Social entrepreneur Henry May is the founder of CoSchool, a B-Corp* that’s worked with 5,000 youth in Bogota, Colombia. CoSchool works to build emotional, social, and leadership skills through extracurricular programs. In this episode, Henry May speaks about his journey of self discovery, hardest moments, greatest lessons, and why he decided to make CoSchool a B-Corp instead of a nonprofit organization.

Henry May is a young teacher from England and a huge soccer fanatic. His work has been recognized by Ashoka, the world’s leading social entrepreneurship agency and by Unreasonable Institute. He is also the founder of The Huracan Foundation, a global soccer movement.

Top quotes:

“The self-doubt never goes away, it’s part of being human.”

“I saved up by eating rice and lentils every day and as I watched my friends go out on weekends.”

“Without that driving force, you’ll just step aside when the hardship comes.”

“When I’m not having difficult conversations, problems start to appear.”

“If it’s going to be successful, it’s going to take a long time. 10, 20, 50 years. Let’s not try and run too fast because this is a marathon.”

*B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,600 Certified B Corps from 42 countries and over 120 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

Reading List from Henry May

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer

Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough

Show Notes for Henry May

  • Henry May visited Colombia as a backpacker in 2009
  • He returned to live there in 2012 and has been living there since
  • Henry did Teach First in London, UK
  • He then worked for Teach for Colombia through the Teach for All networkthen worked for Proctor and Gamble, and then worked for a private school in Colombia
  • Starting an organization is like “being born” because when you’re a baby, you don’t know what is going on around you and need help from everyone around you.
  • “The self-doubt never goes away, but it’s part of being human.”
  • To find time and money to start CoSchool, Henry cut back on on rent by moving back in with his parents. He worked part-time and worked on the weekends to save up for his big idea.
  • During the early years, Henry ate rice and lentils every day and watched friends go out on the weekends as he counted pennies. He started to think the decision was a big mistake
  • The co-founder’s mother loaned $1,200 to keep CoSchool going
  • As a social entrepreneur, you have to be convinced that your work matters
  • One of his former, at-risk students in the UK who was into philosophy was convicted of murder. Events like that give Henry the conviction that he needs to improve the education system in the world’s vulnerable neighborhoods
  • “Without that driving force, you’ll just step aside when the hardship comes.”
  • CoSchool went through a lot of iteration in the early days
  • The first pilot program was a 10-week sports program for public and private schools
  • But after observing and listening, Henry realized that the program needed to be different
  • The overall vision is the same, but the “how” has changed a lot
  • The co-founder suddenly left because he got an offer to work for another organization
  • Henry got overly ambitious and projected to triple in growth but when the revenue was less than expected, he had to let three employees go
  • “It’s all about people, nurturing relationships, having difficult conversations.”
  • Henry regrets micro-managing his staff and not believing in his teammates during the early days
  • During one team meeting, Henry confesses to having “lost it” because of his emotions. So walking out without shaking hands or storming out means that we weren’t taking ownership of our internal suffering.
  • The most important thing for a founder is to have those difficult conversations
  • We have not worked out the brain muscle that allows us to have those difficult conversations, and social entrepreneurs need to train themselves there
  • “When I’m not having difficult conversations, problems start to appear.”
  • Henry May learned those skills through experience, self awareness, and a coach
  • Henry May was part of Unreasonable Institute where he formed a community of like-minded people that he can go to
  • A retreat with Reboot was helpful for Henry May
  • Sebastian was one of the first participants in CoSchool’s program. He wanted to become a soccer coach. He is now coaching a women’s university team in the UK. He is getting ready for an internship at Fulham FC, Henry’s favorite Premier League team.
  • CoSchool sells their programs to schools and parents to generate revenue
  • CoSchool now makes revenue through foundations and private businesses that want to invest in Colombia’s education
  • CoSchool projects to break even this year
  • Many people have left CoSchool because they wanted a higher salary
  • The whole team is living close to their financial limits
  • There have been months where CoSchool couldn’t make payroll. Giving employees some warning can help them prepare financially and mentally
  • When times got tough, CoSchool found loans from Board Members and friends. Other employees helped by delaying paychecks
  • “Everyone goes in thinking they’re going to be the exception.”
  • “It’s very unlikely that the path will be smooth.”
  • “If it’s going to be successful, it’s going to take a long time. 10, 20, 50 years. Let’s not try and run too fast because this is a marathon.”
  • For Henry May, the social and emotional development of a child is just as important as academic development
  • Working with the public sector in Colombia is challenging due to the corruption and dark forces
  • One potential risk is growing/scaling too quickly at the sacrifice of program quality
  • The stakes are high when they only have 2-3 months of funding left in the bank
  • Henry stays mentally healthy by running and eating healthy. He also has a lovely, Colombian girlfriend who is very supportive
  • Henry started an amateur soccer team in England and named it Huracán, after a famous club soccer team in Argentina. Suddenly, the actual team in Argentina found out about the story and the club team gave publicity to Henry’s team. They played in the actual Huracán stadium and was publicized on the Fifa website!
  • Soon the Huracán program spread to multiple countries where teachers from Teach for All network started soccer teams. Henry used the profits from selling team t-shirts to support these teams. The program grew into its own nonprofit organization in India called Just for Kicks and works with 5,000 youth.