Empowering Movements for Global Education Reform

Our experience challenges notions that quality scaling requires top-down, centralized approaches.

SSIR x Bridgespan: Achieving Transformative Scale SSIR x Bridgespan: Achieving Transformative Scale Achieving Transformative Scale is an eight-week blog series exploring pathways that social sector leaders around the world are pursuing to take solutions that work to a scale that truly transforms society.

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.

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:

  • Direct support: We share knowledge and provide direct support around critical topics, including how to build public and private sector support, recruit and select participants, develop strong teachers and alumni, and create strong organizations. As one example, because recruiting the highest-potential candidates requires relationship building, Teach For All’s recruitment specialists help network organizations develop strategies to identify top talent and convince the candidates to apply and join.
  • Facilitating connections: We invest in bringing together representatives of the international network—the CEOs, staff, teachers, and alumni—because they’re a powerful source of support and inspiration for each other. In April 2014, the Teach For All Global System Change Conference brought staff and alumni from 19 partner organizations to Santiago, Chile, for a three-day event on the topic of achieving systems change by empowering our alumni.
  • Global resources: We use our position as a global organization to seek additional resources for our partners. For example: Deutsche-Post DHL provides financial support and fosters local employee engagement at nine network organizations; Credit Suisse, through financial support and via their Global Citizens Program, helps to build the capacity of Teach For All and network partner organizations; and Teach For All connects network organizations to Salesforce so that they can save time developing contact management systems.
  • Leadership development: To develop staff, participants, and alumni across the network, we pull people out of their contexts to advance thinking and expose them to diversity of thought. For example, to support network CEOs, we host monthly CEO workshops on topics such as “building a leadership team with shared ownership” and “determining when and how much to grow.” We also organize an annual retreat for the CEOs to foster relationships and introduce them to new leadership paradigms.

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.

Tracker Pixel for Entry


  • Tajjammul Hussain's avatar

    BY Tajjammul Hussain

    ON May 3, 2014 05:53 AM

    Hi Wendy,

    Fully supportive of the aims and theory of change that you highlight in the article, but have a question

    Do the Teachers undergoing the “Teach for All” development program, teach a curriculum that is in line with national interests of a country ?

    I am aware that one of the principles the organisation works is independence from Government control, which makes sense in the interest of moving things faster,

    However if the taught curriculum is also independent and especially deviates significantly from the Nation building objectives of a country, we may be causing more problems in the long run.


  • Josh Lange 's avatar

    BY Josh Lange

    ON May 5, 2014 05:57 AM

    The teach for America platform is a good temporary solution for the US, but only because teaching is so undervalued there. But does it really work? How many stay in the profession after their required two years? And why are we so easily convinced about this? It seems another way to get cheap labor to babysit poor kids. How about you demand good salaries for the real professionals and focus on the cause. Otherwise, You’re not changing the system, only perpetuating unequal opportunity…unless teach for America goes on the cv of the poor kids too.

  • Wendy Kopp's avatar

    BY Wendy Kopp

    ON May 6, 2014 05:23 AM

    Thanks so much for the questions.

    Each Teach For All partner develops its own teacher training curriculum to prepare teachers to teach to their own nation’s standards, for precisely the reasons you suggest.  This said, because each Teach For All partner is working with their nation’s most marginalized children there are many things that partners can learn from each other to train teachers who are successful in helping their students overcome extraordinary challenges.

    The Teach For All model is about creating a generation of leaders who will take on the systemic roots of educational inequity.  It’s not just about two years of teaching – those two years are important but it’s also about every year thereafter. This experience shapes the priorities, careers and perspectives of the teachers themselves and they go on to work for change at every level of the education system, at every level of policy and across sectors.  In the U.S., out of 32,000 alumni, 10,000 are still teaching and another 10,000 are working full-time in other areas of education. Half of the rest are working in jobs that relate to improving education and quality of life in urban and rural areas. We want alumni to stay in classrooms, but we also need some of them to work in other areas—in economic development, in public health, in policy making, in legal services—that are so deeply related to the issue we’re addressing.  Encouragingly, we’ve seen that all across the Teach For All network, 50-70% of program alumni are staying in education beyond their initial two year commitments.

  • Jamaar Logan's avatar

    BY Jamaar Logan

    ON May 7, 2014 08:57 AM

    I certainly think that being intentional about engaging local social entrepreneurs has the potential to produce great impact.  In some cases, the knowledge and awareness of a local context that local social entrepreneurs bring to the table can help to accelerate impact.  Could you also consider creating a pathway for partnership as a component of the proposed platform?  Intentionally designing the platform with ways that organizations and individuals may work together, not only sharing information but when appropriate joining forces and leveraging resources to create change.
    As it relates to the TFA theory of change and the measuring impact principle (short term), I think there is great opportunity to think of the 2 year teaching as an opportunity to create local impact. In our ambitions to create global education reform, we should also expect to see evidence of local education reform or local educational improvements along the way etc.
    One way that TFA may create greater short term impact is to consider infusing youth development principles/goals (non-instructional) into the TFA teaching experience.
    As a youth development professional, I have worked with some awesome Atlanta TFA team members, which exemplify the TFA-theory of change (TOC) in action, i.e. serving as school board members or TFA staff etc. However, the need to improve local short term impact still persist…. How can we work to create strategies for TFA corps members to have a greater local short term impact? I realize that based on the TFA-TOC it may or may not be a leading priority, however I think that it should be considered a priority…
    Thanks for sharing this information and thanks for your leadership. Looking forward to your reply.

  • BY Mal Warwick

    ON May 26, 2014 12:44 PM

    Hello, Wendy,

    Thank you for this thought-provoking article. The catalytic approach you write about—“the goal is for each national organization to reach a scale at which it produces enough leaders to ultimately transform the system”—appears like a first cousin to Ashoka’s emphasis on transformational leaders. Every bit helps, and not just the little bits. You’ve done an amazing job building your coalition. Congratulations.


Leave a Comment


Please enter the word you see in the image below:


SSIR reserves the right to remove comments it deems offensive or inappropriate.