Luis Javier Castro defines himself as an entrepreneur and activist. He is the Founder and CEO of Mesoamerica Investments, a Private Equity Firm from where he has lead investments across Latin America for the last 25 years, with world-class partners such as OTPP, Bain Capital and large business groups in the region. Luis Javier is the Founder of Yo Emprendedor, an NGO dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in Central America and President Emeritus of AED, an organization that brings together more than 150 companies in search of a more prosperous, inclusive and respectful environment. He is currently a member of the Board of the largest NGO in the world, United Way Worldwide. In 2021 he was appointed to the One Young World global advisory board for his efforts to identify, connect and promote young leaders around the world. In 2020, Luis Javier founded Alejandría, a company with the purpose of building an educated, connected, and empowered society.
Alejandría is an ecosystem builder, driven by the purpose of building an educated, connected, and empowered society. With over 25 years of experience in the private sector of Latin America, Alejandría’s team is building an ecosystem composed of entrepreneurs, talent, knowledge, resources, collisions, stories, and culture. Consequently, we are an ally for global leaders and entrepreneurs willing to change the traditional way of doing business and understand the interdependence of stakeholders in the world of the 21st century. “We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence, and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. And we can aspire to even more.” (Conscious Capitalism, Mackey, Sisodia, 2013). Conscious investments, where the deep needs of society are identified and innovators focus on understanding the root of the problems to create solutions, are key to the ecosystem.
Throughout history, we have seen our society transcend in numerous areas, yet we have also seen profound inequalities. Over the course of the 20th century, education was seen as a differentiator when it should be seen as an equalizer. At Alejandría we want to help founders in the EdTech industry transition from a scarcity paradigm, where the quality of education is a key differentiator amongst one another, to an abundance paradigm, where education is accessible to all, becoming a social equalizer, especially for kids in K-12. We believe this is possible with the use of exponential technologies and by putting purpose at the center.
According to the annual report by HolonIQ, 2021 had a record of “USD $20.8B of EdTech Venture Funding, 3x pre-pandemic levels.” With a 72% CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate), from 2019 to 2021 of capital attracted in the EdTech industry, it becomes clear that the education system cannot depend solely on the government. More than ever, it is crucial to highlight the role of the private sector and find bridges between the private and public sectors.
The education pillar of Alejandría’s purpose is by far the most active, with six partnerships, three of which are in K-12. We believe it is equally important to support global companies that want to bring solutions to the Latin America region, as it is to support local companies that want to export solutions to the world (Latin America is now approaching $1B of EdTech venture funding since 2010, according to HolonIQ).
In the first case, we have partnered with Knowledgehook, a Canadian-based educational technology company that supports teachers and students around the world in mathematics. Knowledgehook has developed an Instructional Guidance System to support the development of the teaching skills, through formative assessment, to give teachers the tools necessary to make every student numerate. Starting from the premise that most, if not all, teachers in K-6 (in some cases K-8) are generalists and therefore education experts, but not math experts, and that mathematics is the language of the future, Knowledgehook is inspiring the problem solvers of tomorrow, through a data-based, gamified, fun platform for students and teachers. With 8M+ users, 100% client retention, and implementation in five English-speaking countries, Alejandría’s involvement is helping the business expand to Latin America and complete a Spanish version.
The year 2022 brings many opportunities to the region, as Knowledgehook’s platform has been aligned with Mexico’s and Costa Rica’s National Curriculum, fully translated into Spanish, and starting a multi-year implementation plan. Phase 1 of the implementation plan consists of building awareness through a pilot program, engaging teachers and principals, and aligning the program to the needs of the specific education system (In Mexico, the State of Nuevo Leon is currently in this phase, and we have 186 teachers on the platform) . Phase 2 is aimed at developing teacher capacity, increasing the use of formative assessment, and increasing teachers’ conceptual and pedagogical knowledge. Finally, phase 3 is the actual implementation and focuses on collecting diagnostic and engagement data. In addition to Knowledgehook’s platform, the company encourages communities of practice and bi-weekly live webinars with world-class experts on four topics: Education 2030 (Global Trends), Future Skills, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and Improving Math. Knowledgehook is keeping up to pace with major industry challenges and trends. Through a gaming platform, the company expects to increase students’ enthusiasm and will unlock real-time students’ data to be shared with teachers, tutors, and parents.
In the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, mathematics performance of Latin American countries such as Mexico (409), Costa Rica (402), and Colombia (391) were considerably below the OECD average (489) (OECD Data, 2018). The pandemic has aggravated this. Entering the 4th Industrial Revolution, where coding, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, to name just a few, are going to become essential in the student’s development cycle, these results are alarming. Through Knowledgehook’s large sets of valuable data on students’ performance, we expect to deliver actionable insights to the math ecosystem (Ministries, Districts, Parents, and Teachers) and enable better outcomes.
Secondly, we have partnered with Colombian-based TOMi.digital and Aulas Amigas. Founded by Medellin-born and raised entrepreneur, Juan Manuel Lopera, TOMi is on its mission to empower teachers to create, curate, and deliver a billion minutes of fascinating K-12 digital lessons, in emerging countries, by 2027. 80% of the teachers on the planet do not have access to localized, engaging, and easy tools to deliver digital lessons (TOMi, 2022). This was the case for Juan Manuel, whose life was saved by a teacher. Growing up in Colombia in the 90s wasn’t easy, moreover was growing up in Medellin (Colombia’s most dangerous city at the time), where violence and drug dealing were a latent risk. When Mr. Lopera turned 14 years old, his mother bought a computer for him and his two brothers. Since then, Juan Manuel became passionate about technology and discovered, with the help of one of his teachers, a different way of learning, different from what traditional academic methods could offer. Inspired by his teacher, Juan Manuel became an education entrepreneur and early in his life found his purpose; “Repeat the impact my teacher had on me, in millions of children and young leaders around the world, through impacting teachers”
With more than 250K deployed lessons, 4.1M students’ sessions, and almost a 100K activities repository, TOMi “aims to simplify the day-to-day tasks of teachers, providing them with more time to create inspiring lessons and resources.” (Wise Qatar, 2020) TOMi 7, a device created by TOMi.digital is designed to simulate internet in places without connectivity, allowing students to access the content in the activities’ repository. TOMi 7 can also be connected to a TV or Smartboard, or project on any surface, making it an interactive board. Finally, TOMi 7 has the ability to control class attendance through a QR code reader and grade students’ exam papers.
“Innovation in education happens because an inspiring teacher makes it happen, we support teachers in their journey” – Juan Manuel Lopera, CEO TOMi.digital.
Previous to TOMi, Mr. Lopera founded Aulas Amigas to transform education in Colombia and Latin America. Transforming learning environments through a comprehensive project that seeks to address not only technological but also pedagogical challenges inside and outside the classroom. Last year Aulas Amigas impacted 522 classrooms, over 13K teachers, and more than 400K students with their Aulas Amigas model.
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Covid-19 has wiped out 20 years of education gains. In the post-pandemic world, innovation in education is going to be key for kids who have been out of school for over two years. Alejandría will continue to be committed to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes, by 2030” through investments in purpose-driven companies and the development of a healthy ecosystem that connects agents and stakeholders.