Quinoa is a German social enterprise that focuses on offering an alternative educational model for children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and who in a lot of cases also have a migration background. The way by which Quinoa is looking to respond to the specific educational needs of these children is by setting up a private school in Wedding, Berlin where 50% of the children start their school career with language deficits, two thirds of the families live from social welfare support, and 30% leave the school system after 10 years without formal qualifications.
While the 26 students enrolled in the Quinoa school learn classical subjects like German and Mathematics; there is also a strong focus on other activities such as theater plays, intercultural learning or field trips to local companies. The way in which the students learn is adapted closely to their specific needs with small groups, activity breaks, individualized support and appreciation of their particular skills. While at the moment Quinoa is working with its first cohort of students, the school is aiming to support their students beyond graduation and make sure that each and every one either continues in secondary school or finds his/her way into the working environment.
As government funds only cover a small part of the running costs, the school is financed mostly through donations from private individuals, foundations and companies, as well as parental contributions that vary depending on the income of each family. It was opened in August 2014 and Quinoa is still working on stabilizing in terms of finances, capacity, partners, infrastructure, governance, etc. The administrative process of getting all the certificates needed to open the school and to find an appropriate building for it has been particularly difficult and the process is still unfolding. At the moment financing remains a major challenge particularly given the long-term commitment of the school to their students that makes it difficult to report impact at an early stage.
If we are to look at social enterprises on a spectrum from very commercially focused to very socially focused, in Quinoa it's clear that the structure and governance of the organization revolves around the work conducted with students and less so on developing a business model. This is a conscious choice made by the team that sees the long-term financial viability of the organization based on higher government contributions as the number of students also increases.
Quinoa is one of the organizations showing the emergence of social enterprises in sectors that are traditionally dominated by the state. However, Quinoa does not aim to replace the public school system but rather to develop an alternative for those who run the risk of "falling through the cracks" of the traditional school system. By having a strong child-focused approach Quinoa is also looking to prove that a private school is not necessarily an elitist institution but rather one that is genuinely mission-driven and looking to respond to very specific needs of students coming from a variety of backgrounds.
We are particularly intrigued by Quinoas experimentation with new ways of governance, its flexibility and creativity in problem-solving and its strong commitment to the mission that drives the team to tackle and overcome the challenges that the school is facing.
Alexandra Ioan and Miriam Wolf