Business Opinions & People

The struggle to educate

by Samar Al-Montser

Some social enterprises tend to face financial challenges because of their philanthropic focus. This was particularly challenging for Sri Lankan social enterprise founder of the Modern Learning Studio, Yasmin Mubarak. Despite the financial hurdles along his entrepreneurial journey his persistence proves to be the key to his success.

Yasmin Mubarak, founder and managing director of the social enterprise called Modern Learning Studio in Sri Lanka, had his fair share of financial struggles from the very start of his career in 2006. After ten difficult years, in 2016, he successfully launched the Modern Learning Studio. His social enterprise focuses on teaching students the life skills they need rather than academic skills which are already being taught in schools.

In support of social enterprise developments, the AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum will bring together over 30 speakers and professionals from all walks of the life in ISTAC, Kuala Lumpur on 22-23 Oct 2018 to explore how universities can encourage social enterprise developments.

Yasmin Mubarak with his students

Though education is a rather competitively challenging field Yasmin’s interest in helping children’s’ personal development never stopped.With a bachelor’s degree in educational psychology from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in the United States, Yasmin believes that traditional education systems aren’t catering to the essential needs of students. ‘Traditional education systems nourish the already talented students and give little chance for others to excel in life. Our priority programmes basically focus on skill development. It’s called the Modern Learning Studio and the name says it all,’ Yasmin says.

The Modern Learning Studio was just another phase of Yasmin’s original idea that he had been working on ever since he started studying psychology. ‘I had this idea to have a one place stop for all needs of a child’s growth and development,’ he says.

Yasmin Mubarak at the WIEF Young Fellows in 2017

In 2016, he was selected to participate in the WIEF Young Fellows programme in Singapore, which is a WIEF youth leadership empowerment programme for entrepreneurs organised by WIEF’s Young Leaders Network (WYN). ‘The entire programme was a life changing experience for me and it also helped accelerate the growth of my business,’ he says.

The Modern Learning Studio

Through the Modern Learning Studio, Yasmin provides students with individual attention to their needs. He tries to ensure that every child who enters the classroom leaves with a positive change and better self. ‘When you compare us to other similar educational organisations or centres we focus on more than mere academic progress. We ensure there is a permanent and positive habitual change in a child,’ he says.

The Modern Learning Studio is the only education organisation that provides a different type of education experience through public speaking programmes to over 1000 students annually in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Another skill they focus on, which is very much in demand, is reading. The Studio also offers a special accelerator reading programme for students who are struggling to read. They also have summer holiday camps for kids.

A students at the Modern Learning Studio

His centre started off with personalised programmes for teaching Maths, Science and English. This required qualified teachers to assess the students’ needs and design a curriculum. ‘It was a challenge to do that at an affordable rate because of the competitive market which was filled with numerous support classes that would do this at a fraction of the cost,’ he says. In the very beginning of his business, he managed with the help and support of his wife. ‘We managed for a couple of months but by the end of the first year we had recruited 11 staff members,’ he says.

Yasmin joined the WIEF Young Fellows in Singapore when he had just started his startup in 2016 and was struggling with finances and lack of motivation. ‘When I met the other participants, who were also startup owners, I was able to learn a lot from them. We exchanged views on many challenges and how to stay positive through it. The boot camp and guidance from experienced personalities and entrepreneurs I met there will always have a lasting impact on me. That experience is something I go back to from time to time in all stages of my career,’ he says.

The struggle is real

The 31-year-old entrepreneur and father of two conceptualised his idea to help children’s learning development by setting up his first social enterprise, MindCare Trainers, in 2006. MindCare Trainers was dedicated to teach children across Sri Lanka how to take charge of their life and instil confidence in their character. This business grew fast and gained popularity but Yasmin then had to leave the business because of financial difficulties. He had another go at entrepreneurship with another social enterprise in 2012. This time to cater to children with Down syndrome and other special learning needs. The idea was well received by people in the community. But, before he could start, he had to abandon his efforts yet again because of insufficient funds and sponsors.

Yasmin (right) with student and parent at the Modern Learning Studio

‘These were the two biggest failures in my life but they’ve been the basis for my successful startup [Modern Learning Studio] which has now reached a mature stage,’ he says. Difficult times may be discouraging to some but to Yasmin these struggles challenge him to do better and move ahead. ‘It showed me how much I can take and motivates me to go on,’ he says. Yasmin admits that it was very difficult specifically to explain to potential investors about his bigger vision for the business. ‘I didn’t want to attract the wrong partners and wanted the right investors to come on board understanding and believing in my vision,’ he says.

He had an investor who expected immediate returns and that was quite challenging for his social enterprise. ‘There was no chance in taking anything home from the revenues because I had to spend it on creating new opportunities and products. The most challenging moments I had was to convince everyone in my life that what I plan will work out and it’s not as hard as they think it is,’ he explains.

Last words

Yasmin never concerns himself with other people’s discouraging attitudes and opinions about his business and believes one can truly be free to pursue his or her dream only if they leave their comfort zone. He understands very well that as an entrepreneur he has to take constant risks to drive his business. ‘I’m always expecting the worst and ready to get uncomfortable,’ he says. Yasmin’s advice to entrepreneurs is to keep up the quality of work and make improvements because there’ll always be competitors who will try to market the same product.


Meet like-minded social entrepreneurs and engage in the masterclasses and discussions on a wide range of topics on social entrepreneurship at this AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum in ISTAC, Kuala Lumpur on 22-23 Oct 2018. Register, here.



19 Oct 2018
Last modified: 19 Oct 2018
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