Carsten Rübsaamen

Ashoka Fellow
Zurich, Switzerland
Fellow Since 2013


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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