The day a Swedish student came calling

Swedish student Malin Cronqvist was about to head off to spend 10 weeks in Tanzania doing volunteer work at a local guesthouse in 2010, when she began wondering how she could make a positive difference in a country where the higher education dreams of thousands of youngsters die each year because of lack of money.

Short of a clearly defined project, the trip became a journey of discovery. What could she do to help?

Cronqvist, an industrial engineering and management masters student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, had been reading a lot about charity and aid interventions. She was frustrated at how often anticipated changes from donor projects failed to turn out as planned.

Her soul searching also happened at the time of two major scandals in Sweden, involving millions of Swedish kroner that had been embezzled at the local charitable Red Cross Society by its general secretaries in 2009.

Something had to be done.

"Out of frustration, I decided I wanted to see myself how hard it would be to do something that would contribute to long term development, and that would be based on help to self-help," she told University World News.

"I wanted to create a transparent organisation where the people donating could see exactly where their money went and what good it made," she added.

Help to Help

Having grown up in the university city of Lund in southern Sweden, education had always been important to Cronqvist, so education as the focus of Help to Help - as she called her new initiative - was a natural choice.

When she took off for Tanzania she chose Matema, a village in the far southwest corner of Tanzania, where she made lots of friends. "I had a fantastic time," she said. "I made a lot of friends my age." Cronqvist was 22 at that time.

For the first six weeks she just observed, and learned a lot about the wishes and aspirations of her new friends.

"They understood the issues in their country and they knew exactly what needed to be done. All they wanted was to study, to learn and to work, but they could not do it from the village," she added.

The stay became a revelation of what Cronqvist could do. She decided Help to Help would sponsor university education in order to ensure that ambitious, driven young people could be part of their country's development by becoming teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, or business men and women - whichever they cared to do.

Cronqvist teamed up with Erik Back and Fredrik Hagblom, who studied at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and Gorka Fagilde, who studied at Uppsala University.

The non-profit organisation was to help poor students from rural communities who are struggling financially to finish their studies, and those who cannot start university without funds.

Help to Help started by sponsoring two students who got accepted for bachelor degrees in 2010. One has since graduated while the other still has one year left. This year the organisation sponsored 21 university students.


In a creative fundraising drive, Help to Help sought to win confidence of donors who require feedback on where their money ends up.

Cronqvist and her team developed crowd-funding capacity with an integrated payment solution, which proved critical in providing donors with the transparency they wanted.

The solution came in the form of displaying the profiles of students in need of funding on the Help to Help website. Donors select the student they are interested in sponsoring and communicate directly with the student to see what progress they are making.

"The visibility of each individual in the aid programme offers donors a unique level of transparency that their donations will not be abused," said Cronqvist.

Donors are not limited to any amount, but due to the cost of transactions, donations must be a minimum of SEK20 (US$3). This means both rich and poor can offer targeted assistance. Cronqvist said that using technology and social media solutions to simplify and modernise charity is something that anyone could benefit from.

"Actually fundraising is crowd-funding, raising money from a crowd. The only thing we have done is to use a solution already existing for finding capital for a business, but we use it to raise capital for higher education," she said.

"I strongly think there are so many organisations doing fantastic work, but they might not always communicate it so well, might not have enough transparency in their processes to make people trust them and by that fail to keep donors."

Cronqvist said crowd sourcing was always a matter of building trust and the way of doing it was to increase transparency in both money and communication flows.

"Building trust has taken a lot of time since people are a lot more critical towards charity today, which ultimately put more pressure on us to be more transparent and goal-oriented, which of course is good," she said.

The hard work has paid dividends. People often tell her how much they appreciate being able to see who benefits from money they donate to Help to Help, since all the students are presented on the website.

Cronqvist was helped to develop and refine the technical aspect of Help to Help by Student Inc, an incubator for students with business ideas at KTH and KTH Innovation, which spurred the organisation to achieve real growth.

Future plans

Cronqvist hopes that as more people realise that a teacher will be able to teach thousands of children, their investing in higher education will create a positive chain reaction into the future. The overall aim is to create positive change in developing countries by investing in education and job creation.

"By sponsoring higher education for disadvantaged students we want to enable them to train in much needed careers in Sub-Saharan Africa, where people struggle with poverty while at the same time experiencing large economic growth," she says.

Help to Help also connects students to local business. "We aim to bridge the gap between graduates and employers as well as prepare students during their studies for a working career and the challenges and possibilities it brings."

"As we are sponsoring students who study at existing universities we do not have a big barrier in entering new countries. It is mostly a matter of finding the right students, trustworthy universities and building a network," she said.

Cronqvist will be travelling to Kenya in the coming weeks to visit universities and explore expansion possibilities.

She hopes to be sponsoring students in a second country by the end of this year. Other countries of interest include Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria and Uganda.