Hands On Philanthropic Action: Building Schools in Ethiopia with imagine1day

Changing Ethiopia one school at a time.

Access to education is something we often take for granted. In some parts of the world, a physical space for a school is a luxury. Such is the case in Ethiopia, where nonprofit imagine1day works to empower the next generation of African leaders by building schools, with a goal of all Ethiopians having access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030.

Since launching in 2007 they have funded 87 primary schools and trained 1,183 teachers. But as with any nonprofit, raising funds to support their work is key, and the organization has come up with several creative ways to activate its circle of supporters, both by putting donors on the ground in Ethiopia to work with children firsthand and to encourage supporters to be “Creatributors,” harnessing the power of individual talents to fundraise in a new way

2012 marks the third year of Imagine Ethiopia, a hands on philanthropic effort that combines the talents of devoted individuals and puts them on the ground in Ethiopia to see their work through. Anyone with a passion for development and philanthropy can apply, and the organization is still taking applications for Imagine Ethiopia 2012.

We caught up with imagine1day’s Digital and Brand Leader Michelle Lazar to learn more about the organization and Imagine Ethiopia 2012.

Describe the mission and work of imagine1day.

imagine1day is a charitable organization committed to our mission of developing leaders to elevate the world. We pride ourselves in taking a unique approach to our work, both locally and on the ground in Ethiopia, and we make sure to have fun at every step of the way. In Ethiopia, we are direct implementers of educations projects, and we work hand in hand with communities who are committed and invested in education as a priority. Building a school is easy. Building a school that lasts requires vision, commitment and partnership. Through trial and error, failure and learning, we’ve developed a thoughtful and disciplined program approach with one key objective: to complete each project confident that our partners have the human and financial capacity, and the desire and drive to lead their education systems with success in perpetuity. Ultimately, our goal is that all Ethiopians have access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030.

What inspired the launch of the organization?

It began as an idea…We imagined helping a nation educate its children, one by one, into a country full of promise. In 2007, imagine1day came to life, and it was decided by the Board to focus on primary education in Ethiopia. This decision was motivated by an obvious need within Ethiopia, where more than 3 million children were not in school, and the government had voiced commitment to Education, taking on the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to education by 2015. When Chip and Shannon Wilson endowed imagine1day, they imagined an organization that directly educated impoverished communities without corruption or loss of funds. They imagined an organization that focused on developing people and elevating communities around the world. They imagined a new generation of African leaders and a new era of prosperity. They created imagine1day with fun as its most important core value.

Imagine Ethiopia started in 2010. How did you come up with this idea for voluntourism as a key part of your organization?

Credit goes to our Executive Director, Sapna Dayal, for conceptualizing the Imagine Ethiopia program. Sapna recognized how powerful it would be for people to experience first-hand the impact of their contribution to imagine1day, and the promise and potential of Ethiopia on the whole. Each Imagine Ethiopia trip is designed around an overall objective of introducing participants to the Ethiopia that we’ve come to know and love such that they experience their own shift in perception of the country, its possibilities and themselves. We want people to come back feeling like Ambassadors to Ethiopia, imagine1day and the importance of contribution.

What benefits of this program have you seen so far?

The benefits have truly been countless. We’ve attracted incredibly loyal supporters in the form of trip participants from all across North America, and the imagine1day and Ethiopia’s story has been shared through to each of their networks. We’ve also connected to some extraordinary partners, including program sponsors and trip leaders. We feel like our family has grown by leaps and bounds since we built Imagine Ethiopia into our organization.

What are you looking forward to with Imagine Ethiopia 2012?

2012 is a big year for imagine1day, as we’re scaling our impact within Ethiopia by expanding into a new region called Oromiya. The money raised by this year’s Imagine Ethiopia Dream Team will fund one of our very first school projects in this new region, and it’s going to be a very special moment when we arrive to witness the ground breaking alongside the people who made it possible. We’re excited to venture into new territory on this trip, and it’s going to make for an incredible itinerary. We’ll be visiting the Bale Mountains, where we’ll experience a new landscape and new adventures including horseback riding, and hanging out with warthogs, nayalas, and more! We’re also thrilled to welcome Christian Santelices as a new addition to our Leader Team. Christian is a fully certified mountain guide, professional photographer, public speaker, writer, community activist, and an all around joy to be around. He will be infusing adventure and fun into the trip itinerary at every turn.

Why do you think hands on experience and philanthropic efforts go hand in hand?

We’re all about inspiring people to make passionate contributions that elevate themselves, their local community, and communities in Ethiopia. For us, we understand that it’s not always easy for people to feel connected to the impact of their contribution when so much magic is happening on the other side world. The more we can facilitate that connection, through experiences like Imagine Ethiopia, and our communications with supporters, the smaller the gap becomes. So often philanthropy/international development is positioned as “us helping them”, whereas this trip is truly a unifying experience. It is one that provides participants an opportunity to receive more than they give through a journey of personal growth.

Tell us more about your Creatributon™ program. What is it and how does it work?

imagine1day distinguishes itself as a community that expands through shared experiences and inspiring connections. We believe that charity can have a greater impact on the world by being an impetus for abundance, locally and globally. Our unconventional charitable model, which we call CREATRIBUTION™, invites people to contribute to the world by exploring their passions and their talents. On the part of imagine1day, it requires a commitment to supporting each Creatributor in being rigorously selfish about how their Creatribution will serve their life. Through Creatribution, people are discovering how their unique contribution can become their own business venture. Creatribution is a training ground for entrepreneurs to take risks, to fail, to succeed and ultimately to develop as leaders in their community. In practice, Creatributions can look like just about anything – from an unconventional art showcase, to a campaign that inspires people to choose donating in lieu of buying coffee or eating out, to an intimate house concert series where artists perform in a living room setting. It’s amazing to see how people can channel their passions and talents to create extraordinary contributions to the world.

If people can’t apply to Imagine Ethiopia, how can they support your efforts?

For those who can’t join us as part of this year’s journey, but are interested in supporting the team’s goal of raising $100,000, they can follow this link to donate to the trip goal. People can also consider taking on Creatribution™ in support of our goal. Finally, we’re always welcoming new friends and supporters with open arms, and encourage people to connect with us by way of our website, Facebook & Twitter communities.

Learn more about imagine1day and apply for Ethiopia 2012 here

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.