Changing the World One Person at a Time: Shai Reshef

Changing the World One Person at a Time: Shai Reshef


I spent 20 years building a for-profit education model.

When we launched the first online university outside of the US, we were able to provide students from around the world with access to a European-grade education. It was a great success.

When I sold the business however, I realised I needed to really evaluate what I wanted to still achieve in my life. We had created something great, but for so many students around the world, access to an excellent tertiary education is just wishful thinking. I wanted to change that.

Related: How Social Entrepreneur Richard Mabaso is Keeping Girls in School

Once I realised I wanted to give back instead of just retiring,

I started thinking about what we could do. How could we achieve a real impact on the world? I believe that if you educate a person, you change a life. But if you educate many, you can change the world. This needed to be our aim.

How could we make tertiary education available and free?

The answer lay in open source technology, open resources, and the entrenchment of a culture of sharing. This would work if everyone – from our professors to our students – believed in sharing their knowledge, skills and time.

The University of the People was born…

based on this dedication to opening the gates to higher learning, particularly for individuals from disadvantaged communities.

We focus on business development and computer sciences, as we believe these degrees are the most likely to assist our students in their careers, and our professors are all retired or still working but able to donate their time and skills to our cause.

Only our admin staff earns a salary. We’ve kept the model as cost-effective as possible, but we do still rely on corporate funding to make it work. For example, we’ve just signed a deal with Microsoft in South Africa to support our programme.

The ultimate goal is to create world peace.

That might sound far-fetched, but I truly believe that if people are given the chance to converse with each other, and to see that we are all essentially the same, tomorrow’s leaders might have a very different agenda from today’s leaders.

Our students must have a high school diploma and be proficient in English. And they must be willing to work hard and learn from each other.

In order for this to work, we do need to attract the right people however.

We have stringent criteria for getting in. Students must be focused on their own social responsibility, and they must be willing to work hard. We want future leaders, and that doesn’t come easily.

Yes, we’re providing an opportunity, but you need to really want it. This is why although the tuition is free, exams are not. Each student pays $100 per exam. If you really can’t afford it, we do have corporate scholarships, so no-one is left behind, but this isn’t simply a hand-out.

Our students leave the programme highly sought-after with excellent resumés, and we attract corporate sponsorships as a result as well, but we support those who believe in our mission. That’s how you change the world.


Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.