“Our innovation awards programme is a collaboration between so many incredible people”

Angela Solomon, Theirworld’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Projects and Research, talks about her work.

Theirworld works with project partners around the world in our mission to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future. 

One way we’re doing that is through the 2023 Theirworld innovation Scale-Up Awards, which we launched last month. 

In the latest of our Spotlight On series, we talk to Angela Solomon, Theirworld’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Projects and Research, about the awards and other aspects of her work. 

What is your role at Theirworld?

I help steer the work of our Projects Team by advising on how to select and evaluate projects, and I work with the team to assess and grow our impact through our programmes and research. 

Tell us about the 2023 Theirworld Innovation Scale-Up Awards.

We’re looking for three exciting non-profit education innovations that have a proven impact. Our awards programme will help them grow, through a grant of up to £80,000, expert masterclasses and technical mentoring to ensure the winning teams have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.  

What are some of the biggest barriers that stop education projects from scaling up? 

Lack of funding, lack of evidence and lack of skills or capacity. Our programme sets out to address these three areas. Scale-up is hard in the private sector too but for nonprofits it can be even more difficult to get all these ingredients in place. We are here to help fix that problem.

What are you hoping to see in this year's applications?

I am hoping for lots of applications from community-led organisations – teams that are led and staffed by people from the communities they serve.  

It would also be great to see different types of innovation – not necessarily technology (though that would be great too) but also the ways we think about how education should work.  

To solve the global education crisis, we need to drastically increase the capacity, quality and accessibility of our education systems. We are looking for innovators who have a vision for making that happen.  

What has been your favourite moment working on the Innovation Awards? 

So many! The best thing has been discovering, and learning from, a community of passionate educators and innovators from all around the world.  

From the Theirworld team to our technical expert partners, to the first cohort of awards winners and the global community around them, our programme is a collaboration between so many incredible people. I feel lucky to have made so many meaningful connections through the awards.  

What were some of the greatest successes from the previous innovation awards cohort?

Our first winners reached more than two million learners during the programme, so we are genuinely delighted and impressed overall with their success.  

Some things that stand out for me are… 

The teams at Lebanese Alternative Learning began exploring expansion to a new country during the programme and our mentors supported them in thinking through what steps they would need to take to make that happen.  

It was brilliant when one winner, Ubongo, launched partnerships with other finalist teams to bring their educational content to more marginalised learners in Uganda. It was so great to be building connections between organisations and seeing them support each other.  

I am still inspired and honoured when other winners, such as AREAi, Children on the Edge and NABU, update us with their successes even though the programme has ended. We are so happy to stay in touch and continue building a long-term relationship with these innovators.   

Why is it so important to Theirworld that we work with local partners?

Innovation is all about understanding a problem deeply and coming up with new solutions that work. The people who really understand a problem or challenge are those who have experienced it first-hand.  

The Theirworld Projects Team actively builds genuine partnerships with the organisations we work with, built on mutual trust and understanding. That enables us to support our partners to do more of what they do best – solving problems in and with the communities that inspire them, so we can together find ways to bring quality education to every learner. 

What keeps you motivated when challenges seem too large to overcome? 

Breaking down a problem, working out where we CAN have an impact  and doing that.  Also: chocolate.  

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned outside the classroom? Know your values and honour them.

Know your values and honour them.