Navigating the Public Sector in Latin America

One of the ways Teach For All provides support for its network partners is the coordination of Network Learning Trips (NLTs)—in-person opportunities for a small group of staff members from multiple partners to come together in one location and learn from one another around a specific topic. More intimate than a conference, an NLT enables its participants to focus on a particular area in which the partner hosting the event has been especially successful or innovative, and to deeply understand this best practice by immersing themselves in that partner's context. April, the CEOs and senior leaders of Teach For All's partners in Latin America gathered for a Network Learning Trip focused on exploring the role of public sector partnerships in launching and scaling successful organizations. The experience was designed to help partners define and refine their vision for engaging with the public sector at all levels—including national and state governments, universities, schools, and teacher unions—and to begin to develop a strategy for building and maintaining these relationships. The following is a reflection on the three-day event by Juan Carlos Pérez Borja, the CEO of Teach For All youngest Latin American partner, Enseña Ecuador.

 

A few weeks ago, I visited Enseña por Mexico to participate in a network learning trip with a focus on public sector partnerships. The goal of the visit was to help the senior leadership of Teach For All’s Latin American partners to evaluate and understand the importance of partnering with the government—at all levels—in order to maximize organizational growth and impact, and the potential challenges in taking this approach. The conference took place in Puebla, the site of the upcoming 2014 Global Conference, and the city in which Enseña por Mexico launched its program just last year.

I will admit that prior to the trip, my expectations were not entirely clear. I knew that at some point, given our shared vision, all Teach For All partners must work with the public sector—but as the CEO of one of the network’s youngest organizations, I didn’t consider it an immediate priority. It didn’t take long, however, for many of us in attendance to realize we may have underestimated the impact a close collaborative relationship with the government could have on our work—and how absolutely necessary it is to ensuring that we move closer to our vision as we progress.

On our first day in Puebla, after analyzing together the current state of each partner’s relationship with its nation’s government, we attended a cocktail session attended by some of Enseña por Mexico's private and public sector champions. While the entire event was enlightening, the best part of the night for me was listening to three current teachers (Professionales de Enseña por Mexico, or PEMs) speak about their experiences in the classroom, which provided an “inside look” into their lives and work. We were also fortunate to hear the inspiring words of a student, who was courageous enough to stand in front of a room full of strangers and describe his difficult past and how his new teacher has helped him in many ways—including overcoming his fear of public speaking. Later, the same student’s father—who is also a teacher at his school—shared his insights about how the work of the PEMs at his school has been truly transformational.

 

Teach For All Network Partner CEOs from Latin America

Pictured, leftright: Tomás Recart, CEO, Enseña Chile; Juan Delgado, Macro-Regional Manager, EnseñaPerú; Oscar Ghillione, CEO, Enseñá por Argentina; Juan Carlos Pérez Borja, CEO, Enseña Ecuador; Erik Ramirez-Ruiz, CEO, Enseña por México; Pablo Jaramillo, CEO, Enseña por Colombia

 

Day two of the learning trip began with a presentation by CEO Erik Ramírez-Ruiz about Enseña por Mexico's approach to developing a close strategic alliance with the public sector, and in particular the crucial role that the government of Puebla has played in promoting the organization’s launch and growth strategies. At dinner that night, we were honored to be joined by Patricia Vasquez, Subsecretaria de Education for the government of Puebla. It was the kind of evening when you almost forget about the delicious meal in front of you because you don’t want to miss out on anything that’s being said. It was incredibly enlightening to hear Patricia speak, from a governmental perspective, about why an education system could benefit from implementing our network’s transformational teaching model in its classrooms. I know all of us left that dinner convinced of one thing: in order to succeed in our work, it is essential that we find—or cultivate—our very own “Patricias.” Only when we do, we will be able to sit down at the same table with the government to have honest conversations about our shared responsibility in catalyzing a systemic transformation of our education systems.

On our third and final day in Puebla, we had the opportunity to visit schools and to personally witness the great work that Enseña por Mexico's PEMs are doing in their classrooms. I felt extremely inspired visiting a classroom in which one PEM was teaching English to 20 students while another teacher (not a PEM) from the same school was observing the lesson and taking notes about how to teach more effectively.

As our learning trip came to an end, it was clear to me that the ideas and conversations sparked by this immersion in Enseña por Mexico's collaboration with the government and impact in the classroom are a powerful example of why operating as a network—despite the differences in our countries and contexts—can add incredible value to the work we do. I left Puebla and my fellow CEOs more convinced than ever that sharing strategies and best practices across the network is vital to increasing our individual and collective progress towards the day that all children—in Latin America and around the world—have access to an excellent education.