Duncan and his wife Nicola with children of Gitumba who we are building a school for in Rwanda

Founded by entrepreneur Duncan Ward, Classroom of Hope is a for-purpose organisation that exists to help children unleash their ‘greatness’ through education.

“Our purpose is to provide access to quality education to children living in poverty in developing countries,” said Ward.

“How we do that is we partner with local NGOs that are best practiced in implementing education projects that deliver programs of creating child-friendly schools, building schools, building toilets, building water facilities and providing scholarships to kids who don’t have access to education to help them back into school.”

The organisation is incorporated in Australia, meaning that it is an Australian charity. The main head office is located in Perth and there are office spaces they rent out at coworking spaces in both Cambodia and Bali for when they are travelling in between the three countries. Minimising its footrpint in terms of office space ensures that the organisation continues to run lean and the core focus instead remains on the mission.

Right now there are only two full-time employees at Classroom of Hope, Ward and his wife Nicola Courtin, who serves as creative director.

“We collectively work together virtually between here and Perth and whichever countries some of those field photographers are in,” said Ward.

“We also are just coming to the end, we’ve got a week left, of a campaign called Bag Walkers, a campaign that started off with 50 people who are carrying sustainable, eco-friendly bags created by a social enterprise in India. All the profits actually go back into supporting women that have been helped out of the sex trade and poverty.”

Classroom of Hope is somewhat different to ‘traditional’ charities in that its entire model is centered around forming “smartnerships” or smart partnerships with other like-minded charities and organisations on the ground in the countries they have a presence in.

“Our business model is all about smartnerships – a model for delivering international development programs and aid programs is one of a non-colonial approach,” said Ward.

“What we do with our Australian partner Global Development Group is seek out who are the best local NGOs in those countries that are delivering education projects, and we have specific due diligence that we do. We go over and meet with a number of these local partners to see how they’re operated, go and visit specific projects that they have already implemented, visit and interview a number of other charities or organisations that have been supporting those local organisations, go through their financial processes and systems to ensure that everything is ticked from our perspective in terms of meeting our criteria, and also see that our values are aligned.”

Ward said that once they have a handle on this, Classroom of Hope asks these groups what the actual needs of the area are, looking at the problems and how they propose to actually resolve those issues as a local partner working and facilitating with the communities in those rural areas.

“They provide us with a proposal, that proposal is then presented to Classroom of Hope’s board and to our partner in Australia, Global Development Group, and then it’s approved and then all the various project documentation as an answering process is put in place and then we start fundraising. Then we sent that over to our partners and then they start executing those projects and we monitor and evaluate every six months,” Ward explained.

Classroom of Hope in 2013 won the Grand Prize at the Talent Unleashed Awards. Ward said not only was it amazing experience getting to meet and hang out with the likes of Sir Richard Branson and other amazing business minds, but that the prestige that came with taking out the award actually opened up many business opportunities for his organisation.

“The experience was extraordinary and was a great opportunity for Classroom of Hope and myself to get our voice heard,” he said.

“[Charity is] a very competitive space, but from my perspective, winning the award allowed our voice to be heard; we had a number of press opportunities after that, we had a number of corporates coming in to support Classroom of Hope, we started getting more credibility, and we saw a major increase in our brand awareness.”

From an entrepreneurial perspective, Ward told Startup Daily that winning the award gave him a lot more motivation to keep going and keep trying, to keep pushing and to keep learning.

“When you’re on that business building journey you learn so much about yourself, which is a beautiful thing. When people think that they’re actually going through failures, I try to view them as experiences,” he said.

“When those experiences occur, whether they are bad or whether they are good, they help you learn something about yourself and your organisation and create the opportunities for you to tweak or make the differences that you need to do in order for you to continue forward and to grow and to get to achieve the goals that you want to.”

Is entering the 2016 Talent Unleashed Awards part of your journey? Check out the categories and enter your startup here.

Startup Daily