- Passion: Helping underprivileged youth get access to education; poverty alleviation
- Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
- Organization: Maharishi Institute
- Position: Business Development Manager
- Field: Nonprofit Development and Education
- MUM Degree: Bachelor of Arts, Digital Media, 2005
Traveling the World, a “Social Entrepreneur” Educating the Disadvantaged
Annie Blecher has found a way to see the world — while making it a better place. Annie has been to 20 countries in six years since graduating from MUM in 2005. She is in charge of business development at Maharishi Institute, a nonprofit university founded by an organization that has pioneered the “virtually free” education movement of South Africa. Located in Johannesburg, the university is in its sixth year of operation.
Annie and her team have helped educate some 5,500 disadvantaged youth — students who likely would have remained in hopeless poverty otherwise. Maharishi Institute also helps place graduates in jobs. These grads earn a combined $32 million per year, much of which goes back into helping disadvantaged communities and families.
The Road to Social Entrepreneurship
Annie discovered a passion for international work while a student at MUM. She studied in Italy, India, and China as part of MUM’s Rotating University. Chinese culture particularly resonated with her, and she was determined to return there.
After graduating from MUM, Annie set out for the San Francisco Bay area to do non-profit work for the David Lynch Foundation and the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education. Already a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation® technique (she was certified in Fairfield), she taught meditation in Bay Area schools and in the department of Education.
But the world abroad had worked its way deeply into her being. Especially China. And so, in 2007, Annie took a job in Beijing at a partner university to MUM, which also used Consciousness-Based education℠ (CBE) as its foundational philosophy. Annie understood full well the tremendous benefits of CBE, which she’d experienced at MUM, and enthusiastically promoted it in China.
“CBE really changes students,” says Annie, 29. “They develop an ability to stand up and speak, to have the confidence to articulate what they’re feeling. They come to believe in themselves.”
Working tirelessly to find ways to expand CBE in China, she learned about a university in South Africa, also using CBE, along with other innovative educational breakthroughs. Without knowing it, she had found her future home, spouse, and work.
“I was asked to research the man who would be my husband,” Annie jokes, speaking of Taddy Blecher, director of Maharishi School in Johannesburg, South Africa (photo, above). “I was interested in the model of education he was using as a solution for poverty alleviation in China. They were doing great things.”
In 2008, Annie visited the university — and never looked back. “I fell in love with the students,” she says of the disadvantaged youth from South African townships who attend Maharishi Institute. “I loved the country.”
The Move to Johannesburg
Annie moved to Johannesburg and took a job in development at the school. And she learned about social entrepreneurship, a practice she embraced.
“Social entrepreneurship is about making a difference sustainably,” says Annie. “It’s about a business being profitable, yet also doing good. Social entrepreneurs are business people who want to do business in ways that uplift society and change inequalities.”
Already an expert in Consciousness-Based education, Annie found herself connecting with the wealthy international community of large corporations and philanthropists seeking to fund worthwhile causes — such as Maharishi Institute — that work to educate the disadvantaged and alleviate poverty. Maharishi Institute makes significant financial support available to poor youth, giving them a cost-free education in most cases.
Over the past several years, Annie and Taddy have met with many organizations and participated in conferences all over the world (see photo, top, with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus), spreading the word about Consciousness-Based education, which she had experienced firsthand during her own schooling at MUM.
“Going to MUM gave me the courage to go out into the world,” she says. “I haven’t lived in the U.S. in over five years, and even though I miss my friends and family and always love coming home, I feel comfortable anywhere in the world. MUM’s system of education gave me that deep inner stability. I don’t think I’d be here today if it weren’t for that.”
Today, Annie continues to work at changing the status quo for the historically disadvantaged of South Africa. Her development work includes fundraising, marketing, donor management, and corporate partnerships.
“Until a poor child has access to equal opportunities in education that can change their lives, we won’t have true equality here,” she says. “Consciousness-Based education is the tool we’re using to make it happen.”
Annie recently received the MBA she started in Beijing. She did it through Maharishi Institute, which has set up a corporate university with the second largest telecommunications company in Johannesburg. MUM in Fairfield is the distance education provider.
Written by Warren Goldie