Perkins School for the Blind is gearing up to host a third installment of its Shark Tank event, where a group of business leaders will have a unique opportunity to touch the lives of children with visual impairment around the world.
The event, scheduled for mid-May, gives international educators — all participants in Perkins International’s Educational Leadership Program (ELP) — a forum to share creative ideas with friends and benefactors of Perkins.
Unlike the hit television show for which the event is named, the educators won’t be approaching backers with commercial plans. Instead, they’ll be pitching ideas for programs and services that, if implemented, could vastly improve the lives of children who are blind or visually impaired in their home countries.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to really help advance the field in countries where there’s tremendous need,” said Marianne Riggio, director of the ELP. “Contributions made at this event have a huge impact.”
This year, attendees will hear from 13 educators-turned-entrepreneurs from nearly every continent, each with a different idea.
One participant wants to launch a technology center for people who are deafblind in Russia. Another wants to turn an orphanage in Indonesia into a model educational program. There are proposals for new assistive device centers, outreach and mentoring programs, early intervention initiatives and more.
“If they can dream it, they can do it,” said Riggio.
Perkins Shark Tank has already changed the lives of children across the globe. At the 2017 event, 20 supporters from the Boston area pledged their support to nine projects. Among them were a vocational training program to teach job skills to students with visual impairment in Uganda, an itinerant teacher program that works with neglected children in China and a mobile app that connects children with disabilities to medical services in Bangladesh.
For the educators, who will return to their home countries in June after living and working at Perkins for nine months, the Shark Tank funding allows them to put their training into action among the students who need them most.
“The program totally changes their outlook about what they can do back home,” said Riggio. “It helps them think that there’s possibilities out there that they can control.”