There’s great news to share…

Friends,

After eight years at the helm of our Foundation, I believe the time has come to pass the baton onto a new leader who can to take our organisation forward with the ambition and vigour it needs for the next stage of its life.

So, today, after a momentous journey working with an incredibly talented and dedicated team, I am formally stepping down as Chief Executive of The Varkey Foundation.

My deepest thanks are owed to Sunny Varkey for placing his faith in me and giving me every support in establishing the Foundation. He gave me a once in a life-time opportunity to make a difference to the education of children throughout the world.  I’ll always be truly grateful for this privilege.

I am, also, delighted to announce that Cate Noble, our current Chief Operating Officer, will become our next CEO.

Cate carries a wealth of experience and is finely placed to lead the Foundation into new project areas. Her expertise in educational development is world-leading and I know, from our working relationship to date, how determined she is to extend the reach and weight of our voice, as well as our impact on the ground. I am certain she will make a great success of her new position.

It has been an incredible privilege to have led our organisation since its inception, and I am honoured that the Varkey family and Trustees have now asked me to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I look forward, in this role, to helping shape its future strategy and provide as much support as I can to its vital mission.  We are a Foundation that has much to be proud of and that has so much more to give.

Together, we elevated subjects such as teacher status from the preserve of policy-makers and panel discussions into issues that seized the imagination of the public around the world.

We have stimulated debate, informed decisions, and taken action to better the life chances of some of the world’s most underprivileged children. For example, our programmes in Uganda, Ghana and Argentina, are helping to improve the capacity of the teaching profession, disseminating learning and raising awareness of key subject areas, including leadership, girls-ed, and student centred pedagogy.

We have also lead in understanding complex education debates through publishing groundbreaking research on teacher status, parental attitudes on education and the hope, fears and ambitions of generation z.

Many well wishers have told me that our greatest contribution to education debates is the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF), and who am I to disagree?. The highlight of my year is always the final evening of the GESF when we announce the winner of the Global Teacher Prize and the eyes of the world are rightly focused on teachers.

Five years ago, when we launched the Global Teacher Prize none of us could have imagined what we would achieve together. It has not only unearthed thousands of stories of teacher heroes but has given me some of the most humbling moments of my life. I have met some of the world’s most inspirational, selfless and resourceful people, who could have applied their talents to many other things, but have chosen to devote their lives to the next generation.

I have never been more aware of how teachers are responsible for the future – to the world that will be shaped by the children they teach.

It has been an incredible journey, where I have learnt a lot. I have many questions that remain unanswered, mainly around the subject of technology and the promise it holds. For this reason, I am honoured to have been asked by Sunny Varkey to establish an organization that seeks to build further understanding about the role of technology in education.

At the Foundation, whether it was the delivery of high quality satellite enabled teaching into classrooms in refugee camps, or in rural locations to reach marginalized girls using an interactive platform we invented, or our first online course on school leadership going live in Argentina, technology has been a great force multiplier, which is why I remain curious as to why despite the marketing of many ed-tech innovations none have really broken through.

I will be setting this new organisation up to advance the case for education technology but also to understand fully the context that is required for it to fulfil its potential. I hope to work with all stakeholders and experts in this endeavour.

As an example, we know teachers are central to education. How can tech support them better so that they can be more effective in their classrooms?

This is especially important in middle and low-income countries that have not yet benefited from the fruits of tech development.

The new organisation will also investigate new technologies and how they can break down barriers to education in deprived parts of the world, and, as a base point, will build upon this year’s discussion at the Global Education & Skills Forum, which looked at how we can marry western-centric development with the explosion of innovation and start-up entrepreneurs from the global south.

I have, as many of you will know, half-joked in the past about the old fashioned pencil and paper being the best tech resource in constrained environments, and I am often pulled up on this by those that say that the mobile phone is now common place.

If this is, indeed, the case, then my question is how can we improve the life chances of those who, at best, have only an android device and a 3G connection? The conversation we’ve been having through the Broadband Commission about 5G becoming standard in these areas is all well and good and gives a positive message about the future – but we do need to bear in mind these constraints and that they currently apply to a very large group of people throughout the world today.

The success of our Foundation in highlighting many of these educational inadequacies, and identifying solutions, has been remarkable, and is directly attributable to the Varkey family, our incredible team, our dedicated partners, friends and well-wishers, like you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

There is more to do, and, together, I am sure we will continue to do everything we can to help make a difference to the education of children around the world.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to have served as the first CEO of our Foundation, and I ask, now, that you extend a hand of friendship to Cate, like you did for me. Please join me in wishing her all success as our next Chief Executive.

With gratitude and best wishes,

 

Vikas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philanthropy cannot substitute government aid

n the last few decades, philanthropy has enjoyed a renaissance. United States citizens contributed $390 billion (Dh1.43 trillion) to charity last year, while 150 billionaires around the world have signed a pledge to give away at least half their wealth. We will see the energy of this movement first-hand at the sixth Global Education & Skills Forum, taking place in Dubai later this month, when more than 40 philanthropic organisations will discuss how they can make the greatest impact with their resources globally.

Our discussion comes at a time when philanthropy is besieged by criticism. The current fractious mood over global inequality means that large-scale giving by the world’s wealthiest individuals is often seen as suspect. There has been a vicious backlash, with, according to one study, a 15-fold increase in negative coverage about philanthropy between 2000 to 2015.

One frequent criticism is that philanthropy is substitute for government aid, allowing governments to decrease their aid budgets and avoid radical political solutions. However, this ignores the resources of government aid compared to philanthropy: The reach of even large philanthropic foundations is still much smaller than that of government aid, and most foundations cannot undertake large-scale humanitarian or social projects on their own.

Rather than a substitute, philanthropy can accomplish goals that, for structural reasons, governments find difficult. Insulated from the electoral cycle, philanthropists can fund change over many decades. In a Harvard Business Review analysis of 15 social-change movements — from polio eradication to the Fair Food Programme — nearly 90 per cent of historically successful social-change efforts were found to take more than 20 years.

Governments also have a greater number of restrictions on the types of intervention they can support, and the speed with which they can react. Government spending requires rigorous auditing and consensus building, which can limit how bold they can be. Philanthropic foundations can implement disruptive solutions without filtering every decision through layers of bureaucracy.

However, for all its advantages in principle, philanthropy must still do more for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Too often there is competition between philanthropists when collaboration would allow resources to go further. Philanthropists working alongside each other has the greatest likelihood of creating long-lasting systemic improvements. A new organisation, Co-Impact, has been founded in order to bring philanthropists together to pursue bigger goals, help them pool their resources more efficiently, and match newer donors with ambitious social projects.

In my own area of interest — education — we need to gather more evidence about what works. The impact of philanthropy across vast areas of policy in many countries is simply unknown, according to a study by NGO 3IE. Programmes ranging from teacher training to computer-assisted learning are often carried out without knowing whether they are effective. Despite expectations, measures in Kenya to halve class sizes and provide more textbooks did little to improve results. Meanwhile, unorthodox methods such as cash transfers to the families of poor children increased attendance for children of all ages across different countries.

Second, we must not become intoxicated by the promise of new technologies. Donating laptops sounds attractive, but will be ineffective if schools have an intermittent electricity supply and no access to broadband. Any technology must take into account local conditions — and be judged as a success or failure by how far it improves basic skills. Instead, we must not lose sight of basic, well-evidenced measures, such as providing food to children at school. For example, the Akshaya Patra Foundation programme is making a huge difference by serving fresh lunches to 1.6 million schoolchildren across India every day, facilitating education and encouraging children to attend.

Third, we need to improve our communication of education issues. Contributions to global health vastly outweigh those given to education: one study found that US private philanthropy contributed 53 per cent of its grants to health, but only 9 per cent to education. This is partly because, over the past few decades, global health has communicated its message with an emotional punch. This is no criticism: the progress in lowering the death toll from disease has been one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century and the result of effective campaigning.

However, the same toll of despair associated with poor health comes just as surely from a poor education. Failure to learn in school is a cancer that spreads — weakening individuals, societies and nations in every conceivable way. It is an invisible threat. The story of a malnourished or sick child can be told through a single picture, but there are no stark images that convey the squandered talents, the frustrations, and the loss of hope that come with an education denied. All involved in education philanthropy must find a more compelling way of telling this story.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, achieving results requires collaborations with Government: In fact, according to a study by Harvard Business Review, 80 per cent of successful initiatives also require changes to government funding, policies, or actions. Only by working closely with governments can we strengthen public systems of health and education to achieve a positive and lasting impact.

Yet, governments everywhere are making deep cuts to aid budgets. This year alone, the EU has proposed a 6.5 per cent cut to the 2018 aid budget compared to 2017 spending. Education has been particularly neglected — with international aid levels falling since 2010. At a time when the number of children out of school in developing countries is rising again, Governments are choosing not to prioritise education aid. However intelligently they work, philanthropists cannot plug this gap alone.

Vikas Pota is the chief executive of Varkey Foundation

The article appeared in the Gulf News on 15th March 2018