and services are enabling the poor to transform their lives. Founded by Jacqueline Novogratz in 2001, Acumen has invested more than $131 million in 131 companies across Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the United States.

TRIBE was amongst 20 winners who were given US$50,000, totaling US$1 million.

“At the end of last year, a global panel of senior leaders at Acumen evaluated an extraordinary pool of finalists, all of whom were vetted and recommended by local regions,” the company said in a statement. “Ultimately, the 20 winners of $50K grants were standout builders working on solutions that we believe could have a significant impact on the issues of poverty. The ideas span multiple sectors including education, agriculture, workforce development, and healthcare and cover many of the regions represented in The Foundry.”

The grant from Acumen comes in addition to the US$20,000 funding TRIBE received from the Samuel Huntington Public Service Award in 2021.

Revealing the win during an interview at the company’s office, Acquoi said the win comes against a backdrop of repeated rejections from several potential funders for the program over nearly two years.

“We have received numerous rejections and investments that did not materialize for reasons amongst unproven markets, lack of business model validation, and limited market experience and skills,” he said.

The funding goes towards the goal of the project which, according to him, is two-fold: to create learning tools that inspire students to learn entrepreneurial skills, cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset, and build a model that facilitates school administrators to develop and execute entrepreneurship programs to prepare students for the workforce.

Students and school administrators, he explained, will obtain the fundamentals for entrepreneurial excellence and workforce success. The project has two components: component one covers workshops and learning forums to teach students entrepreneurship, digital literacy and match them with mentors.

Phase two connects students with local organizations for internships and student project design and execution. Component two covers scale and sustainability. School administrators will be recruited and trained to design and execute innovative career-driven curriculum and entrepreneurial programs for their students.”

TRIBE’s chief operating officer, Lexanndine Taylor added that the grant goes towards the implementation of the program in the three secondary schools—B.W. Harris Episcopal High School, ELWA Academy, Paynesville SDA High School—TRIBE is partnering with.

“The first year we are working with three schools to pilot RE-Novate. The grant is going to help us cover programmatic activities and other general operating expenses including compensation for our team and facilitators to execute the program. We want to ensure entrepreneurship education is a co-curriculum and not just a chanced experience for students when they leave high school.”

With Acumen on board as the second major funder and the first investment funder which has over two decades of experience in impact investment, Acquoi said it is a manifestation of TRIBE’s potential and a validation of how much the social enterprise has demonstrated that its model can grow and create significant impact.

The results of TRIBE’s audacious move in piloting an ambitious program in an educationally challenged country whose system was once described by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a mess remains to be seen. Education statistics in Liberia, both enrollment and learning outcomes, are among the worst in the world, according to Ark Online.

Stats culled from the government’s Partnership Schools for Liberia now LEAP program reveals that 42% of children who should be enrolled in primary schools are not attending. By age 18, girls in Liberia are more likely to be married than literate. In rural areas, 65 percent of young women and 35 percent of young men aged 15-24 are illiterate. Across the country, 25% of 15-24-year-olds cannot read a single sentence. Just 1 in 5 children who enroll in grade one go on to complete grade 12.

Liberia, like many countries on the continent, has one of the world’s youngest populations. According to the United Nations, young people account for 65% of the country’s five million (5,000,000) inhabitants.

With this number, the MasterCard Foundation has estimated that Africa’s population, which is also the youngest in the world, will surpass that of India and China combined by 2075. According to Master Card’s ‘Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work’ report, secondary education is the next frontier as enrollment across the continent is expected to double by 2030, representing an additional 46 million students at the secondary level over the next 10 years.

The report stated that with secondary education being the channel via which young people enter the workforce, a premium must be placed on developing their skills to be adaptable, resilient, and creative problem solvers.

For TRIBE, this is critical as, according to the CEO, the continent must reimagine education from rote learning and regurgitation to problem-solving and creative thinking.

“At TRIBE, we argue strongly that these skills are essential to thrive in the workforce, and they are tenets of entrepreneurship,” he added. “Therefore, we believe that every student should be an entrepreneur. Our promise is to deliver a model that makes this possible.”

By helping students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, Mahmud Johnson, CEO of J-Palm and luxury beauty brand Kernel Fresh said he believes RE-Novate will help to transform the lives of Liberia’s youthful population and contribute to economic recovery. 

TRIBE recently designed and executed the J-Palm Startup Challenge which saw up and coming entrepreneurs pitching their business to a quartet of judges for L$100,000.

“I am so thrilled that TRIBE has won this grant from Acumen Angels,” he mentioned in an email. “As an entrepreneur, I have seen firsthand how much potential entrepreneurship has to solve many of Liberia’s tough socio-economic problems. [ ] Given TRIBE’s strong track record of executing projects, I am confident that this grant will open even bigger doors for more young Liberian entrepreneurs.”

The biggest beneficiaries of Acumen’s funding of TRIBE’s novel approach in piloting its new model are the three parochial schools being partnered with. In recent years, subsidies to private institutions such as B.W. Harris, ELWA Academy, and Paynesville SDA High Schools have dwindled to naught.

This has posed a huge challenge for schools to develop and pay for new programs, coercing several institutions to hike tuition amid a fervent outcry from the public. 

Justyn Tokeh, Principal of ELWA Academy, said the program provides a unique platform for his students to harness their potential to forge a life-long career. “...ELWA Academy sees this partnership as a dream come true for enhancing its objective on student career development.”

Tokeh’s sentiment is shared by Benjamin Tulay, Vice Principal for Instruction at B.W. Harris, who is also excited about his school’s participation in the pilot.

“B. W. Harris is proud to be a part of RE-Novate that provides a fraction of a missing link that will enable students to gravitate from just being mere employees to innovative employers, which will be a game-changer.”

The dynamics of the everchanging vagaries of today’s world will no doubt require a steep superstructure of students who are prepared from secondary school.

George Werner, former Minister of Education (2015-2018), said TRIBE’s RE-Novate model is in the right direction. A big believer in an unconventional approach to learning and pioneer of the Partnership School for Liberia (PSL) program which later morphed into Liberia Educational Advancement Program (LEAP), Werner said he is delighted Acumen is investing in TRIBE’s approach to improving learning outcomes.

Programs such as RE-Novate and Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), now the Liberia Education Advancement Project (LEAP) are some of the best game changers Liberia needs to improve its learning outcomes,” he mentioned.

The foreseeable future for TRIBE and its offshoot RE-Novate could be promising with the availability of sufficient funding and resource support. However, whether the program is scalable hinges on the midline and end of pilot results.

With Acumen in tow and expressing confidence in the RE-Novate model being piloted by TRIBE, they believe that the win for the social enterprise and other recipients will burgeon across the world.

“These are the ideas that the world needs to succeed, and we are the community to help get them there.”

Gboko Stewart is a freelance journalist and Comms Associate at TRIBE.