Humanitarian organizations are well represented on university campuses, but Students Offering Support (SOS) says it has a different approach to “making a difference” – a model that has now proven to be a million-dollar idea.
“[SOS] is a unique use of entrepreneurial principles in the charitable giving sector,” says the organization’s Founder and Executive Director, Greg Overholt.
“It’s not just about getting money and going overseas, but the way they raise money is also helping here.” —Joanne Toporowski, University of Waterloo student and SOS volunteer tutor
The charity provides students with exam preparation sessions and resources for a small fee and then uses the proceeds to fund access to education projects in Latin America, which SOS volunteers put in place. The structure of SOS “closes the loop,” says Greg, “paying it forward in a way that supports education not just locally but globally.”
And paying it forward has paid off for this student-based organization. Seven years after its inception, SOS is predicted to raise its millionth dollar this year.
Despite this milestone, SOS is not solely about raising funds, according to University of Waterloo student Joanne Toporowski. “It’s not just about getting money and going overseas,” she says, “but the way they raise money is also helping here.”
Joanne works as a volunteer tutor, running SOS Exam-AID sessions for accounting classes at the University of Waterloo. These sessions occur one or two days before an exam and provide students with a review session, practice problems, sample tests, solutions, and take-home package – all generated by student volunteers.
These sessions grew from the original mission of SOS. The organization started through student-organized exam cramming sessions at Wilfrid Laurier University but as the demand grew, Greg realized, “that they could help students and help them in a big way.”
SOS has now tutored more than 20,000 students through 26 Canadian chapters.
Greg attributes the organization’s rapid success to the fact it’s providing goods and services that students actually want – a service that happens to also have a social benefit attached to it.
Seth Warren got to see those social benefits first hand. Last summer, he was one of the 350 volunteers sent to Latin America to volunteer on SOS projects. Having attended multiple Exam-AIDs, he says travelling to Belize then enabled him to see his contributions at work.
“It helps students here in Canada and students abroad,” Seth says, adding that SOS brings “a lot of value to both sides of the equation.”
Greg says that watching SOS grow and working with tutors like Joanne and volunteers like Seth inspires him to work even harder.
The organization is currently working on making their study resources more accessible to students by launching digital Exam-AIDs for those who can’t make the sessions. SOS also expanded south of the border earlier this year and now has chapters at eight American universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The organization is expanding, but Greg says that its core goals remain the same. “We’re not doing anything different today than we did yesterday, we’re just doing more of it.”
Reaching the one-million mark “will reflect on the ability of our generation” he says adding that this achievement will ensure that SOS and its 1,500 volunteers can continue to, “raise more marks, money and roofs in better ways.”
What’s next for the SOS? “World domination,” laughs Greg.
To learn more about SOS, visit www.StudentsOfferingSupport.ca or: