Jonathan Duarte of ESCALA Educación

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college, so education has always been a priority.”

ESCALA Educación is a Colombian startup that works with companies to develop savings plans so employees can save money for their own or their children’s college tuition. In Colombia, public universities are able to serve only a fraction of eligible students, and private university costs are prohibitive for working-class and even most middle-class families. Through ESCALA, workers set up education savings accounts, and their employers can offer matching funds, tuition discounts, scholarships, and other incentives. The companies like it because it increases employee loyalty and supports career development, and the employees like it because it helps them reach a goal that had previously seemed very remote.

ESCALA founder Jonathan Duarte himself knows the benefit of a college degree. His own parents never had the chance to go to college, but instilled in him the importance of education. He started working on the ideas behind ESCALA when he was in business school, then started it as a side project, eventually quitting his job to dedicate himself to it full time.

Jonathan Duarte, CEO of ESCALA Educación

In this interview, Duarte talks about the challenges he’s faced in launching ESCALA — not only working with financial institutions that are not used to serving lower-income customers, but also convincing potential customers that the ESCALA model isn’t “too good to be true.”

Looking toward the future, Duarte would like to expand the model into other countries in Latin America. “I feel like I’m adding a little bit of hope to the world, and hope for a better Colombia and a better Latin America,” he says.

This interview took place at the June 2017 CEO Forum and Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit, hosted by Accion Venture Lab, FMO, and Quona Capital.

ESCALA and Accion Venture Lab have partnered since 2017.

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