About Learnserve



LearnServe envisions a world in which every student graduated high school with the the vision of a leader, the tenacity of an entrepreneur, and the passion of a changemaker?

LearnServe Fellow Sara displays her social venture board promoting access to vaccinations in Asian countries.




LearnServe International trains middle and high school students in social entrepreneurship through interconnected extracurricular, in-school, and summer abroad programs.

LearnServe Abroad students help to plant a garden in Zambia.

Since 2003, LearnServe has equipped students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad.

Our Story +

What makes you mad? What pisses you off? When you look at the world, what do you notice and think, "it can't possibly be this way?" These are the first questions we ask our students, as we challenge them to tackle social problems at home and abroad.

For LearnServe Founder Hugh Riddleberger, a career educator, the answer to these questions in 2003 was his students' "superficial scratch on the surface of service." He wanted them to establish a relationship with the communities they were going to serve, to truly understand what the needs were.

So what are you going to do about it? There's the crucial follow-up. The launch point for our students' social action projects. Hugh challenged his students to wrestle with the problems that surrounded them and then take action.

LearnServe Founder Hugh Riddleberger with founding teacher partner James Cunningham at LearnServe’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

With initial support from Share Our Strength and the Case Foundation, Hugh invited 14 students and 11 teachers representing 6 diverse schools from across the region to join a two-week service learning trip to Ethiopia in the summer of 2004. The students and teachers returned transformed. Hugh realized he was on to something.

The idea grew into the Center for International Education, at the time housed at the Washington International School. We added trips to Zambia, Paraguay, and China, and helped students and teachers bring the lessons from these countries back home to their schools and families.

By 2006 we realized that these summers abroad were just the beginning. We introduced our year-long Fellows program to offer a hands-on, practical introduction to social entrepreneurship. Our students explored critical business skills such as strategic planning, financial literacy, and cross-cultural communication – and applied these skills to pressing global issues like climate change, poverty, and health. LearnServe Fellows develop these skills as they design and launch their own innovative social ventures. In Spring 2007, the first 20 Fellows formally pitched their venture ideas.

In 2008 we outgrew our home at WIS and became an independent non-profit organization.

Since 2008 we’ve doubled the size of our Fellows Program and launched new LearnServe Abroad destinations: Jamaica and South Africa. In 2010, Hugh retired, turning leadership of LearnServe over to Directors Sabine Keinath and Scott Rechler, and Board Chair Catherine Tinsley.

In 2014, as we concluded our 10th Anniversary celebrations, we undertook our first long-term impact evaluation, conducted by ICF International. Reflecting on how LearnServe had shaped our alumni’s personal and professional trajectories ‒ and in conversation with our partner schools -- we identified opportunities to expand our reach: How can we ensure students engaged with social innovation receive the support they need throughout implementation and growth? How can we work more deeply with schools, offering curriculum materials and support to help teachers bring social entrepreneurship into the school day?

We piloted the LearnServe Incubator in the 2014-15 academic year, a year-long program for LearnServe alumni designed to maximize the impact of the most promising social ventures and deepen students’ understanding of entrepreneurship. Following the successful pilot phase, we grew the program in fall of 2015.

In 2014 we also launched Seeding Social Innovation. We prepare classroom teachers with hands-on training, curriculum materials, and project planning tools so that they can effectively introduce social innovation in the classroom.  . We piloted the approach at four schools, reaching 150 students who designed more than 50 social ventures. We now engage hundreds of students in social entrepreneurship through middle school and high school Seeding Social Innovation courses.  

We continue to bring together students from across DC metropolitan area – students who do not usually have such an opportunity to meet each other and work together. United by a common drive to make the world a better place, they represent a diverse and growing network of more than 50 public, charter, and independent schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Through our Fellows Program, Incubator, and LearnServe Abroad programs we directly serve over 100 students each year – and through Seeding Social Innovation courses at their schools reach hundreds more.

Students and teachers on the second LearnServe Abroad trip to Ethiopia in 2006.