Learning is a Marathon

13 May 2019

Learning is a Marathon

I'm a Director at Teach For All where I am the specialist for Development (Fundraising) and Government Engagement for our 14 Asia Pacific partners, which include Teach For Malaysia, Teach For The Philippines, Teach For Nepal, and Teach For Australia, among others. In other words, I advise our partners on how to scale their programs effectively through strategic partnerships with donors and champions in the private and public sectors.

Teach For All is a global network of 50 independent, locally led and funded partner organisations whose shared mission is to expand educational opportunity around the world by increasing and accelerating the impact of social enterprises that are cultivating the leadership necessary for change.

On What Keeps Me Going

I took on this role well aware that the problem of education inequity is far too complex for any one organisation to tackle on its own. I am inspired by the amazing work on the ground that our 50 partners within the Teach For All network are doing. They're not only recruiting talented future leaders for high need classrooms, they're also working with local communities to root out systemic inequality. Though the problems are daunting, I am part of a movement that is working collectively to solve them through locally rooted but globally informed programs.

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Together with a fellow from Teach For Nepal, we met with the family of one student in Nepal. We learnt that the parents, despite having very little, want their daughter to receive a good education so she can decide what she wants to be when she grows up. Photo credit: Sabrina Dangol/TFAll

On What I Treasure from LKY School

I truly appreciate, and have been able to apply, the various approaches to solving wicked problems which we learned in the LKY School. I love how public policy makes the theoretical practical and the seemingly impossible actionable because it not only values the solution to a problem but also puts people at the centre of the solution.

Even more so, I've found that I learned the most from interacting with the faculty and my fellow students. I know it may be cliché, but learning how to live and work with people from diverse backgrounds and interests has helped me thrive in teams and challenging work environments. If not for all the times we spent in school doing group work, organising College Green Dialogues, having potluck parties, and the like, I would not have gained so much insight and compassion which I apply in my work and personal life.

On the Challenges I Face

Working in the non-profit sector on education and leadership is not the typical path for someone who thought he'd be a diplomat or journalist all his life; but it has proved immensely challenging and rewarding.

One major challenge I face is being able to provide support to multiple partners who have diverse needs and contexts. It is difficult to balance out different interests while trying to drive at consensus and compromise. My time at the LKY School, thankfully, has prepared me well. Like the proverbial bamboo, I am able to use the energy of my surroundings (the people I work with) so I don't get toppled with ever strong wind or problem that comes my way.

Another challenge I face on behalf of the partners I work with are being able to convince potential funders and government officials of the need to invest more into leadership programs that address the education inequity in communities. With so many organisations demanding attention and a piece of the global philanthropic pie, I learn how we can make our partners stand out with a sound value proposition. I am thankful for the advice I get from fellow LKY School alumni and the connections our network has.

On the Proudest Moments I Have Had in My Current Role

I'm still relatively new in my role but I've already had so many experiences that I can look back on with fondness and deep insight. In one of my first conferences for Teach For All, I got to visit a rural school about two hours outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. There we saw how a small community puts great value on educating their next generation - from the teachers to the parents and students. The teachers from Teach For Nepal who lived in the community really got to know their students well, which transformed their relationship with the community from being a 'service provider' to really becoming a 'partner' of the community. I know this is what is happening in so many other countries in our network.

A big part of my work is advising our partners on how to plan strategically so that they can sustain and grow their respective organisations. I work with CEOs and heads of Development and Government Relations in our 14 partner countries. I am able to share best practices on how to do fundraising strategically and how to engage with the government and other stakeholders. One moment that made me happy was when the CEO of Teach For Cambodia was able to secure funding for his programs with our help, after just a few weeks of providing advice and support.

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At a school visit organized by Teach For Malaysia at Pulau Ketam (Crab Island) in Port Klang, Malaysia

On What I Miss About LKY School

I really miss those late night talks with friends in College Green and the sense of possibility we all had. It really seemed that no problem was insurmountable or too big to tackle. I think we still have that sense of possibility today, albeit we are more rooted in our work and more aware that addressing wicked problems is a marathon, not a sprint.

I will always remember the times we would sneak a quick bite from a school event that we weren't necessarily a part of. There are no free lunches in the world, except at the Oei Tiong Ham lobby.

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I have fond memories of my time at LKY School, including the many, many group works

On Young People Pursuing a Career in Non-Profit Sector

I’d say go for it! If it's an itch, get it out of your system and you'll still be better for it - and hopefully the world too. But if it's a true calling, then try to be the best you can be in whatever role or function you are in, because life's too short to be mediocre when millions of lives could potentially benefit from your brilliance and passion. Personally, I have a long way to go and much to learn in this space I am in; so the only other advice I can offer is, if you're not at your best yet, then don't give up trying.

Practically speaking, spend a little less time worrying about what other people will think or say about you; and more of your time learning the skills you need to develop and have to be very, very good at what you want to do.

Zak Yuson

Master in Public Policy (2010)