As I reflect on the last six months, it feels like at least a year has passed!  It’s been a really exciting journey so far and one I feel privileged to have been on.

One of the tasks clearly before me as I took on the role of Executive Director at Dignitas was to scale our work.  I had some ideas and (naively) thought it would be a challenging, yet straightforward, road to scale.

However as I became more fluent with our program and impact, as I considered how other organizations were pursuing scale, and as I reflected on the need in our communities that called on us to grow, I had more questions than answers!

Question 1 – What is scale without impact?  We desire to grow Dignitas, not just in pursuit of scale, but in pursuit of impact at scale.  It’s not just about the numbers, yet, it’s all about the numbers!  It’s not just about the number of children, the number of schools and the number of school leaders, but it is all about measurable, quantifiable data that demonstrates clear, positive, transformative impact.  What does Dignitas do that really matters?  Which elements of our program drive the most impact?  What are the real levers of change in our work?  We began a journey of identifying those things and figuring out how to design a program that would innovatively, and efficiently drive impact around these elements.

Question 2 – Who is at the center of our programming?  We talk ALOT about teachers, educators and school leaders, and, for some time, have operated with an assumption that excellent teachers and great school leaders improve student learning outcomes.  A fairly safe assumption, but could we evidence it?  And so began the process of refocussing our program on learners.  What do learner’s lack?  How does the Dignitas program address this lack?  What do learners need teachers and school leaders to do in their classrooms and schools to improve learning?  What tools, techniques and mindsets do teachers and school leaders need to make this happen, and how does our program support these needs?  We began to identify attributes of successful student learning and match them to teacher and school leader practices, so that we could remove this assumption from the equation and create an evidence driven matrix that would prove that excellent teachers and great school leaders improve student learning outcomes.

Question 3 – Does our Theory of Change work beyond urban, informal settlements?  In the urban, informal settlements, Dignitas works largely with community schools, where up to 30% of teachers are untrained.  How different would it be to work in government schools, where all teachers are trained, and there are very different structures of ownership?  We launched into two small pilot cohorts of teachers that would allow us to test our program in rural public schools.  Government data, and early results from these pilots, suggest that significant gaps exist in training and practice that make Dignitas’ program as relevant in rural public schools as it is anywhere else – suddenly the scope for program growth increased exponentially.

Question 4 – Can we reflect on the actual problem?  Dignitas has been working with teachers and school leaders in varying capacity for ten years.  A lot can change over ten years.  As a team we recognized that, before we embark on program design for scale, we needed to create clarity around the problem and need we wanted to address.  In a lively discussion, the team identified clearly the problem we need to address, the problem that ties back to school drop-out, teacher motivation, learner performance, education quality, and persistent poverty is students are not developing 21st century skills and competencies in school’.  Without these skills, young learners cannot succeed.  However, without up-skilling, retooling and adjusted mindsets, teachers cannot nurture these competencies – that is the solution that Dignitas seeks to offer.  A solution that sees all learners leave school with the skills and competencies they need to succeed.   This mirrors our vision statement; that all schools should be vibrant places for children to gain the skills and strength of character they need to thrive and succeed.  So, at the core, we’re still the same Dignitas.  However, what these questions afforded our team, was an opportunity to build clarity, unity, focus, and drive for our journey to scale.

There are a number of things that are making this journey possible;

  1. An awesome team! Every day I am grateful for the skill, passion and commitment of our team.  They have embraced these questions, and pursued the answers with wisdom, and enthusiasm.
  2. Strategic partners. I am deeply indebted to individuals and organizations, from funders to government to other nonprofits, who have partnered with us in thought, interrogation, questioning, disrupting, and dreaming.
  3. Technology – I believe technology can be an important lever of scale. Scale requires efficiencies that can be best supported by technology.
  4. Seasons of change. Kenya’s national curriculum reform has created a platform for questioning, disrupting, and collaborating that may not have been there before.

As we continue on this journey to scale, I invite you to join us!  Engage with us, ask us questions, partner with us in thought and in action!  In the coming months, I look forward to sharing more of our vision for 2019 and beyond.  This is Dignitas’ tenth year, and as we celebrate this significant milestone, a #DecadeOfDignitas, we are excited that there is more to come!

Contributor: Deborah Kimathi – Executive Director