There are a number of social enterprises that have been established in the past few years. But only a few have sustained. A perfect example comes in the form of Maya Universe Academy.
Maya Universe Academy was established in 2011 with the main objective of giving access to affordable and quality education to rural Nepal where public schools have failed to deliver acceptable results. Founder Manjil Rana describes Maya Universe Academy as an eight-year-old baby still finding its roots. “But we are coming up with ways to sustain ourselves in order to move forward with our work and open more schools in Nepal,” he shares.
It all started when a group of friends visited Tanahun in the years following the end of the civil war in Nepal. What started out as an instinctive trip where they taught the local kids mathematics and self-defense exploded into a passion and the opportunity to start one of the most pioneering social ventures in the country. Initially Maya Universe started taking classes with 20 students under a tent. Fast forward eight years, the school now teaches close to 500 students, with 83 of them staying fulltime in their hostel. The school consists of qualified volunteers from around the world as well as employs 50 people.
Maya Universe Academy works under a model fittingly dubbed as ‘the Maya Model’. Basically, the model is about exchanging commodities. “Traditionally people in all countries exchanged things with each other. That’s the trade they did to fulfill their needs, but the world moved on and we started exchanging in money. People do not have that expendable cash in the villages, so we thought about utilising the abundance of time they had on their hands. “We are the only chain of few private schools in Nepal that instead of taking money from the parents takes their time. We use the time and turn it into money,” explains Rana.
Before the establishment of any social venture, an entrepreneur has to look into the roots of the issue and come up with a viable solution. In Maya Universe’s context, one of the major problems in the rural areas of Nepal was its education sector. The founders of Maya Universe realised that there is a huge gap between public school and private schools. The level of education in a government run school in the rural areas was below par.
Maya Universe was able to identify the key problem and find a method to resolve the underlining social problem in the rural areas. The major problems when it comes to the education sector in villages or rural areas are either lack of financial means for education or the subpar level of education system. These problems needed to be addressed.
The problem was multi-layered. First of all, the students or potential students didn’t have options when it came to schools, so they attended the local schools financed by governmental agencies, INGOs and NGOs whose half-hearted effort made no real progress in the long run. Second reason was the number of students failing in public schools. And lastly, the school fee – most people in the villages do not have expendable income for their children to attend school.
When Maya Universe opened for classes, it gave the students structure in terms of education. Additionally, those families who didn’t have enough financial means to educate their children also received the opportunity to have quality education. The community experienced positive impact as the school was able to create jobs for the parents. Regina Paruyal, 14, of Grade 8, is one of the oldest students in the school. She proudly claims, “Maya is giving opportunity to all the students who come here to become something great in their lives. I am proud that my school has given us this opportunity. In the future I would like to open a similar school in the rural areas of Nepal and help other children”.
Rana recalls the hardships of setting up a school and operating in remote Nepal, “Initially it was more of a personal problem. But I believe that if we cannot deal with our personal problems, we can never overcome other problems. Deprived of the comfort of home cooked meals or a comfortable bed, Rana chose to strive forward.
During the initial phase, the school came across a number of challenges as a number of other schools relentlessly tried to shut Maya Universe down because the school operated in an innovative commodity-exchange method.
“In the starting phase, a number of schools complained about us because we did not charge tuition fees. This was basically ruining their business. And sometimes the government changesd rules in a fortnight,” recalls Rana. These arbitrary policies implemented by the government and bad competition by the local schools caused huge problems in the past. Today, however, Maya Universe shares a healthy relationship with the local schools.
In terms of social entrepreneurship, Maya was able to strike the optimum balance between creating impact and sustaining the venture. The main reason being that all the financial inflow that the school generates is invested right back into the school’s improvement.
Rana claims, “Let’s just say if the school gets better, our lives will get better as well. If the classrooms get better, we get to teach properly and the students will enjoy learning”.
“From the start I wanted Maya to become self-sustainable and today the school runs on this module. We cannot always rely on foreign aid and grants,” claims Rana. The school’s unique methods have yielded great rewards in terms of incubating and nurturing the minds of the country’s future as well as keeping the school afloat.
In recent years, the school has experimented in a host of ventures that have assisted the school’s financial needs. The school makes bracelets and sends them to their extended networks in Korea and Germany for sales. Additionally, since the parents who contribute their time and effort in agriculture and poultry for the school are also able to grow avocados and lemons and make pickles for sale. The school has also labeled its poultry venture as Maya’s Country Chicken where the chicken are grown organically with no antibiotics and sold at profitable price in the cities.
When asked what is so unique about Maya Universe Academy, Rana says there is nothing. “We are school just like any other school; a business just like any other business. The only difference is instead of taking tuition fee from the parents, we take their time.”