From the ground up

Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach For All, a network of local partners that recruit and nurture individuals into inspiring teachers and leaders, explains how community-rooted projects can inspire widescale change 

How does your organization encourage education?

We aim to develop collective leadership to ensure all children can fulfill their potential. The fact that the circumstances of a child’s birth predict its educational outcomes is very complex, and solving this will require many changes, from within education and outside of it. It will require leaders at every level of education system and policy, and across sectors, who have an understanding of what needs to change and a deep commitment to making those changes. The 49 network partners of Teach For All – from Teach For Pakistan to Teach For Nigeria to Ensina Brasil – are working to develop this leadership in their countries. They recruit and develop their nations’ most promising future leaders to teach in their under-resourced schools and communities, and, with this foundation, to work with others, inside and outside of education, to enable all children to gain the education, support and opportunity to thrive. 

How do you define “quality education”?

Our work focuses on developing students into leaders who can shape a better future for themselves and all of us. We are focused not only on raising academic proficiency levels, but on growing kids with the sensibilities and commitment to also be, for example, environmental stewards. 

Our network partners co-create visions for student success with local stakeholders: parents, educators, employers. From Haiti to Armenia, they have been engaging these stakeholders in the neighborhoods where they work to ask: given the local challenges our kids face, given our aspirations, and the opportunities, what is our contextualized vision for students to shape a better future for themselves and all of us? By the time the kids are 25, what do we want to be true? That's the starting point, then we work backwards and say, "what does that mean for the outcomes we need to work towards?" 

To what extent do partners in the network tailor the way they work to the situation in different countries?

We share a common purpose and unifying principles across Teach For All, but network organizations contextualize everything. We deeply believe in the need for local rootedness in education – for developing approaches rooted in local context, culture and history.

At the same time, there are real similarities in the roots of the issues that we are addressing. Meaning the most marginalised kids in any given country are facing many extra challenges, including poverty and discrimination. They show up at schools not designed to meet their needs. Their circumstances are more similar to each others’ than to those of the more privileged kids in their countries. The silver lining is that it means the solutions are much more transferable than we've assumed, which has led Teach For All to invest significantly in a platform that enables our network partners’ staff members, teachers and alumni leaders to learn from each other – so that they are both locally rooted and globally informed.

Aside from investing in knowledge sharing infrastructure, where else could investments make a difference?

Philanthropic investment could make a big difference to local non-state actors – organizations like the network partners of Teach For All. Right now, development aid goes to governments and international NGOs that can commit to massive scale and short-term quantifiable results. But governments and international actors can’t change things alone. The development and philanthropic communities need to get their heads around the question of how we are going to get investment into locally-led civil society organizations which are so critical in demonstrating what’s possible, in advocating for needed changes, and in developing the local capacity necessary for sustainable change. These non-governmental organizations have the freedom and flexibility to think differently, can prioritize depth over breadth, and take a long-term view. They are a vital piece of the puzzle, but right now, there is very little avenue in low-income countries for really good local leaders to gain access to the funding they need to start and scale their enterprises. 

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Measure what matters

Jasjit Singh, Academic Director at INSEAD Social Impact Initiative argues that, as well as meeting academic goals, impact must be measured by its effect on society

What are some of the barriers to measuring impact in education?

Education is not one sector. The reality is that, in some segments, by their very nature, it's easier to have business models that offer competitive returns, which, in turn, will attract institutional investors. Absolutely, whenever we can, we should facilitate that. At the same time, let's not forget that there will always be some segments where finding somebody able to pay you at a level at which you can give financial returns is problematic. Very often, these are exactly the segments where the potential for impact is greatest.

How can impact investing have a multiplier effect?

Within the education sector there is room for high-impact interventions when a business solution alone is not adequate. Take the example of funding high-quality pre-school programs for at-risk children from deprived inner cities in the US. We know that it's very hard to make money in this instance. But, at the same time, we know that, for every dollar invested, society benefits in other ways, such as reduced crime levels.

Impact investment’s multiplier effect comes from the fact that it's not a one-time grant, but the money lays the foundation for something much bigger. Whether it’s each dollar of investment making a $10 return because of a sustainable business model, or each dollar effectively generating $10 of value for society, both are hugely important. Both are solving problems in the education space.

What will give a clearer sense of this multiplier effect?

There is still confusion about outputs (number of schools built, children attending, etc.) versus outcomes (what children are learning). You can invest in schools in rural Nepal, but are you having an impact on the children, the community? Going from outcome to impact is a further leap. Are the children learning because of what we are doing, rather than something else in their environment being better? We must tighten that link.

Do you believe that investors are beginning to think differently about impact?

In the future, there will be three measures of return on investment: risk, financial return and impact. Investors will differ in the degree to which they are willing to accept high risk or lower returns to promote greater impact. But the reality is everybody, to a lesser or greater extent, will put some weight on impact. The better we can facilitate transactions – the exchange of somebody investing in me to help create impact – the more the market will grow.

How do you see the future of impact investing?

Ten years from now, the world will be very different. Anybody not taking this seriously is going to lose out; even if they personally don't care about impact, they'll lose out in terms of business. I was invited to run a workshop on impact investing with ultra-high net worth individuals from the next generation in Asia. The audience was 25-30-year-olds saying, “I want to help my family move in the direction not just of doing business, but investing through the lens of how it is affecting the world.” Interestingly, for them, the challenge was as much, “Let's figure out what impact investing is” as “How do we convince our families?” I am amazed by how active and motivated this generation is.

Certainly, most of the money is in their hands. That’s why I can see huge amounts of money being invested very differently from the way it’s being invested today.

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