Over the past several months Project Schoolhouse (PSH) has been developing a partnership with the Financial Freedom Foundation (FFF), a group based out of Melbourne, Australia. FFF has helped renovate and expand the PSH office in Río Blanco, improving accommodations for students traveling for “el Sabatino” (Saturday high school). They also donated laptops for a pilot program at the Escuela Cheryl Barker in El Auló. An additional partner—Nicaraguan NGO La Fundación Zamora Terán—will provide ongoing tech support and maintenance.
But FFF has their eyes on an even bigger goal, and it means working closely with established groups like Project Schoolhouse: they want to help 5000 kids access education and receive a second-chance at what FFF CEO Scott Parry calls the “birth lottery”—the wealth of knowledge and opportunity we often take for granted being born in the US or Australia.
For the benefit of all three partners and above all, the students, PSH will be measuring the impact of this pilot program to see if and how laptops can help bridge the learning gap in rural Nicaragua. If the program proves effective, we will gradually expand laptop distribution to the other nine elementary schools in the PSH network. The potential impact is huge:
• 1000+ elementary school students accessing e-learning materials and gaining basic computer experience
• English and technology integrated into the curriculum, including awareness around solar power and alternative energies in rural areas
• Dozens of high school students receiving additional computer training and general support through our special PSH Scholars program
To learn more about the Financial Freedom Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the investment firm Crown Money Management, we sat down with CEO and Founder of both organizations, Scott Parry.
Since 2004 Parry and his team have helped young people navigate the ins and outs of debt management and financial investment, filling in the critical life lessons absent from standard schooling. Along the way Scott began investing some of his own assets into social programs across the world—namely, Cambodia. His foundation currently sends 500 kids to school each year and pays for backpacks and basic supplies. Over the next five years they plan to increase their impact to 5000 students across Cambodia and now Nicaragua.
This impact narrative pairs well with Crown Money Management’s for-profit work: their clients receive the psychological benefit of knowing that a portion of the firm’s profits are being invested in opportunities for disadvantaged populations. It’s a win-win for everyone, with no additional effort from their clientele.
Parry described their model in this way, bordering on what might be considered a “B-Corporation” in the US: “…what we’re doing with any clients that come on board [at Crown Money Management] is the income that I’d normally be making from the bank I’m diverting into the [Financial Freedom] Foundation. So what I’m doing is plugging that client in with that sponsored child, even though the client’s not paying for it directly…From there they’re going to be receiving the letters twice a year, so they know they have that sponsored child…the beautiful part is they’re getting the benefit of the psychology of helping someone.”
Parry also emphasized the absence of overhead and the importance of “being able to look people in the eye and say, ‘100% of every dollar that hits that Foundation actually goes to where it belongs,’ which is to the children.”
We pulled some more highlights from our conversation, in order to help our PSH community understand the evolution of this partnership. We hope you find this interview as insightful and inspiring as we did…
PSH: How did the Foundation come to be, what’s the relationship with Crown Money Management, and what attracted you to Nicaragua and Project Schoolhouse?
Parry: At [Crown Money Management] we help young people manage their home loans and become debt-free so they can retire a lot faster. So I’ve been doing that and just came to a point probably at about the 10-year marker, when I thought, ‘There needs to be more than this. I’m comfortable financially, I’m very, very big on being able to pay it forward.’ So I thought, well I’d been doing a fair amount of work in Cambodia and decided that I was going to extend the reach…I started looking for other groups in other areas of the world, and Nicaragua came across my itinerary…
It was more about just trying to get over to Nicaragua to find out who the sort of organizations are…We see these [groups] where there’s literally just one person who’s sacrificed so much, who’s one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet. So I thought, ok, if we can just plug in and help the “helpers” with what they need, there should be a pretty good chance of being able to get traction. We don’t want to just come over and start a charity from the ground up in Nicaragua. There are so many there that we can just plug into and just help in any way, shape, or form.
When we landed in Nicaragua, we had no plan. It was more just about research, speaking to people, and just having a chat with all these different groups…Throughout our research we came across Project Schoolhouse—it was mentioned by the Peace Project [NGO in Nicaragua based out of Adelaide, Australia]. Once we had these names, we started doing our own research and loved Project Schoolhouse and what [Tab] is doing there, obviously continuing to grow.
For us, [Project Schoolhouse] ticked a lot of the boxes around how can we educate the children. I think that’s a huge thing for us—education creates that knowledge, which can then create the choices and opportunities. But also with English as well, we thought that was a key component. So how can we create some kind of education benefit, but also intertwine English into it? That was really what we were trying to focus on foremost. It all goes back to education, English, and technology. Obviously knowing that there was not much electricity out there [in the PSH communities], that was a little bit of a challenge to work out—how we can get laptops having English-training programs…We had to go back to the drawing board and got ourselves some solar-powered laptops, which I think are going to be phenomenal for these communities.
PSH: Why Cambodia or Nicaragua? Why not “Australia First”? What’s the story you tell behind why it matters to go beyond the borders of your country and help others?
Parry: Sure. Yeah, I have been asked that question quite a few times. I definitely help a lot of Australians. I do a lot of work with Starlight Children’s Foundation, which is a foundation for terminally ill kids and granting their dying wishes. Also [another organization], which is for kids who have been sexually abused. I do lot of work with RSPCA, which is an animal shelter. So definitely doing work in Australia as well, but for me…$50 a month and what that can do to one child’s life as compared to what it can do in Australia—you just don’t get that bang for buck in terms of what kind of difference it can make there, so I think that for me is why I’ve been really drawn to these areas.
I feel anyone living in Australia, you’ve literally won the birth lottery, and there’s a lot of kids out there that haven’t won the birth lottery. And so that’s really what’s drawn me to those areas. It’s just how much of a dent we can make with same sort of money versus Australia. But I am still actually doing a fair amount of work in Australia as well, it’s just that I really am focusing on Central America and Southeast Asia, sheerly because the effect of that money is so much more powerful.
PSH: How do you share your story? How do you compel others to support what you do?
Parry: Like in business or anything else, you’ve got to be unique…Every single dollar in the Financial Freedom Foundation actually goes to the kids. We don’t have any admin fees, or management costs, or anything whatsoever. There are zero overhead costs…I personally finance that myself. So just being able to look people in the eye and say, ‘100% of every dollar that hits that Foundation actually goes to where it belongs’ which is to the children, and as a result can have a huger impact. With other groups…all these different sort of huge, multi-national global organizations…just finding out the actual percentage of the dollars raised that lands where it’s needed most is, for me, quite off-putting.
PSH: What do you like most about the work?
Parry: I think what I like most about the work, surprisingly enough, is just the people that you meet, the helpers so to speak, and the change-makers. I just love being able to interact with them and obviously find out their story and what drove them to basically sacrifice so much of their own time and energy. For me its just the people I’ve been able to meet along the way, they’re just super quality, high-caliber people who are there to help and make a difference.
PSH: What’s been the hardest?
Parry: The Spanish. In Australia we’re not too good at picking up other languages. We don’t really have a Spanish-speaking community here, and so it’s not really taught too regularly in schools…So that was a big challenge, not speaking the language, traditionally, takes a lot of effort to be able to communicate—with the kids, especially. That’s probably a huge challenge. I’d love nothing more than to sit down with one of the kids and find out their story, and what they’re about, and what they need…So I think the language barrier has definitely been the biggest hurdle. That’s why with our research we said, ‘Let’s find people who are speaking English, who are running these organizations, and just work from the top-down.’ It’s definitely doable, but…there are so many organizations that we just didn’t look at because of the English-Spanish conversion.
PSH: Did you specifically seek out smaller, regionally-focused organizations, or did you also look at some of the larger groups that have a global presence?
Parry: We tried to just really hand-pick those ones [organizations] that resonated with us, so there wasn’t a specific criteria on rural. We did a fair amount of work with the Fabretto Foundation as well. And so it’s amazing, once you start speaking with these people, they all know of each other and the challenges they face, so it was really quite pleasing to be able to get passed on…’Ok you really ought to have a chat with these guys, they do some great work.’ Just consistently being passed down…[to] other people we might be able to have a chat with and just see if there’s any synergy there.
The rural work, especially with Project Schoolhouse, is for us something that’s vitally important because I think there are so many [organizations] actually in the cities, it’s the rural ones—I mean 3 or 4 hours out of town—these are the forgotten ones. And what Tab’s been able to do out there is just nothing short of phenomenal. If we can plug in and help him in any way, shape or form, that’s really what we’re trying to do…and say, ‘Let’s just set this village up’, and as a result the butterfly effect hopefully starts to culminate.
One of the things Tab was communicating early on is, we have to get the community involved. They don’t want “white money,” so to speak, coming in and just funding something they’ve got no involvement in, they didn’t help create or build, and so therefore they don’t have that appreciation or respect for it…And so one thing which we’re really impressed with is how Tab gets the whole community involved in [the projects]. We help the community do what they need to do, rather than us doing it for the community. They have a lot more pride in being able to create something, and we help give them the tools rather than us do everything for them and say, ‘here you go, here’s a classroom’…rather than them in the community actually helping build that classroom together as a team.
PSH: What are your goals, short-term / long-term, partnering with Project Schoolhouse?
Parry: Our vision short-term is to get the technology, the English and education up, and hopefully, yeah, with those use of laptops. We’re also helping to fund some [students] and also the house where they can actually sleep over at when they do have their classes there. So literally just trying to work one group at a time. If we can get that up this year and see how successful that was, then that’s a to see what the take-up is, what the numbers are, and if and when it’s successful we can just duplicate that. So yeah just really keen to see how this shapes up, what the actual benefits are, what comes out of it, and then from there if it is what we’re hoping it is we can start to duplicate that around other areas of Nicaragua.
PSH: In terms of the larger organization, do you have a specific goal or vision for the next 5-10 years?
Parry: We’re trying to get 5000 sponsored children by 2020. That means we’re helping pay for food, education for 5000 kids in areas such as Nicaragua and/or Cambodia and definitely some other areas that come across our path. The key for us is just to be able to help kids and make sure they’ve got a good chance with education. They’re given every opportunity to move forward and prosper.
PSH: What do you like to do for fun when you’re not saving the world?
Parry: I travel a lot. Just love seeing new faces, new places, love snowboarding, always puts a smile on my face. I’m an avid drone photographer, so just taking my drone wherever I go around the world, capturing the sort of experience from different angles, it’s great. Certainly love lying on a beach, just being surrounded by water is probably my happy place. As long as there’s water around, I’m usually smiling and pretty jovial.
PSH: Have you taken your drone to Nicaragua or Cambodia?
Parry: Yeah, I got some crazy footage there, the kids, chasing them around. I mean, these kids have never seen a helicopter, let alone a drone. And so, once they start seeing it, once they know there’s a camera on it, they never let it leave their sight.
To learn more about Crown Management and the Financial Freedom Foundation, please visit them online at: http://www.crownmoneymanagement.com.au