We chatted to Tim Howarth, the founder and ex-CEO of United World Schools (UWS), a charity centred around unlocking the potential of children living in some of the poorest, most remote regions in the world through education.

As we approach the milestone of having funded 4.5 million school days with UWS here at Tropic, we wanted to find out a little more about how the organisation planted its roots. So, Tim, where did it all begin?

What inspired you to make education accessible?

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a country with a good education system, and go on to attend university, giving me every chance to succeed in life. On the other hand, the opportunity to visit remote Cambodia with my family in 2006 made it incredibly clear that access to a good school is not available to far, far too many young people. Together, we agreed to do something about this – and the idea of United World Schools was born.

Why education?

In many ways, I come from a family of teachers – my mum, dad and sister are, or were, all teachers! We have all seen, first hand, the power of education to transform lives – and the lack of life chances when a child is denied a good education.  

Why in the countries you operate?

Cambodia was where it all started; it was an opportunity to work with a remote village community that had no school. We developed our first school in 2009. As the family charity gained momentum (from around 2011) and began to move into a more professional set up, we looked for regions where our model was likely to work, as well as identifying areas of great need. Unfortunately, there were far too many! However we knew that really great local social entrepreneurs were essential to drive the operations forward,  so we looked for and found these people in Myanmar (from 2014) and Nepal (from 2016). Most recently we have just started work in Madagascar – which wouldn’t have happened without the support of Tropic!

What is most important to you about how UWS is run?

The mission and purpose is always our 'north star' – we all commit to delivering the mission every day. This was partly why the opportunity to partner with Tropic was so compelling – the overlap of the UWS mission and Tropic's Infinite Purpose to help transform lives. To be able to combine forces and drive the mission forward through partnerships is extremely powerful.

What are you most proud of that UWS has achieved?

We set out on a bold, ambitious – and perhaps even audacious – pathway in 2014 to aim to reach 50,000 out-of-school children with education. With over 260 schools now operating, we are now fast approaching this goal and will exceed it next year. And every student who learns to read, write and count has a much, much better life pathway for not just themselves, but their family and entire community. Being able to work with amazing partners and people around the world to enable 50,000 children to go to school is a wonderful, collective achievement. The UWS team and all of our partners can be very proud!

What has front-lining a charity done for you personally?

It's been an absolute honour and privilege to meet some amazing people – from CEOs of major companies to inspirational community leaders in remote villages. Being able to learn from, and work with, such an array of leaders has been a life-changing experience for me personally.

Please can you tell us about a special memory from one of your visits to one of the schools that you’ll always cherish?

There are too many to pick one! Every school and community visit is special – particularly when the whole community is engaged and active in driving the school forward, and enabling all of the children from the village (girls and boys equally) to attend. The sound of a great lesson in any of our schools is wonderful to hear! 

However, if I were to pick one memory, it would be from one of the first times my dad and I visited a village together in Cambodia back in 2008. It was a tough, tough journey through the remote jungle, but at the end we were greeted so warmly by the community. I remember we sat together afterwards, and – without needing to actually say anything – we both knew we had to do something to help educate the hundreds of children we met. So, we just rolled up our sleeves, asked friends and family to donate, and brought the school project to life. That school is still educating children today. It's a memory I'll always cherish!

How do you feel now, looking back and stepping back a bit from UWS?

Very proud and honoured to have been able to lead UWS on the journey and also confident that the charity is in great hands to continue to deliver the mission. The future is exciting...we've just started to work in a fourth country – Madagascar – and we have set ourselves another audacious goal of reaching over 250,000 children during this decade. A wonderful goal that I'm sure we can achieve thanks to the ongoing support of brilliant people and organisations such as Tropic! 

One final message that you’d like to share with our readers?

A huge thank you to every Tropic Ambassador, team member and customer who – together – have helped deliver millions and millions of school days for some of the poorest girls and boys in the world. Together, we’re transforming lives and helping to work towards that immense and worthy Infinite Purpose! 

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