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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Aaron Friedland, the CEO of The Walking School Bus and SiMBi, has a passion for change that is powerful and inspiring. From struggling to learn because of his own Dyslexia to studying economic development to creating solar-powered classrooms and literacy software, Aaron’s journey is one we can all learn from.
In this interview we talk about the journey to creating impact halfway around the world, the struggle of doing too many things, and how we can create solutions from empathy, that are accepted and have a lasting effect. This chat isn’t necessarily about education, it’s about social entrepreneurship and how you can take the right approach when observing problems and creating solutions.
About Aaron Friedland, Simbi, and The Walking School Bus
Aaron Friedland is the Executive Director or The Walking School Bus, and the CEO of Simbi. Aaron developed his passion for economic development and education while working and researching abroad. He recognized that students in places such as Uganda, South Africa, and India who struggled academically would often fall into the poverty trap. His personal experiences opened his eyes to myriad barriers to education including distance to school and lack of nutrition. These experiences in conjunction with his work at UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-profit taught him a great deal about education in developing countries and gave him the foundation to create an organization called The Walking School Bus, which aims to help students worldwide access education. In addition to founding the organization, he serves as the Executive Director.
Find Aaron on LinkedIn
The Walking School Bus’ is an NGO that collaborates with the UNHCR and builds BrightBox Solar Power Classrooms which support 6000 learners per install and generate revenue that supports the scaling of our model while providing passive revenue for the community. Through these and other programs, they’re enabling greater access to education.
Find The Walking School Bus On The Web: https://thewalkingschoolbus.com/
SiMBi is an innovative online platform that allows students to listen and read aloud with books, increasing their ability to learn quickly. By recording narrations, students not only learn but give the same accelerated learning experience to more people all over the world.
Find SiMBi On The Web: https://simbi.io/
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Everything We Talked About In This Episode
[02:34] “What shakes me out of bed in the morning, is knowing that there are 3.5 million learners in Ugandan refugee settlements that are not accessing quality education or don’t go to school.”
[03:20] The Walking School Bus builds solar-powered classrooms, and software on microcomputers to facilitate remote learning
[04:42] Simbi allows learners to read out loud, and record their narration into the platform to help other kids learn to read as they do themselves.
[05:50] How Aaron’s dyslexia led to a new type of learning that got him into university despite initial projections as a young kid
[12:07] Started from a travel project analyzing how distance affected school attendance in rural Uganda
[13:56] The three really important barriers to education in rural Africa, transportation, nutrition, and curriculum
[14:44] Realizing the difficult truth that you can’t do everything well
[16:07] “We’re very much a learning-based organization, we don’t have any fixed ideas in our minds, and that’s why we’ve been able to create such impact and such value”
[17:34] How Aaron walked a mile in his users’ shoes to research the problem
[21:32] What happens is we design interventions and solutions from the comforts of Starbucks in North America, and then we try to push it on rural communities and wonder why it doesn’t work
[25:36] Mention of Team Members: Ran Sommer, Alex Gillis
[28:02] Advice from Aaron, find a problem that you can fall in love with
[30:26] How to start a tech company without a technical background
[33:04] When you outsource development you give up all the learning
[37:00] What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen working all over the world
[40:49] Were there any concerns about people narrating out loud into SiMBi?