Listening For Right Design

Social Enterprise by
Journey to school

For the past couple of months I’ve been helping a large multi national company, to implement a program relating to education. Typically, an education program rolled out by a corporate company might mean building a school, sourcing schools books, providing uniforms or placing teachers.

This program is a little different and focuses on the journey that children need to make to attend school. It’s an area I’ve had some exposure to, though my experience is limited to the Mekong sub region, where building school boarding houses is the solution.

There are 61 million children in the world today who are not receiving an education and 163 million who are illiterate. India has the largest illiterate population of any country, with nearly 40 percent not being able to read or write. India is also one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world and education will have a major influence on the country’s ability to sustain inclusive growth, over the next few decades.

So where does the school journey come in to it?

The school journey is just another part of the picture but with such high rates of illiteracy, and lack of schooling opportunities, many families will go to great lengths to ensure their kids get to school.

I was brought up in England and if it snowed in December, we often didn’t drive to school because of dangerous roads. In the above photo students in Indonesia are seen crossing a collapsed bridge to get to school, after it was damaged from the river flooding – a school journey that’s seen as being well worth the risk.

These dangerous journeys are common and range from long jungle treks, to cliff walks or river crossings. But is it as simple as building a bridge?

When you look at any social issue there is a tendency to want to fix things with the most affordable and easily executed solution that you think can be developed. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple and there are thousands of examples of projects being implemented and failing, in this manner.

For long-term viability and sustainability to be achieved, there are many questions that need to be answered before going to work.

Is the solution one that the community wants?

Will they take responsibility for it?

Will the government back it?

What else is affected by implementing the solution and do we need to do additional work in that area?

These questions can be researched, discussed in meeting rooms or considered by people who have knowledge of the region, but a far better way would be to speak directly to the community.

Listening to the people you’re trying to help in any situation social or not, is an opportunity to tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. What it does at a community level is to provide people with a choice, not just charity, and that level of empowerment has a far greater chance of long-term success.

It’s not always simple, as I am finding out with this project. Logistical challenges with isolated communities, means a lot of travel with some off road, and language barriers means taking a translator along for the ride. But whatever the problem you are attempting to solve, you can only design a relevant solution by speaking directly to the people you aim to support with it, and listening to what they have to say.

I also run a yearly fundraising trek The next excursion will be supporting children on their journey to school. If you are interested in taking part, please contact me at: