Sustainable Schools International in Cambodia

Sustainable Schools International in Cambodia

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Sustainable Schools International improves education for children in poor, rural Cambodian communities. Each school has a School Supporting Committee, which comes up with ways in which the community can mobilize to sustain its educational needs and priorities by creating micro-businesses whose profits go to support the school.

About You
Sustainable Schools International
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, CO, Summit County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Sustainable Schools International

Organization Phone


Organization Address

236 Walnut Fort Collins, CO 80424

Organization Country

, CO, Larimer County

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, KU

What makes your innovation unique?

Economic growth is essential to low-income Cambodian families so children attend school rather than working to help support their families. The School Supporting Committee is a volunteer association made up of local community members, men and women, from various socio-economic groups. This group comes up with ways in which the community can mobilize to sustain its educational needs and priorities, including micro-businesses whose profits go to support the school. At the end of five years each school will be self-supporting and not relying on donors to keep the school functioning. The community has experimented with the production of alternative cooking fuel from recycled waste to support the school and conserve the forest. With the help of a donor, the School Supporting Committee has purchased a tiller that will be rented out to villagers to improve the production of rice. The profits from the tiller rentals will go to support the school. The success of the School Supporting Committee at the Chrauk Tiek Village primary school is a role model for other schools. Parents at the barely functioning secondary school have started the process to form a School Supporting Committee. They understand that the only way for their children to improve their lives is to continue their education after the sixth grade. Parents in the next village are also starting a School Supporting Committee for their primary school. The district Education Department chose the Chrauk Tiek Village primary school as the number one school in the district.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

The Chrauk Tiek Village primary school building is the only permanent structure in this remote Cambodian village. Starting with just 50 children in a dilapidated hut, today there are almost 500 students. The Educational Department in Aural District, Kampong Speu province has chosen the Chrauk Tiek Village primary school as the number one school in the district. Sustainable Schools International provides housing on the school property for teachers, a monthly teacher attendance bonus, and the additional school supplies and training necessary for effective teaching. There is close to 100% attendance by the teachers. Kari began the first music program in Cambodian primary schools, using traditional student music presentations to market their village programs. Eleven scholarship students, supported by SSI, are attending middle and high school in Phnom Penh. These students have made a commitment to return to the village as teachers and health care workers when they complete their education.In 2009 we provided scholarships for a minority Souy child to attend high school, the first time in the history of that community. Families must volunteer time at the primary school in order to access scholarships and the students must make a commitment to return and use their education to serve their community. In this way local human resources are developed to sustain the program and the community long-term. We are only one of three primary schools in our district that has been able to successfully work with the World Food Program to provide a nourishing breakfast five days a week. The students have more energy and are able to concentrate better on their school work.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

The primary goal of SSI is to create functioning schools that provide education to children living in poor, rural communities. In the region where we operate among the minority Souy people, there is an 80% drop-out rate in primary schools. Less than 20% of the students continue to secondary school and less that 10% go onto high school, with even lower rates for girls. Yet we need to teach students life skills that give them a foundation for future livelihood success and to be active and involved citizens. The SSCs assess the needs of the school and comes up with ways the community can mobilize to sustain its educational needs, primarily through micro businesses that donate profits to the school. They also assess the needs of the community and devise ways in which the school might be able to address those needs. SSCs administer the education budget and sustainability budgets for their projects. Importantly, all benefits that come from the school to the community are accountable first and foremost to the SSC. SSI provides help to develop the leadership skills of committee members through training. While the SSC is developing the financial capacity to support the school after five years, SSI provides the necessary finances. The SSC learns to analyze their ideas in terms of long-term positive or negative effect on their economy, environment, and society. Where these three bottom lines overlap in a positive way is a sustainable solutionThe purpose of the education program is to directly respond to problems of student retention, especially girls and minority Souy. Parents identify the reasons for and solutions to teacher and student absenteeism. The committee decides how it would like to enhance the state academic curriculum by offering enrichment classes that teach life skills the community deems valuable, such as modern farming techniques and mastery of Khmer music so musicians can be paid to play at weddings and other community events.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

We have formed SSCs at the next closest primary school and the district high school. We plan to replicate the success we have had at the Chrauk Tiek primary school by helping the students, teachers, school directors, and communities learn how to enact change through five core values: participation, communication, honesty, trust and solidarity. We are working to raise the necessary funds to hire a full-time Cambodian Education Officer who will work closely with the primary and secondary SSCs to supervise the education program at the schools and work with the committees on the development of micro businesses. These micro businesses will provide profits to support the school budget and create employment opportunities for students when they graduate either from middle school or high school. The SSCs in conjunction with SSI are investigating the creation of a bank that will provide microloans for the villagers to start micro businesses. A portion of these profits will go to support the schools. We have started the planning to develop a volunteer travel program where high school students and other interested people will come for a period of time from a few days to several weeks to work in the schools. At least one and possibly more SSCs, with the help of microloans from SSI donors, will build and run guest houses for these volunteers. The only factor preventing our success is enough money to support this expansion of programs.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

SSI commits to fund the community-established Education Program, including micro loans for micro businesses 100% for years 1 and 2, 75% in year 3, 50% in year 4, 25% in year 5. The School Committee commits to sustain the Education Fund 100% by year 6, through income-generating projects initiated by them with profits held in a community trust account, and SSI assumes an advisory role for another 5 years.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Through our work we hope that the Cambodian government sees how putting relatively small amounts of money into education can pay enormous dividends for the nation’s children. We are showing how to build economic opportunity through education. Our focus is long term- economic self-sufficiency of a community-supported educational institution. SSI’s entire mode of operation is to work in partnership with local people to strengthen local capacities, in particular through developing the capacities of SSCs and the mobilization of the larger community to create their future through the education of their children. We believe our model is both innovative and replicable for broad impact. and we are receiving many requests from local communities to work with them.

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

We have a partnership with Happy Lucky Teahouse and Treasures in Fort Collins, Colorado, which sells Cambodia-made goods that we import. This merchandise and events that we sponsor helps bring in customers to the teahouse. The profits from the sale of merchandise goes to support our education programs in Cambodia. In addition, we have been able to recruit volunteers and board members from teahouse patrons. This relationship helps to get the word out about SSI and the work we do in Cambodia to the people of Fort Collins. We hope to continue to attract more people to volunteer with SSI and to become donors. As more people become of aware of us we hope that they will create “buzz” with friends and relatives in other cities and spread the word about the work we do in Cambodia.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

The income for 2009 was $106,522 and expenses were $95,835. The bulk of the income was raised through our annual campaign and profits from sales of our founder's book, Bones that Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia, and Cambodian merchandise sold at Happy Lucky Teahouse and Treasurers and craft fairs. We also had three supporters who donated $10,000 each. It costs $36,000 to support one primary school and $45,000 to support each secondary school. Our three year plan is to apply for grants to support US operations and expansion to the secondary school and two primary schools. During this time we will be developing our Service Learning program that will include a reader's guide to a youth edition of Bones that Float and a curriculum, including a fund raising project, with the proceeds going to support schools in Cambodia. We also expect to raise money from people who participate in our Volunteer Travel Program. Our plan at end the of the third year is to have enough revenue stream from the annual campaign, the Service Learning program, Volunteer Travel Program and the in-country micro businesses to support planned expansion.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

In March 2001, Kari and George Grossman adopted their son, Grady, from Cambodia. Grady lit a fire in Kari’s heart and a yearning to give back to the country he came from. The Grossmans donated money to build a permanent school in rural Cambodia. Kari soon became aware that without continued financial support the Chrauk Tiek Village primary school would suffer the same fate as many others in poor, rural Cambodia: a modern building with few teachers and students. This is because the Cambodian government pays teachers only $30 a month, which is not a living wage. After supporting the school with donation and money raised from sales of book and crafts, Kari realized that the donor-driven model had limitations. She felt it was critical to create a mechanism for the villagers and parents to financially support the school and oversee the money. She created the ides of the SSC. Her faith in this system is proven by the comment from one of our supporters who visited the school in 2007 and again in 2009. She describes the powerful change she saw this way: “They used to ask me what I can do for them, and now they tell me what they are planning to do for themselves.” - Jill Hunter, Lander, Wyoming.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Kari Grady Grossman is the founder of the Grady Grossman School in the village of Chrauk Tiek in Kampong Speu Province, on the southern edge of the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cardamom Mountains. Before the school was built, 50 students studied on the dirt floor of a dilapidated, thatched-roof hut. The school now has a 5 room concrete building with a library, good sanitation facilities, a water pump, 500 students, and 6 teachers who are present and teaching every day. The one school has now grown into a Cambodian LNGO, Sustainable Schools International, whose mission is to work with poor, rural and marginalized communities to sustain their schools in ways that serve their children and support community needs. Kari is a former writer for Discovery Channel Online. She is the author of Bones That Float, A Story of Adopting Cambodia, winner of the 2008 “Peacemaker of the Year” Award from the Independent Publisher’s Association and a Gold Nautilus Book Award for World Changing Books. Since traveling to Cambodia in 2001 to adopt her son, Kari has traveled to Cambodia nine times for on-going support of the school. Because of Kari, the Grady Grossman School had the first primary school music program in Cambodia, a teacher's residence and library. She started a silk import business and an environmentally sustainable cooking fuel business to support schools. She holds a BA in writing for Television, Radio and Film from Syracuse University.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Friend or family member

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