Unlocking a Broader Sense of Leadership

As a purposeful organization, establishing a truly networked ecosystem can only come about with a shared vision, values and unifying principles. Marwa Farouq, Vice President People, Organization and Culture at Teach For All, explains how collectively dismantling the organizational hierarchy has had immense impact across their global network.

As a purposeful organization, establishing a truly networked ecosystem can only come about with a shared vision, values and unifying principles. Marwa Farouq, Vice President People, Organization and Culture at Teach For All, explains how collectively dismantling the organizational hierarchy has had immense impact across their global network.

What does purpose mean for you and your work and how do you interact with purpose on a regular basis?

My purpose in life is to contribute to building the world that I want my children to live in. A place where connectivity is at the center of relationships, a place where we can connect over differences as opposed to undermine them. At Teach For All, our purpose is to foster collective leadership with communities so that all children can fulfill their potential . In my role, I look at how we, as an organization, can unleash this same type of collective leadership within our organization and, in turn, model the world we want to create.

How have you gone about trying to unleash this type of collective leadership?

As an organization working with partners all around the world, we were focused on making sure that the people who are actually doing the work could be the decision makers or have a greater influence on our organizational strategy. We have focused on bringing a lot of people with diverse backgrounds and skills into our organization, but our layers of management were getting in the way from decisions being close to the work and reflecting the diversity of experience. 

We asked ourselves, “How do we utilize our people in the diverse ways that we bring them into our organization? How do we bring decision-making closer to the work?”

In the spirit of this goal, we put these questions out to the organization and formed a number of cross-functional groups from every level and background. Once their findings and recommendations were collected, we came together as the senior team to discuss the results. We met via video conference with the entire organization, which was the first time a Senior Team meeting had been open to the entire organization. During the meeting, we collectively decided to dismantle the senior team altogether and unlock a broader sense of leadership across the organization.

This was our transformational moment. I believe this decision to abolish our senior team was one of the bravest decisions that we’ve made in our organization.

Teach For All: Global Conference 2018, Nepal | credit Sabrina Dangol

What happened after that decision?

Dismantling our hierarchy has encouraged us to work more flexibly and it’s still a work in progress. Since then, we have experimented with how we can be more aware of the talents that our staff brings into our organization. We decided that people would be encouraged and challenged to participate in cross-functional work and that leadership development would be the responsibility of staff members themselves. Additionally, we have been working over the past couple of years to shift the traditional role of the manager from managing people towards managing the work.

I’ll take myself as an example of this change. I oversee People, Organization and Culture; I work on developing the theory of leadership within the organization and sometimes help our partner organizations with their performance management systems for example. I also work on developing early stage organizations in the Middle East and North Africa region. I wear these different hats because of the paradigm that Teach For All has encouraged, which looks at me as a human being with different talents, not a box in a chart.

Your organization empowers and engages with a network of organizations around the world. Is it ever a challenge to strike a balance between this autonomy that everyone is granted and also leading your general standard of business? Are there any challenges that arise?

Teach For All’s global network is comprised of independent organizations. The global organization within the network—which I work for—doesn’t manage them, rather our mandate is to catalyze their impact by fostering learning across borders. Our network has a shared vision, values and unifying principles that unite it. All network partners align with these principles before joining the network and these form our anchor, or as you say, “the standard of business”. We see tremendous power in having independent organizations innovate and adapt in their own country context, because we are able to learn so much from how each partner organization is adapting our shared approach.

Something that we’ve come across a lot in our journey so far is working with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the complexity thereof. We were wondering, how does Teach For All interact with SDGs?

We see our work as foundational to achieving the sustainable development goals. Our approach is rooted in the idea that the global education crisis is complex and achieving SDG4 to ensure quality, equitable education for all will require not one, but many solutions driven by local leaders working at all levels of the system e.g. classrooms, communities; ministries, etc. 

To truly achieve sustainable change in education, we need these local leaders, grounded in the consequences of educational inequity and who understand what it takes to put disadvantaged students on a different trajectory to be collectively leading change in their own contexts. 

Likewise, similarities in the nature of educational inequity from country to country and in the classrooms that are overcoming those inequities mean that there are shareable solutions that can be leveraged through global learning platforms. Only by tapping into our most precious resource—the leaders of tomorrow—and sharing solutions across borders can we foster local capacity and innovation to catalyze the kind of dramatic, sustainable systems change required to meet the vision of SDG4. 

Our global network is itself an infrastructure aimed at sharing the type of knowledge and innovations needed to achieve this vision. 

Of course no SDG exists in isolation and achieving SDG4 is closely linked to progress in other SDGs for health, poverty, etc. But, what is true across all SDGs is that sustainable progress cannot be achieved without local leadership capacity and what we have found is that leadership is a skill that can be taught and cultivated for collective impact. 

Teach For All: Global Teacher Conference 2016, Malaysia

Could you say more about how you align impact measurement with a network and delivering a greater impact? How do you align with the independent organizations when tracking impact?

It’s a multidimensional process at Teach For All. We’ve identified six 10-year intended outcomes for our network and these drive our work and what we measure. We have an impact measurement team, which is called the DREAM (Data Research Evaluation and Measurement) Team. They look across the network at the organization level, and support network partners in thinking through their own impact measurements and indicators. They also support our global organization teams think through their own data, evaluation and impact measurements.

Do you have any advice on how to engage networks in a more purposeful way? How does one create the most value through their network?

First, ground your network in a shared vision, purpose and values. We have multiple conversations with individuals and organizations that are early in the process of working towards joining the network in order to do exactly this. Then we have conversations to inspire curiosity within their own contexts and support them in reflecting on how Teach For All’s approach and values apply to them and the impact this work would have in their communities and countries.

Second, take a facilitator role instead of a manager role. Staff members of Teach For All’s global organization share learning and resources across our network and facilitate connection and collaboration among network partners. We try to reflect that in every facet of our way of working. One of the trickiest things with a network is that sometimes the relationship between the global organization and the network will be viewed as top-down. At Teach For All we are deeply keen on the relationship being a true network, an ongoing cycle of learning and expanding impact.

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