Some time ago, I attended a gathering of social entrepreneurs who went around and around debating whether attaining significant scale was important, or whether social entrepreneurs would be better off staying small and working instead for system-level change.
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The answer really depends on your theory of change. For the social enterprises around the world that form the Teach For All education network, that strategy centers around cultivating and supporting future leaders who will enact systems change in their nation. The goal, borrowed from Teach For America, is to train a sufficiently large number of local, regional, and national leaders who possess the understanding and conviction needed to push for change. The change we seek is straightforward: to ensure that all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Hence, our theory of change at Teach For All is not to grow to the point where the partnering organizations provide all—or even a substantial portion—of a nation's teachers or leaders. Rather, the goal is for each national organization to reach a scale at which it produces enough leaders to ultimately transform the system.
With that goal in mind, Teach For All network organizations are asking themselves several important questions: How do we compete with our nations' top recruiters to attract talent; how do we improve and scale systems for training and supporting teachers so they succeed in their classrooms and learn lessons for a lifetime of leadership and advocacy; and how do we accelerate teachers' development as leaders who work collectively to bring about fundamental change?
I started grappling with the question of how to enact change globally when I began meeting social entrepreneurs who were determined to adapt the Teach For America model to their home countries. Teach First had already launched in the United Kingdom in 2003, with participants committing two years to teach in primary and secondary schools in low-income communities across England and Wales, then becoming lifelong leaders for change working from inside and outside of education. Four years after the launch of Teach First, its CEO Brett Wigdortz and I started receiving requests for support from social entrepreneurs in countries around the world so we decided to launch Teach For All.
As we designed our strategy, the conviction that success would depend on local social entrepreneurs guided us. Their challenge would rely on their developing a vision for adapting the model to their countries while mustering the passion and commitment necessary to overcome multiple obstacles. At the same time, we knew that a global organization dedicated to sharing and learning across borders and contexts could play a significant role in accelerating international educational progress.
Since launching in 2007, Teach For All has grown to include 34 independent organizations, including its founding partners Teach For America and Teach First, in every region of the world. Teach For All forms partnerships with organizations that share the same theory of change and are committed to eight unifying principles, including placing participants for two years, measuring impact, partnering with public and private sectors, and remaining independent of government control. We then support their growth and development in four main ways:
We do all this while working to build a culture and the systems necessary to support an impact-driven network that is constantly learning.
When we first started Teach For All, I was worried about whether such a decentralized organization could be successful. While these are early days and there are many challenges across our network, I've been amazed to see tremendous momentum, which I believe comes from the combined power of visionary entrepreneurs and a global support system.
Our experience challenges notions that quality scaling requires top-down, centralized approaches. It reveals the power of entrusting committed people with full ownership, while investing in their development and enabling them to learn from and support each other. I've seen incredible growth and development among network members, as they shoulder the tremendous responsibility of fueling effective national movements for change. I've seen that with time and perseverance, they overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. I've seen their innovations influence the practice of our most-seasoned network organizations.
Now, as the organizations in the network grow their impact, I'm thinking about national strategies to capitalize on the power of local social entrepreneurs and to create platforms for learning and sharing. Would national education organizations achieve greater impact through embracing the decentralized strategy used by Teach For All? Would it be better to spend national resources on building a culture and an infrastructure to support local education leaders and enable learning among them, rather than through centralized accountability?
Given Teach For All's approach and the innovation we see across the network, our partner organizations will no doubt discover the answers to these questions before long. And then we'll be able to spread those answers to inform the choices of other network organizations.
After founding and building Teach For America for more than two decades, Wendy Kopp (@wendykopp) is leading the development of Teach For All (@TeachforAll) to increase and accelerate the impact of the Teach for America model worldwide.
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