Why 3 simple funding ideas might be the key to scale for Desmond Tutu's education mission

School girl takes a chair and tutudesk to school

Rebecca Sweetman – CEO of Tutudesk UK – explains why retail on Amazon, sponsorship and traditional fundraising are key to taking Desmond Tutu's education mission to scale.

My first experience of using a Tutudesk came when I was staying with a friend, Pip, in South Africa, volunteering with her charity. We had ended up sitting on her bed to work together, but both of us were trying to balance our notes and our laptops. Pip had a few Tutudesks (as she shared their offices) so she picked up a couple and passed one to me. I placed it on my lap and suddenly I could comfortably work with both my notes and laptop. Such a simple solution, a portable writing surface, made such a difference to our ability to work.
It was this experience that inspired me to suggest the idea of retailing Tutudesks in the UK to the founder. I thought that by retailing the Tutudesks I could both raise the profile of the Tutudesk Campaign and generate funding. However, my suggestion led to an offer to set up Tutudesk UK, a much bigger challenge! 
At the start, although it was exciting to think about lots of new ideas that Tutudesk UK could engage in, particularly retail, I knew that I needed to focus on the tried and tested model of sponsorship. We give organisations the opportunity to imprint their logo on the Tutudesk alongside educational content. For many companies this is seen as a unique community engagement tool e.g., Old Mutual, a leading financial services company, sponsored Tutudesks in South Africa to support their products aimed at bottom of the pyramid consumers and to provide important financial literacy information to the same market. The Tutudesk handover ceremonies at the schools provided an occasion for face-to-face engagement and their sponsored Tutudesks were a lasting reminder. When calculating ‘brand sightings’ then sponsoring Tutudesks is 60-70% cheaper than traditional forms of advertising – add the goodwill component of supporting somebody’s children with their education and the results are immeasurable. As sponsors receive a benefit it is an advertising/sponsorship contract and, as such, needs to be handled as a trading activity by Tutudesk UK.
The other opportunity that presented itself when I established Tutudesk UK was that of charitable donations. As I’d originally set my mind on setting up a social enterprise this didn’t seem right at first, as I was focussing on creating a financially sustainable business model, rather than accepting charitable donations. However, it quickly became obvious that if we were to achieve impact at scale, in the shortest possible timeframe, then we needed a structure which also catered for individuals in the UK who wanted to donate a desk if they wanted to, which in turn ensures a wider net of funds with which to be able to provide children in need with their very own Tutudesks. As such I formed Tutudesk UK as a charity and trading subsidiary and we are now set up to receive charitable donations in both the UK and the US. Just £10/$16 provides a child in Africa with their very own Tutudesk. 
However, with all of this going on, my original retail idea was always in the back of my mind, particularly as I regularly met people who asked me whether they could have a Tutudesk. I checked into things like safety requirements and import duties, but there were still two key stumbling blocks - packaging and purchasing the stock. The packaging issue was solved relatively easily as Pluss, one of the UK’s largest social firms, offered their support in this process. The stock was a challenge though as Tutudesk UK couldn’t afford to purchase it upfront in order to test the retail model. A break through came when I met the Head of Amazon International. With his enthusiasm and support, along with that of Amazon’s UK team, we’ve been able to take my idea to reality. The first Tutudesks to be available to the general public are now on sale via Amazon! All the profits will go to supporting the Tutudesk Campaign.
Today Tutudesk UK has three main activities – sponsorship, fundraising and retail. Our goal is to provide 20 million Tutudesks to 20 million children in sub Saharan Africa by 2020. We have to make the most of every opportunity to ensure that we achieve our ambitious goal, and the Amazon opportunity is one further, critically important step in the right direction. 
To mark the launch of Tutudesks on Amazon, Tutudesk twitter followers will have the chance to win a tutudesk signed by Desmond Tutu. Follow to enter the draw for a chance to get your own tutudesk for christmas! The winner will be announced on twitter at 12:00pm (GMT) on 18 December.
If you’d like to support the Tutudesk campaign: