Planning, pursuing and celebrating the successes of GEM and its students to build a better, more secure future. 2020 Annual Impact Report LOOKING AHEAD: THE PATH TO SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS

By providing learners affected by conflict and economic disinvestment the opportunity to earn accredited bachelor’s degrees and create pathways to meaningful employment, GEM is unlocking the potential of a new generation of leaders.

Here is how GEM plans to reach its ambitious goals, and how it celebrates the successes of its students in a year of unprecedented challenges.


Building Sustainability, Strengthening the Core, Leading Through Innovation

GEM has collaborated with the Audacious Group since 2017 to improve life outcomes for refugees and host community populations. Today, GEM is the world’s largest provider of U.S.-accredited bachelor’s degrees for refugee learners.








on track to graduate in 4 years

GEM’s long-term financial sustainability strategy

The first GEM Hub was established in Kigali, Rwanda. This center provides assessment services that aim to not only speed up processes and cut degree costs for GEM students, but also generate an income for the program. This funding is, in turn, used to provide scholarships to GEM students

At scale, GEM Hub revenue will drive expansion to new sites and serve additional students, instead of relying on philanthropic support for growth. This will ensure the long-term viability of higher education access for an unlimited number of marginalized students across the globe.

GEM’s focus over the next three years will be to work towards the GEM Hub covering 70% of its operational costs. However, experimental pilots to serve other marginalized groups internationally will be entered via partnership with interested philanthropic donors and investors.

Furthermore, GEM has partnered with The Valhalla Charitable Foundation and ELMA Philanthropies to increase its impact and ensure financial sustainability by:


Expanding the amount and type of services we provide through the GEM Hub to further reduce degree costs and cover operational expense


Strengthening core services with onsite partners by applying learning from formal midpoint assessments as well as student and partner feedback


Exploring opportunities to launch additional pilots to test the viability of the GEM model in different contexts to serve even more learners that are unable to access traditional higher education

Goals for end 2022

Have a diversified business model that is less reliant on the generosity of individual donors and institutional philanthropy

Student graduation in pilot sites on par or exceeding the two original GEM sites (80% or better)

New evidence of the model’s promise in other learning-averse contexts

GEM’s long-term vision to unlock human potential

For the individual, higher education is a gateway to upward social and economic mobility. It enables access to higher-skilled, better-paid positions, and well-connected social networks. For society, the benefits of an educated population includes a lowered burden on criminal and social services, increased political engagement and increased taxes from a higher-earning labor force1.

Unfortunately, educational attainment among marginalized populations remains abysmally low. 

Refugees with higher education

With the average duration of displacement now being more than 25 years, entire generations are spending their lives in camps and urban slums with few opportunities to advance their education, sowing potent seeds of despair and discord. GEM is working to help change this narrative.

GEM’s blended learning degree model is based on first-hand experiences. Employees of Kepler at SNHU’s first international pilot in 2013, designed to service disadvantaged nationals in Rwanda, helped to frame the model. In 2015, GEM built a second campus in one of Rwanda’s remotest refugee camps with 17,000 Congolese refugees. The refugee camp had no internet access or electricity, and the most qualified students started in the program with the equivalent of 5th grade level English, after a lifetime of subpar educational services. Five years later, the results speak for itself:

Students from first cohort graduated
Employment rate 6 months after graduation

GEM’s competency-based degree model is an innovation with global potential. It isn’t limited to who the learner is or their migration status. Rather, it’s a way to reach the millions in the world who have been systematically denied access to higher education and social mobility.

Over the next several years, GEM will:

Focus on improving communications to help people better understand that the GEM degree model is not just about serving refugees, but rather a revolutionary way to expand access to affordable higher education for people everywhere

Adapt the degree model to meet the needs of new populations through a series of smaller pilots designed with local partner experts to gather initial evidence and to refine the degree model, as well as build partner experience, before scaling to serve more students


GEM’s aim is to establish a sustainable business model over the next two years that will drive future growth, with a goal of relying on no more than 30% of philanthropic support by the end of 2022.

Central to this growth strategy is the assessment center in Kigali, Rwanda, which provides high-quality assessment of students’ academic work for both international and U.S. learners. Established in September 2018, the assessment center is helping us to reduce the per student cost of attaining a degree and is beginning to generate vital self-sustaining revenue to support GEM students and related program operations. Currently, the center is providing 95% of all the assessment services needed for GEM students.

GEM also piloted the use of collaborative, artificial intelligence (AI) human machine assessment tools, a potentially path-breaking approach to future assessment.

While the assessment center’s success in lowering degree costs is critical, it is its potential to cover costs for GEM’s core programs that will help to both sustain and grow GEM’s impact. It is estimated that the net revenue generated by the centre will increase by the end of 2021 to cover 50% of operational costs and 70% of the costs by 2022. These operational costs include:

Costs of maintaining GEM’s existing sites

The GEM Hub’s operational costs

Testing the GEM model’s viability in three new contexts over the next three years

Lowering degree costs and covering operating costs will allow GEM to focus on building, strengthening, and sustaining core operations at existing sites. When self-generating revenue exceeds core operational costs, GEM will use these funds to invest in new pilot projects to test the GEM model’s viability in other settings.


1. Building sustainability

To reach its sustainability targets, GEM has identified two primary methods for growing and diversifying the assessment center’s business model:


Growing our assessment services


Expanding services beyond assessments

GEM’s assessment service expansion will include:

Competency-based program assessments

The addition of course-based project assessments and bachelor’s degree-level assessments

Critical review and badging services for new micro-credentialing programs

GEM has already begun to test its capacity for some project-based learning programs outside the university, providing assessment services to One Summer Chicago, the largest summer youth employment program in the U.S., and to the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

GEM will also expand into new areas of work that benefit both learners and the university. This includes:

Online tutoring and coaching for SNHU and other students around academic progress and professional development

Expanding technology help desk functions

Providing student admissions support and administrative services to the university

Over the next twelve months, GEM will continue to pilot these growth strategies and conduct additional market assessments that gauge internal and external demand by service and geography. Based on the results, GEM will:


Actively hire and use the talents of faculty in other parts of the world, allowing them to work with GEM remotely


Explore opening another assessment center

2. Maintaining and strengthening GEM’s core

GEM’s first priority is to maintain the strength and impact of its model across existing sites.

In addition to providing physical space and technological resources to learners in challenging and resource-constrained environments, partners provide the essential in-person academic, psychosocial and student-related support that students need. GEM takes great care to select partners who are best positioned to provide these supportive services to learners in each country and has developed strong working relationships and controls to ensure partner quality and commitment.

GEM will continue to provide direct support for partners and implement new strategies to manage fidelity to GEM’s standards and practices, while providing the necessary flexibility for partners to adapt their programs to regional needs. In addition, GEM will allocate additional resources directly for students, in order to provide emergency support in times of crisis.

Furthermore, GEM will invest additional resources into student academic and professional support connected to work and programs that build learners’ social capital and their connection to practical employment opportunities. This includes:

Organizing more networking events among current students, alumni and employers

Collaborating with employers to ensure local workplace relevance in the development of new competency-based education projects

Finally, GEM will organize convenings and other retreats for GEM staff, partners and students to exchange knowledge, build relationships, and ensure continuous learning and improvement across program sites to maximize its impact.

3. Leading through innovation

Beyond supporting its core programming and ensuring that all sites meet its high standards of operations, GEM will be exploring new opportunities to test the viability of its model in different contexts. The precise nature of these projects will be determined predominantly by:

Revenue generated through GEM Hub

Opportunities that emerge

Collaborative engagement with funders and donors

Among the international pilots being considered is a project in Haiti that integrates the GEM model as a secondary school extension and a project in South Africa with a local NGO that would integrate South African students into their humanitarian work. GEM is also looking at potential applications to the model in the U.S. with different marginalized populations, including pilot projects for incarcerated learners, resettled refugee populations and Native American learners.

GoalKey ActivitiesKey Outcome
Building SustainabilityGrow assessment and other services provided at GEM assessment centers through internal and external contractsSustainable business model that drives student numbers and program growth
Maintaining and Strengthening CoreContinue to iterate partnership and delivery model for optimal outcomes for transition into sustaining phaseMaintain on-time student graduation rates across all sites (minimum 80% across sites)
Leading Through InnovationPilot the model's potential in one or more settings such as secondary schools or populations such as incarcerated learners. Native American students or recently resettled learnersTest model viability in new/different contexts

1 Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. Education pays 2016: The benefits of higher education for individuals and Society, (2016). The College Board. Retrieved from:

Virtual Graduations

GEM’s first virtual graduation held in May 2020 was in response to the pandemic that made face-to-face graduation ceremonies impossible for students. The virtual graduations are informal celebrations where the GEM team, SNHU leaders, partners, students and families meet to toast and celebrate AA and BA milestone achievements.

Two virtual graduations have taken place so far with a third scheduled for November 2020. These one-hour Zoom calls include performances, games, career workshops, group discussions, inspirational messages and other activities that allow participants to interact and with graduates.

The overall turnout is exceptional. More than 140 AA and BA students attended the two previous graduations and SNHU leaders such as Paul LeBlanc, SNHU president, Adrian Haugabrook, the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Horizon Group and Chrystina Russell the SVP & Executive Director of (GEM).

The GEM team will continue to host virtual graduation ceremonies for graduates so they can get the recognition and praise for their achievements, hard work and excellence in their academic journey.


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