A Wake-up Call for NGO Boards:  What Can We Learn from these Tragedies?

Recently the international news reported the story of a terrible tragedy that took place over several years in Liberia.  A non-profit organization called More Than Me (MTM) failed the children under their care.  According to a video by ProPublica and story by Time Magazine, young girls who should have been learning care – free were instead raped by the lead administrator of a charity co-founded by an American woman.

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that we were reading about a sex scandal at Oxfam? In Haiti, Oxfam was accused of covering up an investigation involving the hiring of sex workers for staff orgies.  This resulted in the Haitian government withdrawing Oxfam Great Britain’s right to operate in their country.  And if these scandals are not about sexual exploitation then they are about fiscal irresponsibility or simply fraud.  Over a three-year period, the former CEO of National Relief Charities, which focused on improving the quality of life for Native Americans embezzled $4 million dollars from the organization.

Were these scandals about power?  Poverty?  Failed board governance?  Inadequate policies?  Employees who aren’t supervised or held accountable?  People with (hopefully) good intentions who are totally unprepared for what they are doing?  Was it about appallingly outrageous hubris?  Achieving (quasi) celebrity status on social media?  Yes—it is about all these issues and more.

In education development, some people approach their work with trying hard to do no harm, while others go for (quasi) celebrity status.  Too many NGOs have grandiose and self-serving claims about impact.  But where are the data?  Donors deserve rigorous qualitative and quantitative data, conducted by external organizations who are not invested in the NGO.  How is it possible that without impact data NGOs such as MTM can win million-dollar prizes or the CEO be included as one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year during the Ebola crisis?  In 2015 the Washington-based nonprofit GlobalGiving, which connects donors to charities, removed MTM from its platform.  ProPublica reports that GlobalGiving cited that MTM needed to “grow and support a leadership team that has a broad and diverse set of skills” and “continue to educate and develop the Board of Directors on matters of governance, objectivity and accountability.”

In the last twenty years in places like Africa too many expats believe, with good (but naïve) intentions that they are going to “save the world” and so they start an NGO.  Too often they are the new version of 18th and 19th century missionaries; however their language is different.  They talk about making an impact, being entrepreneurial, or ‘rescuing girls in poverty.’  Or, as Greg Mortenson, who wrote Three cups of Tea and founded an NGO told Tom Brokaw in a 60 Minutes interview:  “I always have operated from my heart.  I’m not really a head person.  And I really didn’t factor in the very important things of accountability, transparency…”   That is hubris!  Readers beware!—too often these organizations are a modern day version of the traveling ‘Medicine Doctors’ I wrote about in an earlier blog.

This time, work is indeed being done, and some of it is very good work.  But, professionalism, integrity, transparency, and accountability are too often missing.

I’ve come across an amazing number of ‘social entrepreneurs’ who have an exciting idea, an enormous amount of passion and persistence, and want ‘to make the world a better place.’ I grow weary of hearing the story of the African (or Asian, or South American) epiphany.  Some (usually) young White American has had an amazing encounter, usually with poor children involved, and they decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to ‘ensuring opportunity’ for these children. They put out their tin cup and it’s okay if you give small donations, but they really want the big ones—“for the children”.  Like the founder of MTM, they go for the international prizes worth six and seven figures.  With, at least in the beginning, (and I truly believe this) the best of intentions, they troll social media platforms for the cause.  During college or right after, they travelled to (name of low/middle income country here), met children or people who –if they only had access to (choose one: better schools, books, peace, etc.) their lives would lift them out of poverty.  So, they start an NGO in that country, create a ‘board’ back in the US and start raising money.  The board is usually comprised of their friends who are also early in their careers and passionate about this ‘exciting idea.’

So, what can we learn from the (too) many tragic stories about NGOs—who have failed their clients and their donors, particularly from those working with children?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • NGOs need to have boards that are comprised of people who live in-country, or at least spend most of their time living in the country. For a nonprofit organization working in one country there could be a US-based board but it should be advisory in capacity and most likely their primary purpose would be friend and fundraising; while the governing board would be in-country and comprised predominately of local citizens.
  • If an organization is multinational, then the governing board needs to be representative of those nations and there should be local advisory boards with mechanisms for them to regularly communicate or liaise with the governing board.
  • NGOs and their donors should require audited financial statements. We wouldn’t support a US based nonprofit that didn’t show evidence of fiscal responsibility. So, why do we not do due diligence on international NGOs?
  • When possible, NGOs need to be locally registered. In the US, nonprofits are required to register with the Internal Revenue Service and pay appropriate registration fees—why should it be different if an NGO is operating in another nation? I’m in Rwanda at the moment and Edify, the multinational NGO I am working with, is registered in Rwanda with the Rwandan Governance Board.
  • For education-related NGOs, boards need to ensure there are child protection policies in place and all employees are following those policies. There should be a sign off by each employee that they have read the policy.
  • NGO boards need to ensure that background checks are conducted (Edify Rwanda does background checks.  They ensure all employees get proof of no criminal record from the Prosecutor General’s Office.)
  • Policies and/or protocols with donors need to be followed. For example, a staff member should accompany a donor on all school visits. This is good practice for clients as well as for the donor.
  • Board members need to be in touch with what is happening on the ground. They have to pay attention to not only their fiscal responsibilities but they need to ask about staff training, and the existence of child protection and similar risk  management procedures.
  • Finally, if there are any accusations of impropriety, whether fiscal, sexual, etc. then those allegations can’t be ignored. Staff should be trained in what steps to be taken if the CEO, or any staff member is accused of wrongdoing.

An article in the Guardian in 2011 describes how NGOs can learn from their failures: “NGOs battle for media attention, devoting considerable effort and energy into getting that crucial eyeball contact. Usually that means making the message as stark and sensationalist as possible, with the implicit message that the NGO knows exactly how to sort out the problem.”  Anyone agreeing to serve on a nonprofit board needs to understand the responsibilities of doing so. And if there are problems, them learning and reflecting on shortcomings is crucial.

Front Page Africa October 17, 2018

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The scandal at MTM is another wake up call for non-profit leaders and governing boards.  Strong governance structures and policies are crucial. Let’s look for humility rather than hubris and celebrity; instead, “trust but verify”– and show me the impact data!

Meet Paula A. Cordeiro

 

Humanizing the Migrant Caravan from Central America

This blog was written by a Doctoral Student at the University of California, San Diego who wishes to be anonymous.

On the evening of October 13th, 2018, I received a text from a friend that I was not expecting. It came in the form of a link to an article entitled “Hundreds of Hondurans head for U.S. border in mass migration ‘march’: report,” with a short message indicating what the article was about. My heart sank. As the webpage loaded, hundreds of faces rushed through my head–faces of all those I know and care about in Honduras.

Image: GUATEMALA-HONDURAS-US-MIGRATION
Source: NBC-News

The specifics of the article in itself did not surprise me: “64% of Honduran households live in poverty. Many of the migrants are fleeing a poor economy and some of the highest crime rates in the world” (Dedaj, 2018). These statistics and lived realities have been ever-present throughout my work in the region over the past five years, and yet this ‘march’ appears so sudden–especially considering the recent Central American caravan of migrants this past May.

It did not take long for me to find various sources on the issue, including the Washington Post which estimated that the group had “swelled” from 160 to 1,600 as it headed towards Guatemala; and while much of the focus has been on contesting or confirming this estimation as well as what the U.S. and Honduras plan to do in response, it is the sheer magnitude of this group that I feel has the potential to detract from the inalienable fact that each of these humans has a story and that their stories matter.

Currently, I am the director of a non-profit in Honduras which works with rural schools to provide teacher development and empowerment opportunities (the exact name and location have been withheld for protection of those referenced in this article). Our work, led by local Honduran educators, has reached ~2,500 individuals over the past year including teachers, administrators, parents, and children in some of the most impoverished areas in the country. I am humbled to have a community that trusts me and shares their stories; I am grateful to be a part of their lives. It is because of their stories, that I have been compelled to write this one–one that humanizes those in the migrant caravan, and brings us closer to understanding just how important each story is.

On October 14th, 2018 a close Honduran friend called me. She was struggling with anxiety attacks as her mother, brother, and sister had joined the caravan. Her brother, a shy, tall, skinny 17-year-old, was traveling with a limp left arm. In the December election protests (The incumbent was reelected, which is deemed unconstitutional in Honduras) he was hit by a stray bullet–requiring that his arm be immobilized by a large metal contraption for over ten months. When I saw him just 3 months ago, he was still struggling to fight off fevers from infection. My friend’s mother had lived in the U.S. for seven years, suffering the attacks of an abusive husband as she feared constant threats of deportation; every time I saw her she would laugh and joke uncontrollably–a practice my friend attributes to her need to mask the pain of her circumstances. This family has lived in poverty for decades, challenged to find stable work and reeling from the recent murder of the youngest teenage brother, to gang violence. As my friend relayed her fears, I listened and did my best to comfort her from a distance. Her heart heavy she said, “they are going to the U.S. in search of opportunity; they are risking their lives for a chance at a better one.”

On October 15th, 2018 I held a video call with two organization staff members for our bi-monthly meeting. The day prior they had held our monthly professional development opportunity for lead teachers from the schools we support. In this community-oriented space, we often learn about the personal and professional struggles these teachers face on a day-to-day basis; this month the migrant caravan was a key topic on everyone’s mind. In reflecting on the event, they started by sharing that this weekend an estimated 3,000 migrants had left Honduras. when I confirmed I was aware of the situation but not the number, they continued; two schools had documented at least seven students who had left with the caravan, and four teachers expressed having family members or close friends who had joined. To them this was not just a news story, this was a part of their reality, filled with people that they care for and are concerned about.

This “march” of migrants that “swelled” prior to reaching the Guatemalan border, formed just one day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home (Associated Press, 2018). News reports have said that the group can be heard singing the Honduran national anthem, praying and chanting, “Yes, we can” (Lakhani, 2018). However, when the media uses words that connect this group of migrants to a natural disaster or a dangerous invasion, these stories of resilience and connectedness can be forgotten, dehumanizing the individuals and generating fear (Pugh, 2004; Perera, 2002). While the news will continue to follow this migrant group as they get closer and closer to the U.S., I argue that their stories go far beyond why they are leaving and what they hope to find for their futures. Their stories include the political repression and violence that they are fleeing, the systems put in place to maintain inequality and poverty, and the history of U.S. capitalist interests in Honduras that has left the country economically crippled and heavily militarized. Adding these points to the conversation about the “migrant caravan” are so important to contextualize just what they are leaving behind and what returning might mean for their safety and opportunities.

Insider
Source: Insider

I write this to call attention to the damage that the media narrative can have on public views towards migrants and to argue that centralizing individual stories can help combat this trend of dehumanization. It can help to connect those digesting the news to those they may have never met and can generate a productive dialogue grounded in empathy over fear. From her brother, to our teachers’ students, to those they left behind–each story matters. The migrant caravan is a compilation of many yet to be heard.

Associated Press. (2018, October 15).Over 1,500 Honduran migrants join growing caravan to Guatemalan border. CBS News, Retrieved from NBC News

Dedaj, P. (2018, October 14). Hundreds of Hondurans head for US border in mass migration ‘march’: report. Fox News, Retrieved from Fox News

Lakhani, N. (2018, October 15). ‘Yes, we can’: caravan of 1,600 Honduran migrants crosses Guatemala border. The Guardian, Retrieved from The Guardian

Perera, S. (2013). Oceanic Corpo-graphies, Refugee Bodies and the Making and Unmaking of Waters. Feminist Review, 103, p. 58-79.

Pugh, M. (2004). Drowning Not Waving: Boat People and Humanitarianism at Sea. Journal of Refugee Studies, 17(1).

 

Postcards from Guatemala

I’m here learning about the educational system in order to assist colleagues in developing new materials, and to contextualize existing training materials for school leaders in low-fee private schools. I’ve also had the chance to experience the wonderful hospitality of this nation.

Guatemala City has about one million inhabitants and is subdivided into 22 zones making it easy to locate schools. Zones are numbered 1-25 and when asking for directions people will tell you that something is in a particular zone. The lovely historic area of town is Zone 1.

The school year is ending right now and I had the pleasure of hearing about what children and youth will be doing over the long vacation (working, hanging out with friends, taking extra classes, etc.).

These secondary students are sanding down their desks which is typically done at the end of the year in many schools.   I think it’s a great idea!

Students have a long vacation with classes not starting again until late January/early February. It begs all kinds of questions—How many days should children attend school and how long should the school day be? Like many other Central American countries most Guatemalan public and private schools have two shifts (7-noonish) and 1:30-2:00 to 5:00ish. So, although we know the research on seat time (it’s about quality not quantity) I just find that children in so many low-income countries are attending school significantly fewer hours than those in many high-income nations.

Here are two timetables (horarios).

Below is an end of the year exam schedule for the second shift students.

The outside of a typical school in Guatemala City.

The education challenges in this country are many: low levels of literacy, attainment and retention, and great disparities between urban and rural populations, among indigenous students, and between male and female students.

Children’s writings and art about the importance of peace.

Since the Peace Accords of 1996 (the Guatemalan Civil War lasted thirty-six-years and took place from 1960 to 1996), all government administrations have supported the expansion of primary schools. Since 2009, primary school enrollment rates have been almost 100% and there is nearly equal enrollment of boys and girls.  According to data from USAid, first grade completion rates have increased dramatically (by 18%) in the last four years as a result of the implementation of several quality education policies and programs.  Still, more than 30% of students did not pass first grade in 2013.  In addition, only about three-fourths of those enrolled in primary school graduate from 6th grade (80% of boys and 73% of girls), and the enrollment rate for middle school (7th-9th grades) is less than 40%. There’s so much work to do!

 

A newspaper article describing how test scores reflect the education reality of the nation.

 

We met with several staff in the Office of Evaluation and Assessment. According to 2010 Ministry of Education data, 50% of third graders reached national standards in mathematics and just over 50% reached national standards in reading.  Among sixth graders, only 45% reached national mathematics standards and only 30% achieved national reading standards.

More than two million youths between the ages of 15 and 24 are out of school and don’t have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.  Youth face increasingly difficult conditions, including high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid urbanization, increasing crime, and lack of basic services.  You can see why so many youth head North for work.

Starting in a few months nine new countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, Zambia, Senegal, Cambodia and Bhutan will be participating for the first time in the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA).

These posters were hanging in the ministry office.

Some travel observations…

Like nearly all major cities in the world there is chronic traffic congestion. Guatemala also has shortages of safe drinkable water in some areas of the city, and crime (there are maras—gangs) are perennial problems.  Folks told me that the gangs started in Los Angeles and when people returned to Guatemala they brought the concept with them.

The city of Antigua is a fabulous place to visit—lovely, colorful, lots of museums, art, gardens and great restaurants. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. I only spent a day there, but I hope to return in a few months!

A main street in Antigua

 

The Convent of the Capuchin Sisters

Finally, I’m not sure how many countries in the world have MacDonald’s deliveries, but Guatemala sure seems to have these motor bikes everywhere!

 

You might want to visit some time…but skip MacDonald’s and try the flor de Jamaica—it’s a special type of hibiscus juice—a bit sweet and sour—deliciosa!

Meet Paula Cordeiro

 

Low-Fee Private Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: Teacher Retention and Working Conditions

 

This is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing about Low-Fee Private Schools around the world. The first blog, written last May, is here.

The phenomena of Westerners and Western based-organizations building schools in ‘third-world nations’ has been occurring for centuries. Various faith-based groups (e.g., Jesuits, Friends, Anglicans, Methodists) and colonial governments (e.g., France, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands) founded private schools in non-Western nations beginning in the eighteenth century, with some still in existence today.  Many of those schools targeted locals to be converted to a particular faith, while others were schools serving expatriates and had relatively high tuition that was often not available to locals and, in some cases, host country nationals were not invited to enroll.

Sunrise: A low-fee private school

Today there is great diversity in the types of private schools found in these emerging nations.  In addition to single, independent private schools, there are a growing number of for-profit companies investing in chains of private schools (e.g., Bridge International Academies, Omega, APEC, SPARK) as well as various secular and faith-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) partnering with private schools in a variety of ways (e.g., Edify; Opportunity International, Room to Read).  Given that the MDGs were developed in 2000 with the goal of having all children in every nation complete a basic education by 2015, and, given that many government school systems in low and middle-income nations did not have the resources to serve the thousands of children who had not previously attended school, the emergence in the last twenty years of large numbers of private schools is not surprising.  It’s estimated that there are more than one million low-fee private schools (LFPSs) in low and middle-income nations (Economist, 2015).  While many are run by NGOs, the fastest growing group are individual low-fee private schools (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018). And now with the SDGs replacing the MDGs in 2016 the focus has moved from access to school to inclusion and equity.

Educator Preparation in Africa

Because the preparation for new or existing principals is limited in emerging nations, there is a dearth of literature on the topic (Bush, Kiggundu & Moorosi, 2011).  Numerous scholars recognize that principals of schools are not prepared well enough for the tasks they have to accomplish (Donlevy, 2009; see various works by Raj Mestry).  This lack of leadership preparation is even more evident in emerging nations (Swaffield, Jull, & Ampah-Mensah, 2013). Yet many scholars argue that school leaders play a crucial role in school improvement, teacher morale and retention, and student learning (Grissom & Harrington, 2010; Ingersoll, 2001).

Typical school schedule in a low fee private school in Uganda

Bruce Barnett’s April blog on this site, maintains that leadership preparation and professional development requirements can be thought of as a continuum from tightly to loosely regulated.   As an example, the US has a tightly regulated system, while countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden have moderately regulated systems where trainings are offered but not required. Barnett and other scholars (Lumby, Crow, & Pashiardis, 2008) state that countries such as most African and Central and some South American nations have loosely regulated systems in which preparation programs for aspiring school leaders are rare or non-existent and professional development offerings are infrequent

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, there are many untrained principals who do not have the necessary skills, knowledge, or attitudes to manage their schools effectively and efficiently (Otunga, Serem, & Kindiki, 2008).  According to Bush and Oduro (2006) schools in Ghana are often ruled by authority, seniority and language and not by who may be competent for the challenging tasks at hand.

In addition to the lack of school leader development, there is great variability in low and middle- income countries with regard to teacher preparation and retention.  In some African nations such as Ethiopia, the majority of teachers in LFPSs hold teaching credentials and/or degrees; while in countries such as Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana it is far more typical to encounter few teachers at the primary level who have any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

An acute teacher shortage exists in at least 74 low and middle-income countries. This results in millions of children being excluded from primary education and beyond.  Ghana is one of the sub-Saharan countries with an acute teacher shortage.  Thus, exploring what Ghanaian schools can do to support current teachers is key to Ghana achieving SDG 4.  Since approximately 25% of the schools across Ghana are private and it is estimated that up to 60% of the primary schools in Ghana’s capital region may be private (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018), understanding how private school leaders can increase teacher retention is a crucial part of developing education policy in Ghana.

Here I will briefly describe the results from four ethnographic case studies conducted in Ghana (Cordeiro & Brion, in process).  The section of the study reported here addresses the following research questions:  1) What are the challenges of Ghanaian teachers in low-fee private schools? 2) In what ways, if at all, do school leaders support teachers at their schools?

During the 2016-17 school year Corrine Brion and I conducted four case studies in the Greater Accra region. These schools serve children from nursery (age 3) until Junior High School (age 14).  We spent a total of 48 days in the four schools. There were six forms of data collection:  1) individual interviews with teachers and with school leaders; 2) focus group interviews with teachers; 3) a teacher survey; 4) classroom observations; 5) photographs and 6) documents. One focus group was held at each school with 5-7 teachers per group for a total of 25 teachers; additionally, three individual teacher interviews were held. We digitally recorded interviews with eight school leaders. A total of 67 teacher surveys were completed from all four schools with the response rates ranging from 80-95%. Using the Stallings Classroom Observation Instrument a total of nineteen classes were observed. We took dozens of photographs and collected documents such as teacher contracts, handbooks, etc.

Many sub-Saharan countries have handbooks for school leaders created by the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, few school leaders have copies due to a lack of fiscal resources and printing of sufficient copies by the government.

We are in the process of writing the full paper but here are a few key findings. Teachers differed from school leaders in how they viewed the challenges they encountered. For example, teachers discussed three main challenges: 1) inadequacy or late payment of their salaries; 2) poor facilities; and, 3) few teaching resources.  For school leaders, proprietors hesitated to talk about late or inadequate salaries and they maintained that many parents were frequently late in paying tuition.  When probed as to what their financial plan was for the school, three of the four school owners did not have a plan beyond continuing current practices. The paper also discusses education policy implications with regard to Ghanaian private school teachers, as well as teacher preparation and development.

We hope to have our proposal for a conference session approved soon so in 2019 we can share the full paper. Stay tuned.

meet Paula A. Cordeiro

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