NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – “You don’t have to be a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet to apply yourself and make a difference,” said George Srour, founder of Building Tomorrow, a social enterprise and TrustLaw Connect member building schools across Uganda.
“A really normal person, who had no previous affiliation but felt something, has been able to start making that difference. That can be a pretty powerful for people to see.”
In 2004, after working as an intern with the United Nations in Uganda, Srour returned to university in the United States.
He started fundraising for a dilapidated wooden school he had visited in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, called Meeting Point. The aim was to build a new three-storey building for its 350 pupils.
“Our goal was $10,000 in six weeks, and we ended up raising $45,000,” he said.
“That gave me the impetus to do it more than just once.”
Building Tomorrow has now opened seven schools in Uganda, providing education for over 2,000 students. It hopes to break ground on its 15th school by the end of 2011.
Srour’s ambition is to be a force for social change in the United States and in Uganda, rather than just another charity.
“People assume that in this kind of work the only way to do it is throw money at a problem,” said Srour.
“We are passionate about everyone doing their fair share. Everyone we work with has a stake in the work that we do. It’s important that they provide and put into the pot.”
U.S. colleges build long-term one-on-one relationships with the Ugandan communities which they fundraise for. The local people donate labour and land while the Ugandan government pays the teachers’ salaries.
Students in the United States learn about the challenges that children face in poorer countries through sponsored activities like ‘Sit for Good’, where they give up their desks and classroom resources for a day to experience typical Ugandan learning conditions.
For Srour, the sense of empathy and social responsibility generated is the most exciting part of the project.
“We have students who have moved on, who are doing things, have graduated. It’s incredible to see so many applying to Peace Corps, applying their talents, their ability, to something that’s for the greater good,” said Srour.
In five years, U.S. students have raised over $750,000, although Srour insists: “It’s about more than giving their money.”
In 2007, Building Tomorrow was named one of the top 20 up-and-coming social change organisations in the world by Echoing Green, a non-profit organisation that provides seed money to social entrepreneurs.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)