A generation of life-long learners in times of explosive over-population

A generation of life-long learners in times of explosive over-population
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Juan Miguel Guerra Davila
Juan Miguel Guerra Davila

“Education allows you to upgrade yourself – intellectually, emotionally, professionally. Imagine living in a society where everyone is always able to „updgrade“ themselves.  I think more and more of us will become life-long learners and build a portfolio career – re-skilling and up-skilling as we go. This innovation is great news for a planet with explosive growth in population. But providing education can be costly and therefore, it is necessary to have innovation in the financing of education. This helps make education more accessible to talented people who would otherwise struggle.” Juan Miguel Guerra Dávila, founder and CEO of StudentFunder. 

Juan is the charmer in elephant costume who funds young people’s educational aspirations. He is the founder and CEO of StudentFunder, a company offering loans for masters and professional courses in the UK. Juan began his career at Citigroup, working in SME Finance in Mexico. He then moved into wholesale microfinance. After completing MBA at Cranfield, he spent a year as part of the Momentum Programme, at Prudential Plc. Juan would not have been able to fund his education without scholarships. In 2012, he launched StudentFunder to help others fund their education.

Let’s start from here – what is education and why is it important?
Education helps us improve our lives in many ways – from developing our ability to learn and think for ourselves, to acquiring skills that improve our performance as professionals. It helps us realise our potential and become better versions of ourselves, which benefits us and society as a whole.

What is happening with education globally nowadays?

Juan speaking at the One Young World 2014 Dublin Summit.
Juan speaking at the One Young World 2014 Dublin Summit.

There is a lot of innovation finally happening in education, but it is often the case that people underestimate the truly disruptive bits and overestimate the impact of less disruptive models. From Massive Online Open Curses (MOOCs) to games, from coding bootcamps to academies… you can see improvement not just in the curriculum, but in the delivery of it and other aspects of education.
Higher education is a bundle of things – curriculum, interactions with peers, use of facilities… nowadays, one can pick a curriculum online, sign up to a meetup to interact with peers and join a gym to make use of the facilities, without having to go to university. I think this will become more and more relevant for life-long learners and I think more and more of us will become life-long learners and build a portfolio career – re-skilling and upskilling as we go.
This innovation is great news for a planet with explosive growth in population. But providing education can be costly and therefore, it is necessary to have innovation in the financing of education. This helps make education more accessible to talented people who would otherwise struggle.

How are education and success related?
It depends how you define each of them. To keep it simple, higher education can have an equalising effect in society, allowing people from less wealthy backgrounds to access professional jobs and compete on more equal terms, professionally speaking.

How did you get into educational funding?
I had struggled to fund my undergraduate course and some years later, I also struggled with my MBA. Often, students receive scholarships and have some savings, but they miss out because they are missing a relatively small amount of money. This shortfall could be raised through a crowdfudning platform or borrowed. The problem was that there were no platforms or loans companies specialising in this space. I decided to start one.

Elephant Hike 2013 - a fundraising hike across the Alps.
Elephant Hike 2013 – a fundraising hike across the Alps.

You were initially raising money to support your cause by playing the guitar in an elephant costume. What’s the story behind that?
I chose the elephant as a mascot – in Hindu tradition, Ganesh is the remover of obstacles and the god of education. StudentFunder removes obstacles to education.

Do you have an observation on the Bulgarian educational system and status?
I am afraid I don’t know enough, but I did my undergraduate in Germany and some of the sharpest minds around me were Bulgarians. A good friend of mine, Petar, was also working hard to pay his way and just seemed so good at Math, even in spite of our sometimes indiscriminate consumption of rakia from grandpa’s backyard!

Why is helping others via education important for you?
Because people helped me and that changed my life. Now, I can help others change theirs and they can help others and so on.

Why is it important for the people you’re helping?
Well, it’s life-changing.

Why is it important for us all?
Education can make us better versions of ourselves – intellectually, emotionally, professionally. Imagine living in a society where everyone is always able to „upgrade“ him/herself.

Last and not least – what do you want to become when yo grow up?
A rock star.

Thank you, Juan!
Pleasure, good luck, maina!

sf-logo-primaryWhen did you found StudentFunder and how did you get to that idea?
I had struggled to fund my undergraduate course and some years later, I also struggled with my MBA. Often, students receive scholarships and have some savings, but they miss out because they are missing a relatively small amount of money. This shortfall could be raised through a crowdfudning platform or borrowed. The problem was that there were no platforms or loans companies specialising in this space. I decided to start one.

How is it working?
We used to feature a platform on which people would raise donations. Now we don’t – we found that offering loans allows us to help more people more quickly. A student who has been accepted on to a masters or professional course in the UK can visit StudentFunder.com and apply for a loan. In most cases, the student will need a guarantor – someone employed in the UK who can vouch for them and repay the loan if necessary. The money comes from a mix of people who lend via the website and institutions investing for social as well as monetary returns.

Is it open for everyone to apply and get funding?
Not everyone, the specific criteria are on the website, but broadly speaking, we can help people enroll  in masters and professional courses in the UK who have a strong enough UK credit history or a UK guarantor.

How many students has StudentFunder helped so far?
About 80.

Do you keep in touch with those you’ve helped?
I know them all by name, it’s still a very personal operation, but that is beginning to change as we start scaling up.

Have you ever helped Bulgarian students?
Not yet!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTAPLU3iTjI

 

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