Up to Us Alumnus Wainright Acquoi is on a mission to make a difference and bring change to the education system in his home country of Liberia.
Over the past decade, a spotlight has been shone on the challenges children in Liberia face in obtaining access to quality education. War, inadequate funding, lack of teacher education, and poor oversight have led to systemic problems that have left many children without access to an education that can change their lives and their communities. These issues have gained the attention of government leaders, private enterprises, researchers, and social entrepreneurs like Wainright. In response these challenges, the former Up to Us participant founded TRIBE, with the mission to design experiences and create alternative solutions that improve the way communities teach, learn, and employ. And recently, TRIBE was awarded a $50,000 grant from Acumen for its flagship model program to teach entrepreneurship in high schools.
We caught up with Wainright to learn more about how his social enterprise is reimagining secondary education and workforce development in Africa and how his participation in Up to Us helped him design and lead transformative experiences for Liberian youth.
On Identifying a Need
Wainright remembers high school as a pivotal time in his life. As he tells it, he had the opportunity to enter a career development program and receive mentorship that opened his eyes to what was possible through education. That insight fueled his desire to use his career to create the same opportunities for all youth in Liberia, especially those that lack empowerment and resources. After spending time in youth programs and activism work, and later in academia, he developed a new understanding of the issues that children and young adults in Liberia face when trying to access quality education. With almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 not in school across sub-Saharan Africa, Wainright identified an immense and immediate need to develop entrepreneurial skills and business acumen for young people. Wainright notes that not all students will go on to become entrepreneurs, but there is an intrinsic value in obtaining an entrepreneurial skillset. TRIBE’s innovative programs were designed to do exactly that and help develop such a curriculum for schools across the country.
On Facing Challenges as a Social Entrepreneur
For so many social entrepreneurs like Wainright, the number one goal is to solve a worldly problem in a new and innovative way, followed closely by trying to figure out how to do so at scale and in an economically sustainable way. There are the typical structural challenges of launching a new business, but as he affirmed, there are roadblocks unique to social entrepreneurship that are difficult to overcome no matter your expertise. “We are still the students of the problem,” Wainright says of his team at TRIBE. “We are certainly not the experts.” Through years of grit and fierce determination, Wainright explains that success is more than having passion and an idea – it’s having the wherewithal to deliver on that idea. It’s hard enough to change any problem, let alone one that is systemic. The team at TRIBE is continually accessing and adjusting their expectations, while still maintaining their goals, mission, and optimism when investors aren’t willing to take bets on new ideas.
Leading a social enterprise comes with sacrifice and uncertainty, and the added pressure of developing ambitious solutions to problems is costly. “Passion doesn’t pay the bills, and we couldn’t develop a team at full capacity without adequate funding,” says Wainright of the common paradox of launching any new program. And then, of course, there’s the emotional and mental strain associated with not knowing whether or not that passion can actually lead to effecting change. Now, with Acumen on board as the organization’s second major funder, Wainright knows that the success they’re experiencing is a manifestation of hard work and TRIBE’s potential. His team is ecstatic about scaling programs that they know will create a significant impact.
On the Influence of Up to Us
During his undergrad years at Lynn University in Florida, Wainright led a team through the Up to Us Campus Competition. As an international student, the program gave him a unique opportunity to understand how creating a sustainable fiscal future for America can have impact on his home country and beyond. Navigating how to execute a campaign with people of different backgrounds, ideals, and perspectives gave Wainright a chance to work on his relationship-building skills and figure out how to solve real-life problems collaboratively. He remains in touch with many of his peers from the program and says that they continually remind him that tackling tough challenges is easier when we work together.
On Finding His Purpose
Like many of us, Wainright knows it’s a critical time for young people to be socially conscious and learn to develop the necessary skills to become social entrepreneurs. And he is determined to create that pathway for young people across Liberia. Looking back on what led Wainright to launch TRIBE, he says, “I wanted to bridge the gap – to create a space where I don’t just advocate for young people, but I empower them. I want them to experience the true benefits of freedom that will enable them to create a pathway to the life they want to live.”
To learn more about Wainright and this work with TRIBE, visit: https://weareatribe.org.
If you are interested in participating in the Up to Us Campus Competition, you can find more information here.