Meet Sofia, our new Communications Associate Intern in NYC


Hello !

My name is Sofia, and I’m the new Communications Associate Intern at Impact Network here in the Brooklyn, NY office. I’m going to be helping out with social media, the press list, storytelling, and other communication and administrative needs for the next couple of months! I’m thrilled to have the chance to be a part of this organization. Everyone deserves access to quality education no matter where in the world they live.

I’m originally from a small town in Northeast NJ, but now I live here in the city. I’m currently a senior at Pace University, majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies with a double minor in Peace & Justice Studies and Communications. In addition to going to school full-time, I work part-time at a small locally owned gift shop in the East Village.


Last spring, I interned at an organization that was looking to end street harassment. I was inspired by their mission to create a world where all humans have the ability to exist in public space without being harassed, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, or any other aspects of their identity.

Throughout my time at Pace, I have gotten the chance to take some amazing classes that have opened my eyes to injustices both at the national and international level. I learned about girls all over the world in my “The Girl Child: A Global Perspective” course, the ins and outs of nonprofits in “Women and Change in the Nonprofit Sector”, and conflict transformation, humanitarianism, and international reconciliation in my peace and justice courses. One of my favorite and most influential classes I took at Pace was my “Feminist Activism” course. I had the opportunity to create and implement a campaign based on street harassment for an entire semester. Along with the rest of my class, we monitored social media accounts, shared stories of harassment, and posted flyers of harassment statistics all over our school. The campaign culminated in an artivism event, combining art and activism to bring awareness to street harassment in all of its various forms. We had over 100 students attend our event, making it one of the most attended school events of the year.


I’m currently taking another really exciting course at Pace: “Gender and Human Rights”. The bulk of the class is spent attending the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for two weeks in March. We will serve as delegates and advocates for specific causes that are most important to us, attending and participating in events. I’m so appreciative to have the opportunity to try my hand at international advocacy and see if it’s something I can see myself doing in the future!

I’m super excited to spend the next few months working at Impact Network! I’m already so inspired by the team, both here in NYC and in Zambia, and all of the work that the staff and teachers are implementing. I’ve only been here two days and I already feel so welcomed. I feel extremely fortunate and lucky to be able to contribute to the work they are doing, even in the smallest of ways!


Listen and Take Action for Girls Education

The #MeToo movement, which took the world by storm last year gave women a platform to discuss the abuse or injustices that they have experienced in their lives.  For many young women and girls it has been an opportunity to speak out and demand change.  But which voices are still silent and who do we still need to listen to?


In rural areas of Zambia, where there is no internet and poor phone connection, linkages to wider social media debates are not possible. These are the areas where girls walk for hours to reach school every day and where periods of both droughts and heavy rains impede on mobility and access to resources.

In Zambia, 27% of females in rural areas have no education compared to 18% of males. A girl is more likely to get married and have a child by the age of 18 than to complete secondary schooling. In fact 86% of pregnancies among school going girls in Zambia occur in rural areas among grade 1-9 girls. 


So who is listening to what they have to say?

As adults, parents, policy-makers, managers of NGOs, teachers and defenders of girls’ rights, we often forget or don’t take the time to listen to the young girls around us. The conception that young people are unable express themselves fluently and have opinions about their lives is simply not true. But sometimes we need to ask other questions and be creative in the methods we use to listen actively.  

At Impact Network, we work hard to ensure that children in rural communities have their voices heard and are actively involved in improving school life. Through our work across the Eastern Province in Zambia, with 44 community and government schools, the aim is to ensure that boys and girls alike have access to quality education. We believe that it is through learning and active participation that young people will improve their prospects in life and contribute meaningfully to society.

Through one of our many initiatives to do so, we involve learners in age-appropriate and child-friendly activities in a ‘Student Council’ to participate in decision making. We take the time to truly listen to what girls and boys have to say. In a recent student council meeting, children in grades 1-4 were asked to speak what makes them the most happy in school and to draw accompanying pictures. Many drew pictures of their classrooms, using technology, getting school lunch and interacting with peers. One girl was too shy to speak about her experiences in school but when asked to draw, her pictures spoke for themselves. She drew herself playing football with her friends.




In rural Zambia, it is rare to see girls playing football as it is often perceived as a boy’s activity and girls are often found on the sidelines. We need more girls to speak up about their passions and we need to listen to them, to ensure that everyone is given the space and opportunity to explore their interests – regardless of their gender.

At Impact Network, we can create safe spaces for girls and boys to discuss issues that matter to them. Through our Life Skills and Sexuality Program, content on growing up, peer pressure, reproductive health and safety are discussed in mixed groups of boys and girls as well as in gender-peer groups, facilitated by a trusted adult. Through the program, young girls and boys are given a forum to openly discuss issues that they face, share experiences and advice, as well as learn new skills that will help them in life.


“We are educating children, especially the girl child. With the help of the Life Skills and Sexuality education as part of the curriculum in our schools, we want to help our girls to handle themselves in difficult situations and to get boys to support their peers in different stages of life. Boys should know that they are important in solving the problems. For girls to be free from abuse, we need support from the community,” says Caroline Chibale, a 20-year-old facilitator for the Life Skills and Sexuality program in nine Impact Network schools.

For girls to complete school, there are many other challenges that need addressing. The financial barrier is a very real struggle for many large families in rural communities, and often boys are prioritised by parents to go to school. At Impact Network, schooling is completely free and all associated costs covered.  Removing the financial barrier  is one less challenge that girls need to overcome.

“I was able to complete my secondary school, as I had support from my parents. But there are families who cannot afford to send their girls to school. So many girls drop out because they do not have the financial support from their parents. But the financial status should not prevent girls from becoming who they want to be in life. I want to be a good role model, and I want girls to look up to people to know that they can become whatever they want to be,” says Chibale.


International Women’s Day is all about celebrating how far the movement for women has come and to acknowledge all of the important work that Impact Network and other organisations are doing for girls. Yet it is also very important to highlight the many challenges that billions of women still face around the world and how much still needs to be done.

At Impact Network we are adamant about listening to what young girls have to say, sharing their stories and more importantly taking action to ensure that girls are not only safe but thriving in school and beyond.


Leave the World Better than you Found it and Other Relections from Gate's Foundation Annual Letter

Each year, I look forward to reading Bill and Melinda Gates’s Annual Letter.  As most people in our field, we follow the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation closely – not because we are always looking for money (although we are!), but because their work drives so much of the work in development and other foundations.  It is the largest foundation in the world, and it’s 50% bigger than the second largest foundation – so it’s focus areas often become focus areas across the globe.

This year, the letter tackled 10 of the toughest questions they receive, and I wanted to highlight a few of the answers (you can read the full letter here:

Why don’t you give more in the United States?

It’s so interesting that this is a question that is asked often – The Gates Foundation spends $500 million a year in the United States (compared to $4 billion in developing countries).  To me, that is a LOT!  The Annual Letter explains that when they first looked at the health field across the globe, it was evident that their resources could save millions of lives if allocated to causes like vaccines in developing countries.

But it also reminds me of a question we often get asked – why Zambia?  While our story has a little bit of insight into our co-founders’ history with Zambia and the Peace Corps, there are other reasons too!  For one, Zambia has had a relatively peaceful history – under the 2017 Global Peace Index, Zambia is one of only 8 African nations to receive a High State of Peace rating ( The country has avoided a civil war, even after transitions of power post-independence.  And the people – as I have learned – are uncharacteristically friendly.  The feeling when you reach Joel village is one of good will – amidst children screaming “How are you”, you’ll often find women eager to greet you, grandmothers wanting to shake your hand, and shopkeepers asking you if you’d like a cola. 


And furthermore, a dollar goes an incredibly long way in Zambia.  It costs our team in Zambia just $40 a year per student to provide a high-quality education to one of our scholars.  For reference on what it costs us here – New York spent a median of $22,658 per student in fiscal year 2015 (  So investing $1 into an education system goes over 500 times further if we invest in Zambia vs New York.  I know – crazy!

What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on US education?

Bill Gates answers this tough question honestly – “A lot, but not as much as either of us would like…Unfortunately, although there’s been some progress over the past decade, America’s public schools are still falling short on important metrics, especially college completion.” 

My answer feels similar – what does Impact Network have to show for the (thousands) we’ve spent on Zambian education?  A lot, but not as much as I’d like.  We have educated over 5,000 students who have passed through our school system.  Our evaluation from American University found that we are improving literacy and numeracy skills at a fraction of the cost of government schools (  And we’ve grown so much over the last year to welcome more 4 times as many schools into our eSchool 360 family.

But there are still students in our grade 1 classes who are struggling to learn their letters. There are grade 4 students who rely on tallying basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division rather than faster functioning mental math skills.  And there are grade 5 students who are having trouble with the transition from Chinyanja to English.

While we take the time to celebrate our wins, it’s also important to keep an eye on what we could be doing better.

Why are you really giving your money away – what’s in it for you?

I’m sure this is such a common one for Bill & Melinda Gates – and Melinda Gates answers it beautifully: “We both come from families that believed in leaving the world better than you found it.” [As an aside: This is what I try and tell my 2-year old when we go somewhere else to play to get him to clean up – incidentally, I am usually the one picking up puzzle pieces and tripping over legos, so I’m not sure my messaging is working].

It’s a simple thing really – leaving the world better than you found it.  And like my example above, it can apply to our regular everyday lives as well.  Pick up litter off the street (my father-in-law does this constantly, even when it’s gross!).  Take someone else’s recycling to the curb sometimes.  Be kind to the person behind you in line.

I highly recommend the full letter – you can read it here:

- Reshma

Inaugural Impact Academic Olympics


We were inspired by the current display of athleticism in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While Zambia might not be a conducive environment for the “Winter Games”, Impact Network hosted our very own Olympic Games, “The Impact Academic Olympics”.  On February 17, 2018,  we began our inaugural event!

With this being our first Academic Games, we were not sure what our the day would bring, but we were sure that our fierce competitors (and legendary rivals) from Joel and Kanyelele would bring nothing but their best. We opened the day’s events began with a warm-up for all of our athletes to prepare for a day of fun and learning. The day consisted of two events: The 100 meter Dash and Spell (a spelling relay race), and The Number Showdown (400-meter sprints with math problems as hurdles every 100m). Our events focused on literacy and numeracy, and also added a touch of athleticism and dash of fun.

We closed the day's events with a small closing and award ceremony, which was filled with celebration and smiles because everyone was a winner! Not only did all of our student receive a certificate of participation but they were also able to practice their educational skills in a new, interactive and fun way.

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I hope our student participants will store this day in their memory bank for inspiration and maybe one day, years from now, we will see one of our scholars participating in the Summer Olympics or even the Winter Games.
Thank you to our awesome team in Zambia who helped make this happen!



Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics have been on my mind (and my TV!) – as a Canadian, the winter ones have always been more special to me than the summer ones.


Zambia is not competing in the 2018 Olympics, though this year is the largest African contingent with eight countries and twelve athletes participating. Today, Canada tied with Germany to take home the gold in the two-man bobsled, and I was reminded of the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games.  This was the year when Jamaica sent in a bobsledh team – the true story behind the movie “Cool Runnings”.  The team was made up largely of track sprinters (the lore says while recruiting they showed a video of the sport to a group of potential athletes and all of the athletes left the room!).  The athletes had a crash course in bobsledding in New York and Austria, where they faced the harsh realities of weather and training.

At the 1988 Olympics, they became a fan favorite because of their status as the ultimate underdog of the games. Not only was there the novelty of having a tropical country compete in a cold-weather sport, but they had very little practice going down a bobsled track before, and they borrowed spare sleds from other countries to compete. In a show of brotherhood, other bobsledders were quick to give them guidance and support. They did not officially finish after losing control of the sled and crashing during one of their four runs. However, they showed significant improvement throughout the games and impressed observers with some fast starts. 

This is the ultimate example of achieving the impossible.  A team with limited resources, little practice, and no exposure with a sport could work hard, and be good enough to actually make it to the Olympics!  It’s amazing!  If they can do that, then all of us today can get through our work for the week and accomplish our own goals.  All of us can do our part and make some progress towards providing our 4,000 scholars with a top-notch education. Unless of course, any of our Zambian staff is thinking of competing in the ski jump next Winter Games… :)

The Classroom Compromise: Preserving Mother Tongue Languages in African Schools

Did you know that one language disappears on average every two weeks, often taking with it the correlating cultural heritage and traditions? Today, February 21st, we celebrate International Mother Language Day, started in 2000, to promote mother tongue-based multilingual education and preserve linguistic diversity. Yet in an increasingly globalized world, governments, schools and scholars across the African continent are torn over language usage in education.

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Many African governments have taken a strong stance on the language of instruction, amidst a global debate over its’ role in primary education. Some governments have opted for public schooling to be entirely in English meanwhile other have establish policies that are more inclusive of a diversity of languages. Liberia, for example, decided that all public schooling should be completely in English, whereas the Government of Zambia pushed for early primary grades to be in local languages while English language instruction starts in grade 5.

Studies have shown that students greatly benefit from learning in their mother tongue, especially in the early years of education. According to the United Nations, “To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired.”

On the other hand it is hard to argue against the importance of English and the opportunities its mastery opens up for young people. In African countries where job opportunities are few, English has become not only a competitive advantage but a necessity to obtain paid employment.

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The debate also trickles down to community level where parents, students and teachers are in two minds over what language their children should be taught in. “There is a divide between parents who want their children’s schooling to be in English and those who want their schooling to be in local language,” says Daniel Mwanza, who works for education NGO, Impact Network, in Zambia.  “This is usually a split between those parents who are literate and those who are not.”

“Literate parents see the opportunities that speaking English brings to their children and communities, therefore they want them to learn it from a young age. Meanwhile illiterate parents can feel disconnected to school life that is conducted in a foreign language, being less inclined to send their children to school on a regular basis or at all.” Mwanza says.

He goes on to underscore that “a complete emphasis on English takes away from local culture. There is so much of our Chewa culture in Eastern Zambia that cannot be described or understood through English. If instruction was only in English students might disengage from the culture that has made them who they are.”

As International organizations are heavily involved in education across the African continent, the debate on language of instruction also relates closely to wider questions of participation, inclusiveness and the agency of communities in shaping education initiatives.

Chinelo Nwosu, Program Manager for Impact Network explains: “I have seen the true importance of one’s mother tongue in an educational space. While developing community-based programs in Rwanda while I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I found that participation and engagement drastically increased when activities were conducted in the local language instead of English. When assessing the status of education and potential interventions in countries where English is not the first language, many believe that a child’s access to English will be a cure-all; completely disregarding the students’ most useful resource for agency; their mother tongue.”   

Impact Network focuses on providing access to quality education in rural Zambia using students’ mother tongue language as well as frequent exposure to English. Impact Network developed the eSchool 360 model, a technological solution that delivers high-quality, low-cost and sustainable education to children in under-served areas. In partnership with Mwabu, they provide teachers with tablets and projectors to deliver class lessons taught in the mother tongue of students and teachers.

“I feel proud of Impact Network schools because we find a good balance between honoring our culture and being more inclusive to the community. At the same time we also emphasize the importance of English, were we are connecting that very community to further opportunities and capabilities,’ says Mwanza.

So in time for International Mother Language Day, Impact Network is taking the time to appreciate the importance of bridging the language debate and finding a compromise in the classroom to benefit everyone. As one of their teachers, John C. Lungu says, “Confidence in English will undoubtedly open up much needed opportunities for young people later in life. But we cannot forget about our local African languages that are integral to honoring our cultural diversity and setting students up well in the early years for success in life-long learning.”

- Felicia

Silver Lining

This week, Karly Southworth, our Head of Expansion, has some thoughts on the cholera outbreak, and what our team was up to during the delay in school opening.  

While the outbreak of cholera delayed the start of schools,  the extra couple of weeks with all of the Operations Managers and Teacher Supervisors together in the head office was incredibly beneficial. The thing I most enjoyed was the team building, which helped to strengthen the cohesiveness of the group by improving communication and trust. Each of the skills we focused on can be transferred to their clusters where they are expected to building strong teacher teams. 


Communication is an essential part of any professional environment. One fun activity we did had the managers sitting back to back for five minutes with one telling the other what to draw to match a picture they were given. We had a lot of laughs with this one!



Another exceptionally valuable aspect of the time we gained was the chance to work on computer skills. Our site managers came into their roles with a limited knowledge of Office and computers in general. They are appreciative of the opportunity to learn a great deal of computer skills through working with Impact Network. It was certainly enjoyable to see their eyes light up and awe on their face when they learn a shortcut in Excel, Word and PowerPoint. As we all strive for efficiency, it’s often small things, which are second nature to long-time computer users, that make a big difference. Although the site managers rarely have a chance to come together, they are encouraged to keep using and improving their skills and to transfer their knowledge to their colleagues whenever possible.

There was also an opportunity for the Teacher Supervisors from the Expansion and Katete West projects to come together and contribute to the new teacher observation matrix, and receive guidance on effective methods of coaching teachers and tracking teacher performance over time. Their combined experiences teaching and observing in the classroom made for constructive discussions.  There was plenty of time for the team to practice using questioning to elicit productive self-assessment. To practice identifying and applying the matrix during a teacher observation, the team broke into groups and performed role plays for the others to assess.


We are thankful all Impact staff have remained cholera-free and we are grateful for the time it gave us at the start of the year. The managers were eager to get back to their sites and confident to apply what they practiced over the extended break!

- Karly

Understanding and Learning from Failure


Last week I learned that Ursula Le Guin passed away after a long illness on January 22nd.  Le Guin was a famed American novelist, known for her role in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.  She also brought a much-needed feminist and racial lens to the genre – often making her heroes dark-skinned and more nuanced than the macho male characters that tended to be celebrated in science fiction at the time.  My first encounter with Le Guin was part of the required reading in my university days, with The Wizard of Earthsea.  I loved it so much that I ended up reading a number of the Earthsea series books over the years, and still give The Wizard of Earthsea to nieces and nephews when they are teenagers.

Le Guin was born to parents with a diverse set of friends and interests, perhaps contributing to what she would later write about. Her father was an anthropologist, famously collecting data on various tribes of Native Americans in the 1920s. Her mother was a writer, who retold traditional stories from indigenous Californians for the masses.  Together, they raised their children to read frequently, and to engage with other adults in their circle – including Robert Oppenheimer, who later became the subject of one of her books.  She traveled to France and met her future husband, eventually settling in Portland, Oregon with their three children. She went on to write dozens of non-fiction and fiction works for both children and adults.

A while back I came across a commencement address that Le Guin gave in the early 80s at Mills College.  And in it, I found solace in this quote:

Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings, you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

This week, our 4,000 scholars returned to school, ready to learn their letters, multiplication tables, and chemistry tables.  And so much of what is taught in schools, centers around success -- answering the teacher correctly, scoring points on exams, and completing practice questions right.  But what’s harder to teach, and harder for students to get comfortable with, is what went wrong.  When they fail, it’s so important for them to realize why they failed. It means working with our scholars when they aren’t quite grasping the concepts, and understanding where they have gone wrong. It means seeing their mistakes, learning from them, and turning that process into motivation – so that every time they do fail, they are getting more and more comfortable in Le Guin’s “dark place.”

The full text of her speech can be read here:

- Reshma

Access to Education in Uncertain Times


Next week the 2018 academic year begins for all the students at Impact Network schools. Yet across Zambia, many children may be denied access to education this year largely due to two main pressures from the past few months.

One of the pressures is a flare up of Cholera across the country, which has delayed the opening of schools and has had a profound impact on people’s sources of income. With many markets having been closed and large public gatherings restricted by the Government in order to prevent the spread of the disease, livelihoods have been compromised.

Another factor is the ongoing drought. In much of Zambia, it has left many farmers worried about their crops and this year’s planned harvest. Parents are not sure if they will be able to feed their children and continue to support their families. Some have even reverted to selling their government subsidized fertilizer to make ends meet, which will certainly jeopardize their source of revenue later in the year.  

A lot of research from across the African continent emphasizes that when people’s livelihoods are impacted by external ‘shocks’ to the economy and the little savings people have are spent on sustaining their families, education is first to be side-lined. Yet, it is also overwhelmingly agreed that education is a key component to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating financial stability among vulnerable communities.

Although public primary education in Zambia is technically free of charge, there are many ‘hidden costs’ associated with attending school, such as uniforms, pens, books, and PTA fees among other things. These costs, when added up among all of the school-aged children in a family, can be the difference between a parent being able to send their children to school or not. Students might enroll late or not at all due to a family’s financial situation during times of economic hardship.

As such, I am thankful that Impact Network is able to contribute to the stability and continuity of children’s education in the communities we work in. All the students in our schools receive the materials they need and parents do not need to contribute with any additional expenses to their children’s schooling.

On Monday over 4,000 thousand students will start school with Impact Network, and although we know that many of their parents will be struggling to make ends meet, we also know that through continuous education, the future of these communities will be more secure and prosperous. We can only hope that in the future even more children will be able to attain all the benefits that going to school entails.


The Pursuit of Life Long Learning

Over the holidays and in the new year, I have been trying (and mostly failing!) to be a more involved citizen and community member. I came across some of the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti – an Indian philosopher, writer and speaker.  Krishnamurti was groomed to be the new World Teacher – an “advanced spiritual entity appearing on Earth as a World Teacher to guide the evolution of mankind.”  He later rejected this and claimed to have no loyalty to any one group, nationality, religion, philosophy, etc. He became a renowned author and speaker, commenting on topics ranging from the nature of the mind to human relationships.

I know – some hippy-dippy, tree-hugging stuff!  It’s not usually the type of work I’m interested in.  But I came across this quote over the December break and couldn’t help but learn more about him.


There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

For me, this particularly resonated.  Growing up, I was a very good student – but I was always looking for the end.  I was always looking for the test to be over, for the paper to be finished, for the term to let out.  And I always thought that “learning” was something you checked at the door when those things finished and you could go back to regular life.  But growing older, changing careers, and meeting a partner that was truly intellectually curious made me rethink a lot of those goals.  And it made me want to strive for something better for myself, and for our scholars in Zambia.


The intrinsic desire to learn is something that is so hard to teach inside classroom walls, but it’s something that resonates through every aspect of our work with Impact Network.  This week, as we kick off our teacher training in Zambia, it particularly holds true for our teachers and staff. Our incredible team in Zambia embodies this fundamental desire every day – and there is no better role model for our students. We always ask for teacher and staff feedback during our monthly training sessions, and for as long back as I can remember, the team has shown a thirst for knowledge, and asked for more – more training, covering a wide range of topics.

To them, we say thank you – and good luck as we start the 2018 school year!