Carsten Rübsaamen

Ashoka Fellow
Zurich, Switzerland
Fellow Since 2013

THE IDEA
Carsten is empowering people to do what they really are. with BOOKBRIDGE, he makes people think and act as entrepreneurs, lead themselves and lead others. Together with its partners, BOOKBRIDGE shapes the next generation of leaders and builds business and leadership skills through experiential learning. in its Capability Programs, candidates from the global north join hands with talents from the global south to learn state-of-the-art business skills and develop as responsible leaders while creating community-based learning centers as tangible social enterprises. BOOKBRIDGE is a fully financially selfsustained social enterprise, and offers the only leadership development program in the world in which you create a worthwhile tangible business as a real entrepreneur.

IMPACT
Since 2009, BOOKBRIDGE has established 18 learning centers in Mongolia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. 200 000 rural community members benefit from increased life and job chances. 153 next-generation leaders have
been trained in the Capability Program.

THE PERSON
Carsten started his own business at 15, as a web-designer for small organizations within 3 years he managed a portfolio of 80 customers, which allowed him to hire two employees. After his studies he did an internship in Sri Lanka, where he
discovered his ability and desire to build bridges across cultures. in 2006, Carsten founded his own consultancy company and later went on a venture road trip in the US interviewing startups. Various
opportunities to participate in for profit startups came, but he felt a strong altruistic desire to do something impact-driven. The idea of BOOKBRIDGE was later born during a scout trip to Mongolia.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Carsten Rübsaamen was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Carsten is pioneering work at the nexus of quality education and community building in rural areas of Mongolia and Cambodia. With a sound business model and a codified replication process, he ensures long-term sustainability of both the finances and the idea itself. Starting out as a simple Scout exchange program between Germany and Mongolia in 2005, Carsten progressively developed what is now Bookbridge, transforming a mere book supply project into a successful market-driven social enterprise. In a highly participatory process, Bookbridge sets up financially sustainable Learning Centers in remote areas that provide infrastructure, learning material, and training courses based on the local needs. The first Learning Center was established in Mongolia in 2009. To date, there are ten centers in Mongolia and Cambodia with a total of 6,850 members that offer premium education tailor-made for the local demand in rural areas.

Bookbridge does not invest primarily in infrastructure like many other organizations, but rather in people and collaborations. The main value added by Carsten’s approach is the comprehensive process it initiates and manages. Bookbridge does not act individually; instead, it uses the existing strengths and skills of community members as well as involving local stakeholders like the government, schools, businesses, and citizen organizations (COs) from the very beginning. Thus, Carsten empowers local actors, fosters entrepreneurial skills, and creates a strong sense of ownership over the centers within the community. Moreover, Carsten applies a peer-to-peer learning approach that values the skills and knowledge of the community members and facilitates a self-reinforcing learning process.

By placing Learning Centers at the center of his model, Carsten creates a way to transform the educational landscape and develops a new understanding of education, entrepreneurial thinking, and rural development. With a process that ensures a replicable grassroots approach, peer-to-peer learning, and financial sustainability, Carsten’s idea combats the lack of focus on education in the region, while promoting the idea that individual and group empowerment is key to a thriving community.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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