Where – Shanghai is where the main office is based, and they have 7 learning centres in different places, which they opened last year. They currently work in 7 provinces.
When – we met on October 17th 2014. Be Better was set up in 2009 and has been growing and changing rapidly ever since, much like Shanghai!
Who – I met with Selma, who I was introduced to by Stephen from Swarm back in the UK. She moved out here two and a half years ago with her husband and baby son – they decided they wanted to move to China, came to Shanghai on a 2-month scoping mission and both found themselves jobs.
Selma is now Deputy Director of Be Better, in charge of general operations, increasing efficiencies and fundraising, recruiting new staff, organising the board, strategic thinking, international relations and team building amongst other things. In the last 2 years, the team has increased from 8 to 35 people.
What – Be Better runs an internationally recognised curriculum of Aflatoun (aflatoun.org), focused mostly on economic citizenship education, or in other words, how to budget, the principles of buying and selling and skills to increase employment opportunities such as public speaking. They train teachers in how to run these programmes within schools. They focus mostly on migrant populations (i.e. people moving from other areas of China to big cities, where they no longer receive any kind of state assistance because of moving away from their home town).
Whilst Aflatoun runs programmes in many different areas in different countries (including gender equality, democracy etc), the focus in China is on financial education and skills development for improved employment opportunities. It is the 4th largest of Aflatoun’s country programmes (to put this in context, Aflatoun currently runs programmes in 103 countries).
Why – The director of the organisation (Selma’s boss) set it up after experiencing the ‘family feel’ of Aflatoun and wanted to bring it back to China, to provide everyone with educational opportunity.
Impacts/success – the number of staff has grown dramatically, more than quadrupling in less than 5 years, with growing numbers of programmes to match (this rapidity of growth is also a challenge to ensure quality delivery). They measure impact by carrying out pre- and post-evaluation assessments relating to behaviour change, and keeping track of the numbers of activities, contact hours and online courses run.
The value of the courses can be shown by examples too – one boy was confident in the classroom with the theory of managing budgets, buying and selling, but in the reality of a ‘charity market’ where the students had to put what they learnt into practice, he struggled and had to work at it before he felt comfortable not only in theory but also in practice. In another example, a university student organised a concert of street musicians, being a musician himself and seeing they did not have the same opportunities. Not only did it bring benefit to the musicians but his own skills, organisation and confidence too.
Find out more – bebetter.org.cn, aflatoun.org