An Interview by Alexander Aranda intelligentHQ / Ztudium Chief Information Officer
At the age of 13, Ayrton cable is one of the world’s leading young social entrepreneurs. I first became aware of Ayrton through his film, “How was this animal kept?” made when he was only 9 years of age in partnership with Compassion in World Farming, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, World Animal Protection and The Soil Association. This film was part of a bill that Ayrton launched in the UK Parliament for more ethical production and labelling of animal products. Ayrton has gone on to do some amazing things including winning a Diana Award for campaigning, speaking at TEDx at Hampton Court House and becoming an International Children’s Peace Prize nominee, amongst many others.
Since then I have followed the brilliant young activist and his father Paul closely. I met with the passionate father and son to discuss their latest venture to build smart communities in Africa – EnSo.
EnSo is a social enterprise that aims to leverage technology to provide affordable world class education, energy, and health to a billion people in the developing world through 10,000 ‘changemaker’ schools.
Can you tell us about more about you, your background and education?
Paul: Sure. I was lucky enough to have several amazing teachers in my life, first and foremost my mum, Olympia. She taught me classical piano from a young age, and music became the focal point of my life. When I was 17, I started singing seriously, and after a rather dry music degree at Cambridge, I trained as an operatic baritone, and made my debut in Florence at the age of 25. A few years later, I dramatically changed life course!
Ayrton: I first got into social action when I was 8 years old when I made a film about the homeless, focusing on some people we met on the streets in London. Then a few months later I saw the film “Food Inc” and decided I had to do something about factory farming. Out of that came a campaign to label food more clearly so people can see how the farm animals were kept. It was really a trip to Malawi after that for the IF Campaign to end world hunger when I reported about a boy my age called Mapangano who only ate one meal a day, when I have 3 meals plus snacks, that moved things in the direction of EnSo. After that trip, I founded an award – the Water, Food and Air Youth Awards to get kids involved in solving these big problems.
How did EnSo come into existence?
Paul: When I was in my late 20’s, I felt a pull away from the rarified world of classical music, and felt I needed to do something that had a deep positive impact in the world. I spent several years in various far-flung parts of the world, trying to find‘wise’ people, who had answers to the question ‘What’s most needed and wanted in the world’. I found some truly extraordinary people, two of whom became mentors to me.
Interestingly, they all had pretty much the same answer: that what the world needs to become truly peaceful and sustainable is a shift at the level of our hearts and minds to one in which qualities like integrity, compassion, generosity, tolerance, respect, humility, open-mindedness and responsibility are at the centre of how we lead our lives – as individuals, families, communities, and societies. With my main mentor, Dr Ron Browning, I co-founded an initiative called The100Hours, intended to help accomplish this, especially in education focused on 5 core qualities of heart – Integrity, Commitment, Awareness, Responsibility, and Empathy – which form the acronym I – C.A.R.E.
Ayrton: I was sort of brought up on I – C.A.R.E. principles, and when I started doing my own social change work, it made more and more sense to create an environment for children around the world to do something similar. So we started EnSo together!
What are the primary goals and objectives that EnSo has?
Paul: At its heart is the vision of putting wise and compassionate living and leadership at the heart of education, and so I – C.A.R.E. approach is key.
Ayrton: We’re aiming to build 10,000 schools in 25 years and impact a billion people, including through our online presence. The goal is really to impact not just the children in the schools but to impact their entire communities, and ultimately to have a global impact; this is both through the I – C.A.R.E. principles and also through leveraging the schools as hubs to impact healthcare, hygiene and energy.
What makes EnSo different from any other social enterprise?
Paul: It’s a combination of putting the I – C.A.R.E. qualities at the centre of everything we do, allied with the systems approach of tackling all the key areas that impact children’s learning.
Ayrton: That means focusing not just on what happens in the classroom, but also making sure the children and their families are healthy, have proper nutrition, and have clean energy at home.
EnSo is very much focused on Africa, tell us what makes Africa particularly suited for this project ?
Ayrton: It’s a great opportunity to get in early. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about ‘Africa Rising’ – how most of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.
Paul: Yes, Africa really does seem set for a transformation over the coming 20-30 years, and it’s an exciting place to be. It’s also in some ways easier to operate in than, say, India, because there’s less red tape to get through. That said, we’re planning on getting to India too a few years down the road, and possibly other emerging markets, but Africa’s where we’re focused for now.
EnSo sounds exciting, how are you planning to accomplish such an ambitious project?
Paul: We’ve focused a lot on getting a great team together, and we really feel that the right people are the key to accomplishing this. It’s exciting to have Dr Lisa Smith as COO, a South African who served as Director at Unilever Ventures and did a stint at McKinsey, and Emma Bunting as CFO, who has two very successful start- ups under her belt. We’ve also got very good people from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda on the team.
Ayrton: Another part of our approach has been to build a great consortium of partners to support the edtech, cleantech and medtech aspects of our strategy. We’ve got four central consortium partners – all world-class companies in their domains – and have built strong relationships with them all: Avanti PLC for our broadband internet; Whizz Education for edtech; Access Afya for medtech; and BBOXX for cleantech.