“Five years ago, I was just a successful entrepreneur. Now, all that has changed. Why? Because we asked ourselves, how can we help future generations to build a better world?” Russian businessman Igor Rybakov mused at the Forbes Under 30 Europe summit last month. Rybakov has leveraged his business know-how to build a series of successful companies, with Forbes estimating his fortune to be worth $1.4 billion. Now, Igor and wife Ekaterina want to inspire future generations to unlock their entrepreneurial promise.
In 2015, the billionaire couple established an eponymous education foundation and last year launched its inaugural prize, which they liken to the Nobel prize of the sector. The Rybakov Prize, awarded to social entrepreneurs investing their own resources to improve the future of education, grants $1.2 million annually in support to three finalists. This year is no different, and Igor and Ekaterina used the Forbes Under 30 Europe summit in Berlin to select two of the finalists in line for the 2020 prize.
Two education projects—Kudzoo and Forte—were crowned finalists of this year’s Rybakov prize at the summit, for their efforts to innovate education systems and help young people squeeze greater benefits from their learning. Their founders, former Under 30 listee Logan Elizabeth Cohen and Nat Ware, will be flown out to Moscow to go head-to-head with 14 other finalists from across Russia, the USA, Singapore, Switzerland and Armenia next month. Cohen told Forbes: “I’m so excited for this opportunity and help so many more students.”
Nurturing new role models through education
The Rybakov Prize was launched to spotlight social entrepreneurs who develop businesses in the education sector. The family was motivated by a desire to “change our society from a society of consumerism, to a society of participation,” Ekaterina, co-founder and president of the foundation, told Forbes.
Igor and Ekaterina Rybakov launched their eponymous education prize, worth $1.2 million, in 2019
Speaking to Forbes’ chief content officer Randall Lane at the summit, Ekaterina said: “We have 4 children, and we want them to be entrepreneurs…we want to reach more children in the world to [become] entrepreneurs. Our dream is that every person is an entrepreneur and every person is a philanthropist. This is the reason we set up a foundation.”
The foundation focuses on championing private individuals investing into the education sector, because there tends to be more “action” this way, as opposed to when governments invest in education, Igor told Forbes.
He added: “We decided to give a legacy for everyone in the world…that’s why we tried to find what is the best idea in the world, and find what we can add to the world for its prosperity. And education really was the best solution. That’s why we decided to stay philanthropists in education.”
Igor, who counts Bill Gates and Warren Buffet among his philanthropy role models, owns 50% of Technonicol, which produces roofing and thermal insulation materials, and he is the founder of a $100 million venture capital fund investing in IT platforms.
The idea of the foundation is to nurture a generation of role models in Russia, to expand beyond the “two or three” that Igor said currently exist. One of the ways the foundation wants to do this, is by creating an alumni network in schools, such as the ones seen in private schools, that help create stronger ties between parents, teachers and students and encourage children to envision what their future could look like. The ultimate goal is to create local role models for local people.
“The most important [factor] is the empowerment. In this atmosphere, children get skills for life,” said Ekaterina.
The Rybakovs added that they were inspired by the Under 30 community who come from “the whole world”. Ekaterina was particularly struck by the “purpose-driven” nature of the summit, reflected in the way that young entrepreneurs combine entrepreneurship with social issues.
Rybakov Prize @ Under 30 Europe
Kudzoo and Forte will advance to the Rybakov Prize finals in Moscow next month
Kudzoo, an app that rewards students based on their grades and run by Cohen, and Forte—an enterprise that aims to cover the cost of training and education, founded by Ware—jointly won the semi-final pitch competition at the Forbes Under 30 Europe summit in Berlin in December.
Crowning the finalists, Igor told the summit: “The recognition of these social entrepreneurs, especially in education is the real answer to the complexities of the world.”