For Mario Ferro and Mari Sawai, changing the world is serious business. That’s why these two graduates of the London School of Economics decided to apply private sector investment practices to the non-profit organization they founded in 2012.
Wedu’s mission is to help the most promising young women from developing countries in Southeast Asia gain access to higher education through microfinancing, inspiring mentorship and counseling.
“In education, you see that there are a lot of scholarships,” says Mario, who is Wedu’s CEO, “but it is like an investor giving you money and then running away.”
Instead, Wedu’s commitment to these emerging female leaders is life- long, starting with higher education. Wedu reaches out to students, assists them with the application process for university, connects them to mentors and networks that can help them achieve their full potential and, when required, provides financial support to complete their higher education. For many of the students, it is a whole new world.
“One of Wedu’s students from Cambodia sat for an exam in Phnom Penh to attend university in Bangladesh,” Mari said. “It was the first time she had been out of her village.”
Mario and Mari believe that a small investment in a young woman can mean big things for her future and the future of her community. That is why Wedu focuses on empowering women and girls, an especially challenging goal in rural Asian villages.
“When we did a workshop in Cambodia, there were only three to four boys who sat in, but during the question and answer session, they were the only ones raising their hands. We asked the girls if they had any questions and had to wait a bit and encourage them to speak up.”
Wedu hopes to create a world where women and girls from the most underprivileged backgrounds have the tools to change their lives and their societies by being masters of their own development.
WEDU calls these students Rising Stars who are then expected to pay it forward by committing a fraction of their future income to repay the college funds they received. With this business plan, WEDU hopes to become financially sustainable for the long run and help develop other young women leaders.
Today, Wedu is mentoring Rising Stars in 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Nepal, Cambodia and Myanmar, with the goal of reaching 1,000 Rising Stars by 2018. And for Mario and Mari, that’s just the beginning. Wedu envisions the day when, not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of young women are achieving their potential through a constructive and engaging partnership with a mentor.