If ever there were a prototypical serial social entrepreneur, then Ido Leffler would probably be it. In 2006, Leffler co-founded Yes To, Inc., which he grew into a wildly popular natural skincare line and where he still plays an active leadership role. He’s since turned his attention toward education, launching Yoobi, which creates tools specifically designed to spark learning in young children.
Yet like Yes To, Yoobi is dedicated to doing more than simply selling merchandise. Each time the California-based company logs a sale it also donates an item to a classroom in need of supplies, a model that businesses like Toms helped pioneer. Like all entrepreneurs, Leffler created Yoobi to address an issue that, he says, is one of the most significant facing the U.S.
“The idea for Yoobi came shortly after a very uninspiring trip down the school supply aisle at our local store,” Leffler says. “I was with my two daughters at the time and we noticed a distinct lack of creativity and color in all of the supplies in front of us, nothing was exciting or inspiring. After some research, I found there is a severe lack of necessary supplies for basic learning in classrooms nationwide. I saw a huge problem and an opportunity to solve it.”
Teachers, Leffler discovered, were increasingly buying their school supplies for their students, a trend that has only become more widespread in recent years, according to the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA). During the 2012-2013 academic year, 99.5% of teachers reported spending their own money on their students, NSSEA researchers found, with average spending totaling $945. What’s more, teachers spent a combined $3.2 billion of their own money on students during the academic year.
At the same time, many schools are receiving less funding now than they did before the recession hit in 2007, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Thirty-five states have reduced their education expenditures on a per-student basis, the report concluded, with 14 such states cutting financial support by more than 10%.
Yoobi—whose name refers to its “one for you, one for me” mantra—is helping address the yawning funding gap through its philanthropic arm. On this front, Leffler says, it has partnered with other organizations, as it works to make a big splash in only its first year of existence. “Each time you purchase a Yoobi product, we contribute a Yoobi item to a Yoobi Classroom Pack, which contain the most fundamental tools needed for learning and creativity,” he says.
“In partnership with The Kids In Need Foundation, our goal is to donate over 30,000 Yoobi Classroom Packs nationwide in the 2014-2015 school year, which means that our supplies will soon be helping more than 750,000 students,” Leffler says.
School supplies, of course, play a vital role in education. Yet Yoobi’s products are specifically designed to fuel student’s creativity and facilitate the learning process. “Studies show that with the help of school supplies, students earn higher test scores, attend school more frequently, and behave better when they’re in class,” Leffler says. “Our goal is to level the playing field for kids, and make sure they’re equipped with whatever they need to be successful in school and earn a quality education. Yoobi is meant to not only be an exciting product that inspires kids, but also a solution to a big problem that’s affecting our education system.”
Still in its infancy, Yoobi has initially set its sights on addressing the school supplies drought in classrooms serving the youngest students. Addressing educational disparities in this group can help lead to better outcomes later on, Leffler says. “We are focusing on our youngest students first—K through 3rd grade—because ensuring their access to school supplies at an early age has the most impact on their future academic potential,” he explains.
With Yoobi already firing on all cylinders, its future looks promising. For his part, Leffler remains wildly optimistic about the company’s potential impact. “The most challenging part of running Yoobi is also the most rewarding,” he says. “We know that education is one of the most important things we can offer kids. They are our future, and they’re depending on us. Our students can’t be successful without the fundamental tools they need to learn, and Yoobi is devoted to expanding and providing every student we possibly can with those supplies.”