What is CHANCEN International doing to support their students?

Online learning (6)

Rwanda is under a strict lock down since the 14th of March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So far the governmental measures seem to have been very successful in reducing the spread of the virus, with only 327 infections reported on May 25 [Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Centre]. However the economic impact of the crisis can be severe and the community of our students is directly affected. When Rwanda locked down and students could no longer attend school, our team immediately met virtually to decide which role we wanted to play as a student finance organization and how we could best support all our members.

Here are the five measures we undertook in the past weeks: 

1. Contact every single student

We contacted every student within the first week of lock down. We recognised that our students were in shock, their daily lives had changed suddenly and their futures seemed uncertain. The education that they had worked extremely hard for was now uncertain. Think back to the first week of lock down: do you remember the rollercoaster of emotions? Our phone calls were simple. We asked: how are you doing? And we reminded them:  we are there for you, your school is there for you and we will all get through this together. Just listening goes a long way.

Our education partners, Kepler and Davis College/Akilah Institute did an excellent job of ensuring learning could continue and quickly adapted curriculum to support all learning styles; always keeping the same level of quality, labour market relevant education. 

Currently, over the next 18 months we will not be able to financially support any new students due to a lack of financial resources. But we will walk this path with our 1,300 students, as a community we will create a Rwandan example of how a young person can access high quality education, transition into creating their own income and then through their repayment the next generation can finance their students.

We invite everybody to join us on this journey: Spread this article on Social Media, donate for our students or become members of our cooperative! As a community, we can overcome this crisis. Together, in solidarity.

2. Protect the most vulnerable

There was one sentence we kept repeating in every morning team check-in: protect the most vulnerable first. We became advocates for our students, in all conversations we asked questions like: how will we help those whose household income has diminished? How can we ensure that students don’t have to pay for internet or tech devices due to distance learning? How can we support our students who were in such remote areas that they did not even have electricity to access online learning materials? And through this a community formed around our students, together with our partners and alongside government advisory we worked towards answering these questions. Our core value, solidarity, pulsed through our community.

3. Form students mentorship groups

We developed our student support to meet the needs of this new world. Groups of 100 students were assigned to a CHANCEN team member. Each team member would accompany his/her  group to their graduation acting as a mentor. With the extremely limited budget we had we started upskilling, we surround ourselves with experts and many people gave of their time freely. Currently all team members who directly support students are undergoing intensive training with a coach to help them serve better.

4. Digitize financial literacy program

To our students, we are known as the money people. Besides investing in their education we have always pledged to teach them to become empowered, we have delivered financial literacy lessons digitally and in person to our members even before they signed their contract with us. We are putting the final touches to a digital, data friendly version of the famous Savings Game. Clement, our Repayment Manager and Audresse, our Operations Manager, were both trained by the Sparkasse Stiftung last year to deliver this highly effective, simulative game that teaches individuals the basic value of money. Previously we always did this workshop in person, watch this space for the online version. 

5. Facilitate job market entry

Finally, we immediately knew that the world of work would change drastically. By the end of 2020, about 400 CHANCEN members will graduate and enter a whole new phase in their lives. This is one of the biggest, scariest moments in a young person’s life. CHANCEN, Davis College/Akilah Institute and Kepler know that the support they had previously provided their graduates with this big step would need to evolve and change. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t know exactly how. But there are a couple of things we do know. An internship is vital to gaining first experience, how do we now work with the private sector to ensure they make this opportunity possible despite a looming recession? The private sector also needs to evolve. Kepler has started an incredible program that supports SME’s in adapting to managing teams remotely and keeping teams motivated.

What is the role of student finance during a global health pandemic?

Over the last 10 weeks CHANCEN International has been thinking about this non stop. You see, we have made it our mission to ensure that the most vulnerable students have access to high quality education. And now more than ever we take this responsibility very seriously.

To date our members, which is how we refer to the individuals who sign our fair and ethical financing contract, all go to institutions of higher learning in Rwanda. 1,300 members attend either Kepler or Davis College/Akilah Institute, both prestigious and highly acclaimed education institutions.

Online learning (7)

On the day Rwanda locked down, meaning that all students could not attend school and some even needed to relocate out of student housing, our team met virtually to plan how we could best support all our members. We did not fully comprehend how the world would change. Yet, we knew one thing for sure: with so much uncertainty we needed to provide our members with some level of certainty, even if it was just to remind them that we are there for them.

One of the immediate actions we took was to notify our graduates that they would not be required to make repayments over the next 3 months, even though an Income Share Agreement (ISA) adapts to a person’s income so the risk is already greatly reduced for our members. We knew however, though some members may have the same income, their financial responsibilities may increase as the economic change affected their family members.

How are we able to do this as a business? Simply put, this is the beauty of an Income Share Agreement model. The repayment period of our students may be slightly longer than a conventional loan but it is income-based, and allows for flexibility during hardship. Miguel Palacois, the father of ISAs, reminds us: “Every time you hear about students who can’t repay their student loans, you have to think, well, who designed the system in which someone gets money for their tuition and they don’t have a job and they still have to pay?”

We have many examples across the world and in Africa of how student financing should not be done. During this time even the most commercially minded institutions recognised that it is not acceptable to ask graduates to pay their loan installments during a global crisis, but if they didn’t ask them how would the financial institutions survive – their risk calculations depended on this? 

We have witnessed how tens of thousands of students graduate without employable skills and the institution they learnt in cashes a big cheque. Shouldn’t the education institution always be incentivised to give their students the best?

We have witnessed families in unmanageable debt cycles with their micro lenders trying to get their children through school. How can we sleep well at night knowing that the poorest families on our planet pay around 30% interest on their loans?

We have seen young people leave university with a degree that they cannot relate to on any level as they were forced to study this subject due to the only available government scholarship. How can a developing economy support access to education that truly serves the growth that is needed in its society?

These are all big topics. They are big questions. We have chosen to tackle one part of the problem, as a puzzle piece we fit in with other great institutions that do their part. Now, more than ever it is imperative that we create examples of student finance that work. There are some already out there; Lumni, the Australian Government, the BAföG system in Germany (financial aid for students with income based repayments) and lastly the organisation that inspired CHANCEN – Studierendengesellschaft.

The CHANCEN team in Rwanda and Germany are committed to ensuring that we protect our students and graduates rights (read our article on the concrete support steps we took). Even though we will not be able to finance any new students in Rwanda this year due to a lack of financial resources, we will continue to serve our current students to ensure that they can graduate and prepare for a new post-Corona world. For our graduates, we have started fundraising towards helping them restart their businesses. We are also working closely with Kepler who is doing an excellent job of supporting the private sector, the businesses that employ their graduates, to move to a more digital and remote working world.