A Match without a Rock

Educate!’s country director (Emily Lutyens) program director (Angelica Towne) president (Boris Bulayev) and executive director (Eric Glustrom) just finished an engaging retreat.  The following blog post is a description of our thoughts and priorities post-retreat.


It’s true.  There’s no shortage of vision within Educate!.


But the key for Educate! is how efficiently that vision is executed on.


The leadership of Educate! just finished a retreat in which we came to consensus around a well-articulated, long-term vision for the organization: if we are successful, after a period of time Educate!’s work will lead to every youth in Uganda gaining experience solving a social problem. This will be done not through Educate! single-handedly, but also through partnerships with key institutions in Uganda: schools, churches, the private sector, and the government.  It is a bold vision, but it will undoubtedly create a significant shift in the ability of the next generation to build a better society and solve the critical challenges Uganda, and much of the developing world, is facing: poverty, disease, violence, and environmental degradation.


With a vision to guide us, our focus is now on execution.


There are several key pieces that must fall into place for Educate! to be able to effectively execute on this vision.  The first is focus.  Without being distracted by the many directions the organization can take, or issues we can tackle, Educate! must maintain a strong focus on building the model of education we provide, and making that model the absolute highest quality possible.  Take microfinance for an example.  It took Yunus and others twenty years of focus to create the model for microfinance that could then be spread around the world to lift millions out of poverty.  In that early stage, Educate! must also stay focused on the model, recognizing that doing so will mean there are directions and opportunities that must be turned down.


The second piece are internal systems within the organization.  By this we mean 1. The decision making processes within the organization (i.e. how do we choose what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do?), 2. A communication plan that enables the team to effectively share knowledge, lessons, and mistakes across two continents, and 3. Perhaps most importantly, a system for everyone in the organization to know what are the highest priorities of their work, and therefore focus first on accomplishing those priorities.  With so many directions an organization like Educate! can move, these internal systems are meant to help us stay on track and efficiently move towards the end goal.


Finally, and this may be the most important piece of effectively executing on the above vision: metrics.  Take an analogy.  When driving, if one always knows the miles per gallon he/she is using, it is much easier to tailor the speed, braking, and acceleration to drive efficiently and maximize the mpg.  It is the same with Educate!’s metrics.  If we have a clear gauge that tells us our progress towards the vision, we can tailor the specifics of the program to more effectively accomplish the goal.  If microfinance was the example for focus, Teach for America (TFA) is an excellent example of a highly effective use of metrics.  Everything TFA does is driven by one metric: bridging the gap of the test scores of low-income kids.  Their entire recruitment process, training, and alumni program are all focused on this one number, and for that reason, aside from any controversy around their work, TFA is one of the most well-managed non-profits in the world today.  As Educate! solidifies the equivalent metric for our work, we will be able to setup feedback loops to refine the program, and manage the organization towards efficiently reaching that metric.


The above three pieces are all on the top of our minds for two reasons: 1. Building these three pieces into the fabric of the organization, especially now at a young stage, will enable us to most effectively use donor’s money to accomplish our shared vision, and 2. We all know that the best way to help our Scholars, and ultimately the community members our Scholars help, is by effectively and efficiently managing the organization towards our goals.  Balancing the vision with effective execution is a challenge, to say the least.  But vision without execution is like a match without a rock - so much wasted potential to create a better world.