Eric Glustrom

Ashoka Fellow
United States
Fellow since 2012
This description of Eric Glustrom's work was prepared when Eric Glustrom was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.


With the understanding that persistent poverty and social challenges cannot be solved without developing strong and resourceful leadership, Eric Glustrom partners with Ugandan schools to provide a practice-based social entrepreneurship program that empowers young people to think, and act, like changemakers.

The New Idea

Eric is dedicated to transforming the education system of Uganda so that it equips young people with the leadership skills necessary to become changemakers in their communities. His organization, Educate!, addresses the core problem of an outdated education system that has not produced the leadership needed to resolve social ills in Ugandan society.

Educate! works to transform the system from within, rather than creating alternative schools or simply increasing access to education. It partners with schools to provide a two-year social entrepreneurship program that shifts the educational focus from rote memorization to leadership development. This program transforms the educational experience of students with an opportunity to develop and lead their own enterprises, along with long-term opportunities to receive and give mentorship. By strategically working from within the education system, Eric has shown how it can be transformed without creating an entirely new one.

Eric is using the life-changing impact that his work is having on ordinary secondary school students to generate reform of the education system as a whole. To this end, he has successfully advocated for the addition of his experiential, social entrepreneurship program to the national curriculum. Additionally, in a country which puts heavy emphasis on standardized examination at the end of secondary schools, Educate! is introducing a practice-based exam that recognizes student entrepreneurship rather than repetition, with the support of the Ugandan government. Eric hopes to use the results of an ongoing impact evaluation to help spread the Educate! model across the continent, and beyond.

The Problem

The Ugandan education system has failed to produce the type of leadership needed to solve persistent social problems of poverty; high youth unemployment; and rising rates of crime, HIV/AIDS transmissions, and environmental degradation. With 50 percent of the population under the age of 25, Uganda’s youth must be equipped with the skills and experiences needed to recognize, create, and lead solutions to these intractable problems, or they will only contribute to them in the future.

While it is easy to understand the importance of education in resolving these problems, Ugandan leadership does not recognize that the education system itself is flawed. A recent report by BRAC Uganda argues that completion of Advanced Level Education in high school has no positive economic outcomes for the individual and therefore, no impact on quality of life. Despite this, the government has focused on increasing access to education through universal primary and secondary schooling, rather than resolving problems within the system first. Eric equates this strategy to an attempt to make a broken vehicle work by loading more and more people in it. It is important to fix the vehicle and ensure that it is moving in the right direction, before loading people into it. This is the step that the Ugandan government has missed, and that Educate! focuses on. Without this key insight, billions of government and international aid dollars are directed toward increasing access to an education system that doesn’t work. If the education system could be transformed, these wasted financial resources could be leveraged to great effect.

With a curriculum based on repetition and memorization, the education system cannot groom new generations of creative leaders. Developed in 1962, the curriculum is based on a colonial era that sought to train civil servants who would maintain, and not question, the status quo. The exam score is the primary measure of performance across the system, which further reinforces rote memorization-based teaching practices. Entrepreneurship teachers in particular, lack practical experience and training in the field. By 2009, the government had only trained 20 out of 2,000 entrepreneurship teachers nationwide—leaving most ill-equipped to develop young, problem-solving entrepreneurs. While repetition was relevant and worked fifty years ago, the world has changed to one in which the only constant is change. Thus, the current curriculum is not only taught inappropriately, it is also grossly inadequate to prepare young people to address today’s challenges.

The Strategy

Eric believes that change leadership can no longer be left to an elite few, and that a mass of change leaders is needed across the world. He argues that the education system offers the best leverage point to accomplish this. Educate!’s strategy is based on the idea that the education system can be transformed to empower young people (between the ages of 16 and 18 years old) to think and act like changemakers. Educate! develops leadership and entrepreneurship skills by incorporating a practical, two-year social entrepreneurship program within the A-level curriculum. Starting in Uganda, Educate! is on a mission to transform education systems worldwide so that they produce creative leaders equipped to tackle the social problems of our time.

Educate!’s first strategic component—partnering with existing schools—is based on the understanding that in Uganda systemic impact could not be achieved by working outside the existing education system. Parallel training programs and independent education institutions are neither sustainable nor scalable solutions, so Educate! partners with existing schools to transform the system from within. In this manner, Educate! is the first, and only program wholly focused on changing the education system, rather than providing an alternative education experience.

The second strategic component is the program. Eric’s theory of change is that in order for young people to become effective changemakers, they must (i) learn the skills of leadership and entrepreneurship (ii) have a practical entrepreneurial/changemaking experience at an early age (iii) have access to lifelong mentorship to help them deal with the challenges of their changemaking experience, and (iv) have access to human and capital resources to build and scale their own social ventures. Eric understood that each of these pieces must be contextualized within a holistic program to have the widespread and long-term impact he desired. From this, Educate! was born. This program delivers parts i to iii during the two years of the A-level curriculum in school. Part iv is an alumni program that is delivered once the young person has graduated from high school and successfully completed parts i through iii. At the alumni stage, young people are trained to become mentors and to spread the Educate! program in their communities; thus creating a self-replicating model over time.

To demonstrate the impact of Educate!’s social entrepreneurship program for incorporation into the national curriculum, Eric identified thirty-six partner schools and assigned a mentor to each (trained, paid for, and facilitated by Educate!). The mentor’s role is to teach the social entrepreneurship course during an allocated time; guide students in forming and leading a school enterprise club; help each student (or group of students) conceptualize and implement their community project; and provide mentorship so that students are better able to face the challenges involved in changemaking. Three years after pioneering and implementing the current Educate! model, Eric was ready to take things to the next level. At this point, 1,400 students had gone through the Educate! program and had started some 632 social enterprises to transform their communities. Eric used this success to advocate for the inclusion of his program in the A-level national curriculum.

After a year of advocacy at the National Curriculum Development Center, Eric succeeded in having Educate! integrated into the national curriculum. The Educate! program (commonly known as the social entrepreneurship curriculum) was launched in 1,200 schools in early 2012. As an official part of the Ugandan education system, it will give over 45,000 students who make it to advanced level high school every year the opportunity to learn how to think and act as changemakers. The social entrepreneurship curriculum also provides guidelines for the creation of student-led enterprise clubs in every secondary school. To scale and tackle the problem of untrained teachers, Educate! is also in the process of piloting the National Experiential Learning Program to enable teachers and administrators to implement each component of the Educate! experience—essentially turning them into “Educate! mentors.” Two hundred teacher support coordinators have been trained to train other teachers to deliver the Educate! curriculum. In three years, Eric hopes to see well over 100,000 students going through his program each year.

To address the flaws of the current system, Educate! is tackling the unhealthy focus on repetition. Eric is introducing a practical exam that recognizes entrepreneurship rather than rote-memorization. His organization has already been mandated by the National Examination Board to design a groundbreaking portfolio-based exam for the entire entrepreneurship curriculum. The International Labor Organization is currently conducting an extensive impact evaluation of his work. Eric expects the empirical evidence of this study to accelerate the spread of his work to other countries across Africa, and beyond.

The Person

Eric’s parents have had a profound impact on his path. His appreciation of education was shaped by his father—a devoted community college teacher who dedicated time to working with underprivileged children. Eric’s mother, a biochemist and environmental advocate, instilled in him a deep belief in the innate human capacity to create positive change through empathy, thoughtful decisions, and action. Eric’s knack for experimentation and adventure was sparked while helping his mother in the lab at a young age. Eric loved building things as a child and started his first business at age eight, selling animal-shaped candles at a local store.

During high school in Boulder, Colorado, Eric grew increasingly aware of how the school’s intense academic focus shielded students from the outside world. Eric founded an Amnesty Club to expose students to events outside their “bubble.” This club raised awareness about human rights abuses around the world and encouraged students to develop solutions. Eric’s work with the Amnesty Club had significant impact on the culture of his school, and community. Under the mentorship of an Amnesty International USA board member, Eric used the success of his Amnesty Club model to organize students as advocates for human rights across the state.

Eric’s life-changing experience occurred while shooting a film on refugee settlements, in the Kyangwali settlement of Northern Uganda. He became friends with Benson—a refugee from Congo—who would profoundly shape his future work. When Eric asked Benson how he might help, Benson responded: “If you want to help me, if you want to help my community, if you want to help my country, then, help me get an education.” This inspired Eric to start Educate!—at first as a scholarship program—to help young refugees from Congo receive an education. Eric went back to Boulder to raise funds for the scholarship program through high school and university. Eric traveled back to Kyangwali every summer with a group of students who supported his fundraising efforts. Five years after Educate! began, they had sponsored twenty-two students who went on to have great impact on the Kyangwali refugee community. These students had mobilized other young people to pool their farming income, and support another 200 students through school. The members of the initial group have had great success over the years—building two new schools in the settlement, winning fellowships from the Unreasonable Institute, participating in the African Leadership Institute, and presenting their work to African presidents at the World Economic Forum on Africa.

Eric visited the group when he graduated from college in 2007. He asked them what had inspired and enabled them to follow such a path of transformation for themselves and their community. He was surprised by their response—none of them attributed their success to the classroom education they had received, but instead to the confidence they had developed as a result of the connections and moral, strategic, and technical support that Educate! had provided them with along the way. This response provided Eric with an insight that would transform Educate! into the systems-changing model it is today. Educate!’s strategy shifted from increasing access—to education via scholarships—to changing the education system, so that it provides every young person with the experiences that transformed Benson and his peers into changemakers.


n 2013, Eric started Watson University, a new university model in Boulder, Colorado for student innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs aged 18-23 that includes master courses from the world’s foremost leaders, entrepreneurs, and thinkers including a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people and more; intensive mentorship; and training in the entrepreneurial skills of empathy, creativity, resilience, grit, bootstrapping, team building and fundraising. Watson helps students develop and advance solutions to the toughest challenges facing the world. Students can come to Watson in Boulder for a two year, accredited Bachelor's of Science in Entrepreneurship through our collaboration with Lynn University, a semester program, or summer Institutes in the Philippines and Philadelphia.