In December last year we announced our very first Business Booster Fund. The aim was to give innovative British businesses a financial and strategic boost so they could take on 2021 stronger. After watching hundreds of applications we narrowed the entrants down to just five, and the public voted on their favourites.

One of our three winners is The Economist Educational Foundation, a charity that empowers young people through critical thinking and debate. We’re thrilled to be able to support their work and to see their exciting next steps. We spoke to founder, Emily Evans, to find out more.

ABOUT THE ECONOMIST EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION

The Foundation is an independent charity that Emily set up in 2012 to help tackle inequality in education. The team enables young people to join inspiring discussions about current affairs, in school and online. They give teachers training and topical teaching resources. Young people can use the Foundation’s online platform to join discussions with peers all over the world and inspiring topic experts. By joining these discussions, they develop knowledge, critical-thinking and communication skills that can make a real difference to their lives.

Emily had been working in the events team at The Economist, organising conferences. While considering a career shift to teaching, she decided to combine both interests by setting up the charity. She explains that “working at The Economist felt like sitting on a goldmine of expertise that could have an impact in schools”. Working there led her to see an opportunity to find new ways to tackle the educational gap.

“The Economist brand has always communicated what we wanted to do – engage critically with the world, provoke debate and develop critical thinking. The charity goes beyond simply informing children about the news of today. By discussing current events and different opinions, we’re developing them into robust thinkers”.

They create teaching resources, train teachers and organise inspiring discussions. For many of the topics they cover, the Foundation finds educational heavyweight influencers to join the students’ discussions. From Economist and BBC journalists to famous astronauts and even Stephen Fry, they’ve had some serious names take part and answer students’ questions. The Economist brand certainly helps to draw these figures in, but it’s a testament to the hard and effective work of the team that they continue to accept.

The Foundation’s work ultimately helps to improve children’s development. Emily told us that the kids they work with are likely to be around 18 months behind their wealthier peers, and three times more likely to be excluded. After working with the Foundation, schools see these pupils improve skills such as problem solving and effective listening by 150%.

EVERY DONATION MAKES A DIFFERENCE

“People sometimes underestimate how difficult it is for charities to raise money,” Emily told us. Fortunately being connected to a reputable publication was a great asset. She acknowledges that The Economist logo gave them a foot in the door. However, a name will only get you so far. Like any successful business, “if your idea is genuinely good and what you’re tackling is worth changing, support is easier to find”, explained Emily.

The Foundation raises money through private donations and trusts or foundations, as well as corporate sponsorship. Although they do charge fees to the schools they visit, these are heavily subsidised and mainly in place because a fee ensures commitment. Although Emily admits that fundraising is hard, it is satisfying and every donation means so much. That financial support helps them do their inspiring work.

As any business owner knows, supporting growth can be a real challenge financially. “Unlike for-profit businesses”, Emily explains, “the funding needed to grow doesn’t necessarily come as a natural response to doing your work well”. So you end up having to do all the things a business has to do but then raise the money on the side. And right now, growing is at the forefront of their mind.

GOING GLOBAL

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the Foundation in several ways. It has been an extremely difficult period for charities and many institutions felt their own future was too uncertain to commit to donations. In the end, the Foundation has been one of the luckier ones, but their whole model had to change.

Facing lots of challenges to the way they operated (namely being in schools, which were closed) they were forced to adapt. “We didn’t furlough anyone, we just took the model entirely online”, she told us. They looked beyond the UK and engaged in deeper, global discussions. The team launched a new at home education resource to support students across the world. The success has been tremendous. In just six months they had 15,000 subscribers globally.

Despite the obvious difficulties, Emily describes 2020 as an amazing year for the Foundation. Although there has been uncertainty and obstacles, lots of invaluable lessons were learned. They were able to see the true potential of the charity and the people who run it. “The most valuable thing by 1000 miles is our team”, she says.

So what next for The Economist Educational Foundation? From September they’ll be enabling international discussions all year round, which 12 months ago they would never have imagined. The Foundation’s three-year goal is to reach 20% of UK state schools and match its UK reach in the US, and the long-term vision is for all young people to have opportunities to join high-quality current-affairs discussions.

We were blown away by what the Foundation achieves and the passion that goes into it. We’re extremely pleased to be able to help them with the Business Booster Fund and can’t wait to watch them continue the hard work.

If you’d like to learn more about the Foundation or want to support them then head to their website here.