Comment Editor Esther Purves talks to Learning By Heart founder Naomi Green, who shares her views on volunteering, education and the non-profit sector
In light of the recent feature from Redbrick Comment on the newly founded charity Learning By Heart, Comment Editor Esther Purves speaks to Naomi Green, the founder of the non profit, who shares her insight on establishing Learning By Heart, her passion for educational equality, the worrying trend of voluntourism and the future of the non-profit sector.
I’ve been passionate about educational inequality for a long time. I think that the UK system lacks the capacity for individual attention, which can be transformational for children and young people. Tutoring can be a great way to provide this. When setting up Learning By Heart, I started thinking about educational inequality on a global scale, especially in relation to gender. I found CAMFED, and then Learning By Heart came together! That day, I remember sitting at my desk from the moment I woke up until two AM. By the end of the day, I had a website, social media pages and had started to recruit volunteers.
I knew I wanted to support a charity that worked in female education. CAMFED stood out to me; they powerfully articulate why girls’ education is important, and I appreciated the way the organisation is structured and the way the organisation carries out their work. CAMFED is special because it is a pan-African organisation (as opposed to an international organisation going into Africa) so their work is community-based. The CAMFED Association is a unique aspect I resonated with- this is essentially a network of alumni of CAMFED programmes who go on to become leaders in their community. They act on behalf of girls and young women, helping to enact systemic change. I reached out to the UK ambassador the day I decided to run Learning By Heart; she was really helpful and supportive!
I’ve got big dreams for Learning By Heart, and I think the simple and remote structure lends itself to growth. We already have students, tutors and volunteer staff spread across the UK and abroad; I think expanding our reach and perhaps franchising into different areas could be a possibility. Currently, we are partnering with universities to get more students involved as tutors and volunteers. We are also expanding into providing group classes to businesses (in a variety of languages) to help cover our core funding costs, which is an exciting avenue too. In the future, I can see lots of little ‘Learning By Heart’ projects popping up.
I don’t think an issue like voluntourism was consciously on my mind when I set up Learning By Heart, but I was influenced by a positive volunteering project that I’d been a part of in the past. The structure of Learning By Heart was inspired by the project I was working for in Buenos Aires, which was a social enterprise called Delicias de Alicia. The social enterprise structure ran a sustainable vegetarian closed-door restaurant and catering service. This served as a means to fund free cooking and nutrition workshops for children in low-income areas to help foster better nutrition, child development and to bolster kids’ chances of breaking out of the poverty cycle. I wanted to adopt this structure of providing a service which then funds your cause, and I was conscious of wanting to support an initiative that works locally.
I’d like to think most people involved in volunteering know that voluntourism is deeply problematic. I can definitely see the attraction of going abroad and wanting to help people while you’re there, but I think we need to stop glamorising this and establish in which situations volunteering is truly beneficial. The typical voluntourism blueprint is an often costly (this also irks me for how inaccessible it makes volunteering out to be!) and short-lived experience that isn’t addressing a need as much as serving paternalistic aspirations and providing the ‘feel-good’ factor for participants, taking away from sustainable locally driven development.
It’s a really exciting time for the non-profit sector. I think that much like in other sectors, bigger organisations are falling out of favour and smaller, localised projects are taking centre stage. In particular, I think the social enterprise model is on the rise, and there’s a lot of innovation going on in this sector which is cause for real hope. The lines between business and charity are becoming a little more blurred; we’re seeing lots of small and medium-sized businesses pop up who donate a percentage of their proceeds to charity. Equally, charities are starting to pursue these innovative, self-reliant routes of fundraising as opposed to relying solely on donations and grants. A few innovative ideas that have inspired me are Outside In, House of Cinn and the Clink Charity.
I love all aspects of running Learning By Heart. Every time we get a new pupil sign up, a donation on the page, or a new opportunity and I get so excited! If I had to pick one favourite part, I would say that the feedback from pupils and parents is really special. Hearing that someone’s grades have gone up, or that they did really well on a test a tutor helped them prepare for, or that they feel more confident in their subject makes me really happy. This charity is so close to my heart.
Learning By Heart is a newly founded on-profit that operates on two fundamental principles; to ‘to foster the continuation of learning for children and adults in the UK and elsewhere during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in turn help widen access to education for girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa.’ The charity offers a tutoring service in a variety of subjects, that students pay for on a ‘pay as you feel basis’. All donations go to CAMFED, a pan-african organisation that aims to provide education for girls and young women. Volunteers can have a variety of roles within the company. To find out more about volunteering, click here for more information.
Read more from Redbrick on non-profits and volunteering: