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Focus on OPIC Impact Award Winner: Bridge International Academies (Development Impact)

OPIC’s mission to leverage private business to help address the world’s most critical development challenges takes many shapes and operates at different scales. But one of the most direct and foundational cases of this development mission carried out through an impact-minded business plan is through OPIC’s partnership with Bridge International Academies, a winner of OPIC’s 2015 Impact Awards in the development impact category.

Bridge International Academies is a network of low-cost, high-quality schools operating in underserved communities throughout rural and urban Kenya. For a cost of less than $6 per month – affordable for many Kenyans at the low end of the income scale – students receive education that has become recognized throughout Kenya for it consistent high quality.

Bridge students taking notes in Kenya

Through the help of an OPIC loan, Bridge’s founders were able to expand quickly and broadly, today serving over 100,000 children in Kenya with plans to scale their proven model into other African countries.

“When we first contacted OPIC, we had 37 schools in Kenya serving about 10,000 children. We’ve grown more than tenfold, operating 405 schools serving 100,000 children in Kenya today. Being able to partner with OPIC has made a huge difference in allowing us to expand,” said Bridge’s co-founder, Shannon May during the OPIC awards event.

Bridge’s approach to impact-driven business is their self-described “Academy-in-a-Box” model of education. Bringing uniform scalability drawn from the U.S. technology sector, Bridge deploys 21stcentury equipment like curriculum loaded on e-books, training and administration managed by mobile phones, and automated, centralized management and payroll structures.

This means that a Bridge Academy educating students in the furthest reaches of rural Kenya maintains the same high standards as one in a crowded neighborhood of cosmopolitan Nairobi. This means recognition for both providing great education and for being a source of employment that is part of the social fabric of these schools’ local communities.Teacher at Bridge International

Because of Bridge’s broad reach, their network of academies employs thousands of Kenyans.

The development impact of creating such broad access to high-quality education benefits growth of society at its core level. With over 100,000 students currently enrolled and expansion plans in place, Bridge International Academies’ intent for enduring development impact is clear.

“At first, we started one school, then two schools, but one or two schools don’t change a generation,” added Shannon May. “We’re trying to ensure there is demonstration effect as to how education could be done differently, as well as helping not just a hundred children, but eventually millions.”

VIDEO: Shannon May, co-founder of Bridge International Academies, accepted the 2015 OPIC Impact Award on behalf of the company. In her remarks, she highlighted the importance of OPIC financing to development projects in the world’s most challenging and vulnerable economies.

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