Janeth Mendoza Santillan headshot

Janeth Mendoza Santillan, winner of the 2021 CCSI Challenge


  |   Posted: July 30, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – July 29, 2021 – Growing up in poverty in Bolivia, Janeth Mendoza Santillan failed the second grade twice. Her teacher told her parents she wasn’t good at school and couldn’t keep up with her classmates. And an abusive uncle, who watched her while her parents were at work, put her down constantly and told her she would never accomplish anything in life.

At the age of six, Janeth was registered in Compassion International’s child development program in her community. She met a Compassion tutor who was able to identify with her struggles at home and help her overcome them. She went on to complete Compassion’s leadership development program (an investment made in exceptional students) and graduate from The Higher University of San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia with a degree in education.

Today, Janeth was awarded first place in the first-ever innovation challenge from the Christian Collective for Social Innovation (CCSI), a joint initiative of Baylor University and Compassion International, and received a grand prize of $25,000.

The CCSI invited innovators from around the world with solutions to the educational challenges in Central and South America in the wake of COVID-19 to participate in a social innovation competition. UNICEF found that children in Latin America lost four times more school days than the rest of the world during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, 125 innovators presented solutions to this challenge within specific guidelines. Solutions were to work for low-income communities in Latin America and address the holistic nature of children. Solutions could be focused on any person in the educational system and could be high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech. And innovators were encouraged to consider how their solutions would fit in local economies and cultures to produce market-driven sustainability.

Innovators were evaluated by an esteemed panel of judges with experience in education, entrepreneurship, child development, and theology, which led to the selection of 10 finalists. Solutions were evaluated in the following areas: (1) holistic child development, (2) context and systems thinking, (3) market viability and business model, and (4) educational effectiveness.

Janeth had always been looking for opportunities to change the educational system in her country. As an educator, she noticed that during the pandemic, teachers in Bolivia became very anxious when the country moved suddenly to virtual education. And school closures left many parents without the necessary tools to support their children’s learning from home, especially in rural contexts.

That’s when Janeth joined forces with Andres, her co-founder and friend, to develop “Minkedu,” an online platform that empowers educators to develop teaching methodologies based on the unique needs of their students and communities.

At the same time, Janeth and Andres created “Cultivando Saberes” (Cultivating Knowledge), a “school for parents,” to help parents take up their role as educators within the home. Not only does “Cultivando Saberes” equip moms and dads with the tools and classes to support their children’s education, but the program also helps parents complete their own grade school education and provides training to develop business skills.

The $25,000 prize will go towards further development of Minkedu and Cultivando Saberes with continued mentorship and support from Compassion and Baylor.

Janeth says, “I still can’t believe it. This encourages me and my incredible team to continue reaching more families and children. I will continue with the promise I made many years ago when I graduated from [Compassion’s] leadership development program to defend, help, and impact the lives of the most vulnerable. And to be servant leaders.”

Compassion International, Baylor University, and the entire CCSI team are elated with the results.

Edouard Lassegue, vice president of the Latin America region at Compassion, shares, “The CCSI challenge is not only the celebration of individual innovation, but also a way to open the eyes, hearts, and minds of children who can see the potential when one of their own succeeds. It creates hope. It cascades success, not only for the innovator who wins, but for the thousands of younger minds who also have ideas.”

Dr. Jeremy Vickers, associate vice president of external affairs at Baylor, adds, “Today we celebrate a major milestone in this visionary partnership between Baylor University and Compassion International. The Christian Collective for Social Innovation brought together 10 amazing social innovations, each demonstrating a passion for advancing the kingdom of Christ while bringing forth solutions for some of the world’s most pressing and complex issues, including the educational challenges in Central and South America caused by COVID-19. As we press forward, we hope and pray that the lives of people across the globe will flourish through this transformational initiative.”

Runners-up for the 2021 CCSI Challenge included Fernando Santamaria (2nd place, $10,000) from Ecuador, with his engineering program for children and adolescents, and Steve Saavedra (3rd place, $5,000), also from Ecuador, with his church-driven blended learning initiative.

To see the finalists announced, visit the 2021 CCSI Challenge virtual event website. And to learn more about the CCSI or the Compassion-Baylor partnership, explore the CCSI home page.

About Compassion International

Compassion International is a Christian child development organization working to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Founded in 1952, Compassion partners with more than 8,500 local churches in 27 program countries to deliver spiritual, economic, social, and physical care to over 2.2 million babies, children, and young adults in poverty. Ranked No. 8 in Forbes’ America’s Top Charities List in 2020, Compassion is a founding member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and an accredited charity with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information, visit compassion.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About Baylor University

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 19,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.