At TFB, we believe that the work of dismantling systems of oppression starts within each individual. Please watch this video: https://vimeo.com/220384156 and then reflect on your own identity.
What aspects of your identity give you unearned privileges in our society? What aspects of your identity subject you to oppression? If you do not share the same socioeconomic background as the students and communities we serve, how will that fact shape the choices you make as the CEO of TFB?
I'll attempt to answer this question using the premise, a real-life conversation I had not so long ago with an Indigenous Australian Elder-Business Lecturer at The Australian National University. I was having a chat with him to get some advice for our upcoming Social Innovation Conference 2021 event, during my time as SOULAB’s COO. As we exchanged pleasantries to start the conversation over Zoom. Here is what he said:
"In my community back home, elders say it's not only where you have lived and traveled that defines who you are. They say, 'tell me where your mother's womb is buried, then I can understand who you really are'"
He didn’t start the conversation with the above quote, but rather was replying to my own introduction starting from my birth in Bangladesh and growing up across 5 different continents.
My identity comprises of all the countries and peoples that have hosted me and my family, cared for us, looked after us and nurtured us - I now seek to understand whether the country where my mother’s uterus could have been buried (!), is ready to do the same for me, and the people that it represents.
The beautiful video shared by TFB in the question talks about systems of oppression, and I can completely relate to it. Was I born into unearned privileges? Sure, I was - Bangladesh in the early eighties wasn’t an easy place to grow up - even harder for my two older brothers who were born just after independence in the early 70s. Just before my birth, my father had a job with the UN, a car ( - look it up if you’re interested), my mother was looking after my two older brothers living with her mother-in-law in a house owned by my ex public servant Paternal Grandfather (দাদা). I had a safe environment to grow, my Father was employed and mother-daughter-in-law dynamic was nurturing enough.
However I started understanding about oppression from 6th Grade at an American International school in a particular country (names withheld) when I was physically attacked and verbally assaulted for being from the ethnic background determined by my skin color - and then again in 7th grade for sharing of my logical reasoning about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict whilst debating with a fellow Israeli classmate. In the first case, I was too ashamed to share with my older brother in Junior level in the same school who would ‘take care’ of the situation. In the second case, my parents were reported as a friend’s mother was substituting observed my situation and decided to check in with my mom.
While the experiences left an indelible mark in my psyche, they generally took a back seat vs. the driving seat, and as to how I view the world with respect to how they view me. It was the American curriculum system and its various teachers that actually taught me I can be who I want to be. That was some powerful stuff, especially for older generation that was born just after Independence (i.e. my eldest brother).
I don’t share the same socioeconomic background as the students of TFB, and probably not even with majority of the Fellows going through the program. But the multi-dimensional diverse identity that I bring to the table at TFB will drive my decision-making skills (underpinned by evidence) and effectiveness as a CEO.
Imagine you are Teach For Bangladesh’s new CEO
a. What will be the key measures of success for you and the organization at the end of your first year?
b. Create a plan for your first 90 days in the job. Please include the goals you will set for yourself, how you will achieve them, and mention any resources or support you anticipate you will need.
Key measurements of success for me at the end of my first year would be underpinned by the that I had helped develop and set in collaboration with the Boards of Directors and Trustees and leadership team on the first 90 days as CEO. Those measures will articulate how well I am able to... Successfully establish OKRs that will be used to operationalize TFB’s mission and vision Assemble and nurture a high performing team working passionately to achieve TFB’s OKRs Increase number of partnership opportunities engaged and connections made with key decision makers and mobilizers for revenue growth Develop and/or adhere to an organizational culture that provides a safe place to nurture growth mindsets Increase number of new partnerships developed and launched (e.g. with Universities and policy research institutes to jointly apply for grants evaluating efficacy of TFB’s work on achieving education outcomes and/or driving leadership in education) Increase number of new revenue channels developed and launched (e.g. with export oriented industry association(s) to devise a CSR action plan for educational outcomes, making sourcing from Bangladeshi companies more attractive for foreign buyers valuing transparent supply chains) Develop and/or maintain an organizational environment where employees are both valued and held accountable for their work, that places more emphasis on outcomes vs. output Increase number of new programs developed and launched (e.g. programs that not only provide educational outcomes but also outcomes for developing teaching excellence) Establish a dynamic communications strategy tailored for outcomes (both internal and external) resulting in (1) TFB’s first annual report being published in four years, (2) TFB website being more UX/UI friendly to generate newsletter and donor sign-ups and (3) having a Bangla viewing option Leverage the support of the local authorities, parents, schools principals, headteachers, students, and other key stakeholders and local NGOs Strengthen Alumni Movement to increase Fellowship participation and access to diverse partnership opportunities within their spheres of influence
The first 90-days as TFB CEO
Phase 1: Listen and Learn (Weeks 1-4)
Understanding the Organization: I will immerse myself in gaining an in-depth understanding of the organization, its operations, its programs, its stakeholders, and especially the Fellows, Alumni and students. This will involve studying past and present projects, performance metrics, and financials. I will use this time to understand how the organization has responded to challenges such as COVID and how it is preparing to address the looming economic crisis and political climate that lay just over the horizon. Engaging with Leaders: I will promptly initiate meetings with key leadership team members to get their perspectives on the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), with respect to the , such as the removal of examinations altogether. I will also meet our teaching staff and other employees, either individually or in small groups, to understand their perspectives. Connecting with External Stakeholders: It will be crucial to engage with partners, donors, and community representatives to understand their views and expectations from Teach for Bangladesh. I will also be keen to connect with A2i about their to get insights on ways TFB can develop an education incubator similar to . Open Communication: Throughout this period, I will maintain transparent communication with the team about my learning process and when they can expect more comprehensive feedback or strategies.
Phase 2: Evaluation and Planning (Weeks 5-8)
Evaluation: Using insights from meetings and personal research, I will conduct a thorough evaluation of our current strategies, processes, and performance. This will include a review of our financial health with a focus on cash flow, a critical factor in maintaining our operations and impact. As our society moves from the third to the fourth industrial revolution, I will also work on evaluating how TFB’s initiatives are addressing the as it applies to both teachers and students’ career readiness. Drafting an Action Plan: I will begin formulating a revised strategy, aligned with our organization's mandate and vision, that addresses the key challenges identified during my evaluation. This plan will include clear goals, performance indicators, and methods to address identified weaknesses or potential opportunities. I will use the OKR methodology and template to track TFB’s progress toward its goals because it is the most effective way to communicate. I have used his methodology when setting goals and objectives during my employment at and the (both at the organizational level and for clients), plus I have used this approach to set my own organization, Tradeshi’s, quarterly strategic action plan.
Phase 3: Implementation (Weeks 9-12)
Stakeholder Collaboration to set OKRs: Before finalizing the action plan, I will present the draft to key internal and external stakeholders to gather their feedback, ensuring their buy-in, and fostering a collaborative environment. Finalizing the Strategic Objectives: After refining the plan based on feedback, I will present it to the Board for approval. Post-approval, I will share the final plan with the organization, outlining our goals and strategies for the upcoming period. Tracking how well TFB is tracking against OKRs should look something like below image - taken from a project I was directly involved with in Australia working with a non-profit, to develop their five year strategic plan during my tenure as COO at the Social Outcomes Lab:
Above is a screenshot of an OKR tracker I helped develop for an Australian non-profit, and I’ve also shared link (in the heading) to a sample OKR tracker to illustrate how this strategic objective setting works
Above is a screenshot of how my venture Tradeshi was tracking against it’s strategic objectives, presented to Alibaba.com during our quarterly review
Implementation of OKRs: With the plan approved, the focus will shift to execution. I will work closely with leaders to ensure strategic planning methodology of OKRs are communicated across the organization so short-term wins, can be attributed to building momentum for long-term goals. For example, as part of our external communications strategy TFB can consider creating a platform similar to what I had helped set up in Australia - . Held via zoom during COVID, it was an opportunity to showcase some of the great work being done in the social innovation space, whilst attracting opportunities for change to our consulting firm (i.e. clout and revenue). My sessions were on and I am aware TFB ran some webinars during the lock down period, so I would look at ways for TFB to become a thought leader in certain areas that lay at the intersection of GoB (SMART Bangladesh) and Teach for All Network (Future of Work). Progress Review and Adjustment: Regular check-ins will be scheduled to monitor progress, address challenges, and make necessary adjustments to our action plan. However small it may be, successes will be celebrated organization-wide to maintain morale and a sense of shared achievement.
Support and Resources Needed
Open Lines of Communication: Clear and effective communication channels within the organization, and across relevant nodes in the Teach for All network to facilitate transparent dialogue. Access to Key Information: Relevant historical and current data on organizational performance, financial health, and stakeholder feedback within TFB and as much information from the following Teach for All organizations: Teach for Armenia - to understand how it approached Teach for Australia - to understand the Teach for Kenya - to understand what makes Kenya produce the Teach for Nigeria - to understand Teach for China - to understand whether promotes better education outcomes Teach First (UK) - to understand how to Cooperation of Key Stakeholders: Collaboration and support from the Board, leadership team, staff, and partners in defining OKRs and setting targets Continuous Feedback: Regular updates from all teams to ensure strategies remain effective and relevant, allowing for agile responses to any changes in our internal or external environment. Site visits: In person drop ins at partner schools across as many districts as possible
Over 10 years of operation, TFB has built strong grassroots partnerships with schools, headteachers and Upazilla and District Education Officers in the regions where we operate.
We have an approval letter from the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE) that gives us the ability to work in government primary schools. However, given the leadership in bureaucratic positions change frequently, we do not have strong champions within the DPE.
Nor do we have strong relationships with either the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Mass and Primary Education. Within one month of you joining as CEO, you learn that the incumbent Secretary of Primary Education is very politically powerful and that he has a strong distrust of NGOs. The Board asks you to form a strategy for deepening our partnerships within the government to:
1) scale the Fellowship program so that we are placing 200 new Fellows each year; and
2) to secure public funding to cover a portion of Fellows’ salaries.
You are invited to share your ideas at the Board meeting in two weeks and then expected to begin executing. Using the information above and your understanding of our work, please answer the following questions.
a. What process would you follow to develop this strategy? Please state any assumptions you are making. Who would you consult and/or involve in developing this strategy and why?
b. Briefly describe the external strategy you would create. What support do you anticipate needing and from whom, to carry out this strategy?
Before delving into processes and strategy for engaging the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ministry of Mass and Primary Education (MMPE) in Bangladesh, it would be pertinent to share five key constructs underpinning thought process behind engaging GoB:
(1) Bangladesh’s independence movement spontaneously evolves and devolves
The serendipitous quagmire leading to the birth of Bangladesh came at the cost of trauma to successive generations of peoples of this region, and that too at a time as their parents had begun to recover from the horrors of 1947 partition of the Indian Subcontinent. Over the last 50 plus years, ruling parties (both authoritarian and democratic) have exploited our collective traumas to develop a sense of nationalism that have both helped and hindered overall socioeconomic progress. I have lived-experience of this generational trauma not only as a little boy growing up in Bangladesh in the 80s and 90s, but also observed similar state of fluxes in other countries progressing as an adolescent towards young adulthood across conflict regions like Afghanistan, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, parts of India, Uganda and Turkey.
(2) Indoctrination of minds vs. driving conscious volition
Since 1971, successive regimes coerced education ministries and their funded bodies to rewrite history books destined for primary and secondary school curriculum aiming to indoctrinate young minds, much like a swinging pendulum attempting to ignite-extinguish-reignite collective amnesia. This is most likely the reason for TFB's sustained rapprochement being inherently tricky. Perhaps when minds of the youth are being prepared for indoctrination, an NGO funded by international donors and foundations aiming to empower and activate their conscious volition to become good citizens can indeed be seen as being suspicious.
(3) Staying mindful of generational trauma’s contribution to inequities
Generational trauma is a reality in our personal lives in some form or the other, like when my late-Maternal Grandmother (nani) used to go beserk thinking 'the army has kidnapped me and my son' if I hadn't turned up for Friday lunch at said time at my then tender age of 39 (in 2017!).
(not so) Fun fact: my parents' wedding was held on the very same day and at the very same hotel being used as a command and control center by Pakistan Army in 1971 -- as the guests hurriedly vacated the premises, the military personnel entered the Purbani Hotel with their equipment and contingent.
It is only realistic to presume this double partition-driven trauma to exist in mindsets that want the status quo to remain or create roadblocks for progress.
(4) Awareness & appreciation of national progress driven by the hunger for continuous transformation
Bangladesh has made incredible strides toward progress, particularly over the last decade in social innovation, technology adoption and technology-driven social entrepreneurship. Foreign donor funded initiatives such as Access to Information (A2i), initially championed directly by the Prime Ministers Office, aiming to digitize information access and government services to the Upazilla level has now befittingly metamorphosed into Aspire to Innovate, a digital transformation catalyst taking on the challenge of building 'Smart Bangladesh'.
(5) Perseverance against all odds through quiet collaboration and leverage
Quiet persistence truncated by periodic transformation is the most effective approach. If I have learned anything from my experience of working with the GoB, it would be the , tacitly and innocently reaching out for their expertise and support. When masterfully done, the key ingredient in the execution are partnerships of clout that lay just beyond their grasp. And herein lay the trick of the trade: making them feel they are part of something momentous, when all you are doing is incrementally breaking down systemic inequities -- without them really knowing it's happening in the way you want, or is required. Ie. ...chup chap kore kaaj korey jao...
External strategy - Small is Big
Small changes in the way TFB articulates its identity will result in big outcomes, starting with dropping the term NGO to describe itself in public forums. We are living in the age of social change, social innovation and technology driven social enterprises - TFB should be touted as being a part of the global social innovation juggernaut that is Teach for All, where great minds across an international networks are co-creating solutions to the future of work and education. And TFB through this large network will show the rest of the World how the Ministry is at the forefront of change - or at least has the propensity to do so. Perhaps Teach for All can also help TFB develop an evaluation metric for Ministries of Education around the world on their willingness to innovate when it comes to achieving equitable outcomes for children from under-resourced schools.
NGOs played an intrinsic part in the rebuilding of Bangladesh and deserve all credit due - I would know as a significant number of my paternal aunts and uncles had either launched or administered NGOs from back in the 70s, and my own father sitting on procurement panels at UNICEF that have funded similar activities in a war torn nation. Yet, sadly, the term NGO and human rights increasingly reverberates with , albeit in those with growing authoritarianism from leadership. I would first start with my own evaluation of (MDP) program as it applies to the Bangladeshi context in the form of an article being published at a major newspaper to create some buzz. Then I would share my insights across the TFAll network, with the objective of getting TFAustralia’s attention. At this initial stage I am looking to secure funding to develop MDP for the Bangladeshi context. In order to do this, I would reach out to personal contacts at Bangladeshi universities and GoB (preferably with some experience at MoE or MMPE) to create a small team of two, consisting of a researcher and policy evaluation expert with grant writing skills. The primary objective would be to develop momentum for the mentorship program. I used a similar thought process during my time as a COO at Canberra-based Social Outcomes Lab (SOULAB) to secure funding and develop clout for a social change project called . We had partnered with a local NGO to run a study (funded by the Australian Department of Immigration) on culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women in the Australian territory, and found financial freedom to be one of the key challenges, particularly for new migrants. My team in Bangladesh developed an initial MVP (minimum viable product) that would enable these ‘meal artists’ to overcome barriers to workforce participation and business ownership by selling their edible creations online. I tasked our analyst researcher to seek out grants that would create long-term partnerships and position ourselves well for future grants. This collaborative process led us to secure an . The follow-on effect consisted of invitations to speak at morning radio, participation in local government policy round tables, local TV station coverage and most importantly, people wanting to be a part of the change. This simple positioning exercise also created a lot of content in the media that is used to this day in SOULAB’s pitches for program evaluation and impact measurement contracts with the government and non-profits, even attracting CSR initiatives from a top management consultancy in Canberra.
Who would I consult for my engagement strategy with GoB
TFB Board of Trustees and Board of Directors to seek feedback approval of my strategy, and collaboratively shape the execution plan for TFB’s Mentorship Development Program to suit our strategic objective of locking commitment from the Ministry to clear pathways toward schools and funds TFB Senior Management team to help create content showcasing and articulating the need for Mentor Development Program as a way to reach more schools TFB Fellows and Alumni to seek out examples of under resourced public school head teachers providing mentorship guidance to help them achieve impact My professional contacts (past and present) at the Ministry of ICT, as A2i is nested within MoICT, to learn more about grants and funding opportunities for TFB since I have secured funding for my own company from MoICT My personal contacts at GOB (both politicians and bureaucrats), World Bank, ADB, JICA, KOICA, United Nations, etc to understand the funding landscape when it comes to Ministry of Education & Primary and Mass Education (eg. opportunities for impact, bottlenecks, red flags, etc.)
Kicking off engagement with MoE and MPMe - Launching TFB’s Mentorship Development Program
(click to expand below points)
Identify relevant people at both ministries by mapping out the entire decision making processes and command structures (both formal and informal) . Identify its interactions with all other ministries, non-government agencies and fully funded entities Hint: Re-engage contacts from Hon. Dipu Moni’s Ministry of Education to understand the inner workings of the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education - i.e. the movers, shakers, outgoing and incoming.
Invite the suspicious secretary to a launch of the TFB Mentor Development program, modeled after similar program provided by Teach for Australia Event to be co-hosted with an agency like A2i to ensure attendance
Share short case studies where TFB Teachers have been mentored by headteachers during their 2 year tenure, resulting in fruitful outcome for children, and give commendations and awards at the event Hint: Highlight more on what TFB Teachers have learnt from headmaster, and less on the other way around
Outline the plan and objectives for rolling out TFB’s Mentor Development Program across the country Request A2i to finish up the event talking about , and get him/her to get a public, verbal commitment from the suspicious secretary to assist in the rollout
Facilitate sharing of TFAustralia MDP’s success by their CEO via zoom Or even better, organize TFAustalia’s CEO to visit Bangladesh for the launch, which would get TFB on the radar of the High Commission of Australia triggering further interest from MoE & MPME. This will help with funding from Ausaid and increase future throughput of Bangladeshi-Australian fellows
TFB Boards have approved the development of Mentor Development Program, TFAustralia has agreed to share information of the program’s evaluation and TFB senior management team in conjunction with Alumni and Fellows have created the program with promising results using past data TFB has a strong relationship with A2i, or has the relevant network to develop the capacity for strong relationship TFB is an active participant in SMART Bangladesh initiative and education accelerator in the capacity of an ecosystem builder TFB has hired a government relations employee as a subject-matter-expert for relevant program evaluation work, who has enough contacts at the Ministry of Education & Primary and Mass Education due to past work at junior to mid-level and able to keep a check and report on the pulse of the Ministry My experience in engaging GoB relies on a team that is dedicated and hungry to bring about change, and understood my vision. We actively sought out and , round tables and forums, . Let truth be told, the nature of conducting meetings, applying for funding, following up and reporting is haphazard and convoluted, with the overall experience leaving you frustrated - I will admit, it was tough and still is to a certain extent. Therefore, success of this external strategy need not be only demonstrated by securing of funding but also by keeping a track of the following: Number and diversity of connections made Engagement with non-MoE and MMPE funding opportunities Number of meetings completed Number of external activities participated and/or co-hosted Quality of contact at the ministry(s) Quality of understanding of how the ministries actually work Quality of engagement’s potential
These measure the small wins that indicate solid progress, which in turn result in wins both across the financial and impact realms. The overall engagement has to be less about how good/bad I am at reading between the lines and barely legible grant contracts in Bangla, but more about creating meaningful relationships starting with the peon that receives you at the entrance and all the way through to the shifty shochib that never looks you straight eye to eye whilst spitting out how you don’t qualify for some daft reason or the other. Oh yes, it always helps to have a protocol (like an ex-govt employee representing your interests) too, but more on that at another time.
Best way to grow Fellowships with the help of MoE & MPME
In terms of the question about how I would approach achieving a target of 200 TFB Fellows over a one year period, I would like to cite some observations form my online research:
TFB Alumni as per their homepage as of 20/2/2023 is reported to be 215 Since its conception in 2012-2013, TFB has put through an average of 40 Fellows every two years which is the duration of the program Assuming an annual rate of 20, this scenario is asking for a partially government-funded plan to put x10 times more fellows through the program - 200 new Fellows per year for Fellowships to be around 3 to 4 lakhs annually, which means about BDT 30k per month Monthly operating costs from salaries being 6 lakhs (BDT 30000 x 20) when Fellowships are running, which would increase to 60 lakhs under the scenario discussed in this question While I believe in TFB’s impact on Bangladesh’s children’s futures, I am also cognizant of the criticisms of the Teach for All model. In my research, an article cited by states:
Kopp said in a Seattle radio appearance in 2001 that outsiders often misunderstand the function of TFA. “We’re a leadership development organization, not a teaching organization,” she said. “I think if you don’t understand that, of course it’s easy to tear the whole thing apart.” Critics claim this comment shows TFA exists more to advance the career of its recruits than of the students it claims to help.
As a leadership development organization the approach to securing funds from MoE & MMPE would need to consider development of quality and/or quantity of teachers. Using the impact and educational outcomes of children pitch may not pack the same punch as impact and outcomes of producing quality teachers. TFB needs to know how the engagement will significantly improve standards of teaching in a sustainable way. For continued investment from the government, there needs to be a direct linkage between the ministries’ and TFB’s goals - not just alignment. Because they hold the access keys for geographical expansion, TFB can develop separate but linked programs (akin to ) to the TFB Fellowship programs or streams within the existing programs. I would consider the above to be the holy grail in GoB engagement, but the path leading up to it can also unearth funding and partnership expansion opportunities. In terms of how TFB can get to 200 Fellows per year quickly will depend on the senior management team and day-to-day operations, and most importantly organizational culture. Here, I would side with on: Culture eats strategy for breakfast
I look forward to learning more about the team and overall culture of TFB to adequately devise a strategic action plan for growth. The people at the organization running the show (and not just the Fellows and Alumni) will need to drive, so how quickly TFB gets to 200 Fellows-per-year capacity will completely depend on a solid team navigating collaboratively with dedication.
Think of the famous but grueling , where the vehicle must have an equally good maintenance crew, and driven by a skilled driver taking instructions from a navigator sitting in the passenger’s side and support team with eyes in the sky looking as far over the horizon as possible. The support team, the navigator, the driver and the car all have to work together to get to the finish line - there are no traffic lights, no signage, sometimes visibility is zero due to Sahara dust storms and other times if going too fast, you may run the vehicle into hidden stones and crevices, resulting in life threatening crashes. But then the support and maintenance crew steps in to get you back on the road.
In conclusion, it’ll require all employees, senior management, the CEO and feedback from both boards of directors and trustees to help set TFB’s optimal culture in motion and achieve the targets in this question.
References and notes:
Experience growing up in Bangladesh from 0 - 8 years of age
Experience growing up in Afghanistan 9 - 10 years of age
Experience coming back to Bangladesh for 9 months
Experience in Africa, India, USA and Australia
Evaluate from Education, Work, Relationships, view of the World and how I see myself in this World