Justice is Everyone's Business

This week, the Nobel Prize winners for 2018 were announced. Among them were the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winners --

 “…Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.”


I actually learned of this prize in the context of Mukwege’s partnership with the Fistula Foundation – an organization I have long admired. Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who founded the Panzi Hospital – dedicated to serving women who have been raped by armed rebels. The Hospital has now treated over 85,000 patients and helped them recover from complete trauma and physical injuries. For speaking out against these crimes and supporting their survivors, Mukwege has been targeted, his daughters have been held hostage, and there have been attempts on his life. Despite this, he continues to work in the Congo, proclaiming that “justice is everyone’s business.”


Murad is herself a survivor of war crimes, and was held by the Islamic State for three months. Just three short years ago, she briefed the UN Security Council on issues of human trafficking for their very first briefing on this topic. She founded Nadia’s Initiative, an organization to provide help to victims of genocide. In particular, her resilience and willingness to speak out against what happened to her has given a greater visibility to sexual violence during times of war. According to her, "The world has only one border - it is called humanity."


In the midst of a tumultuous news cycle and the #metoo movement, I found both Mukwege and Murad to be remarkable pillars of how one can inspire change from the local to the global. While Mukwege focuses his work on each individual patient, performing up to 10 operations each day, Murad works on the global stage. In particular, to me, the organizations they represent are reminders of how one does this work well, and what values we chose to espouse in our daily practice.


When Food Meets Charity -- P.S. Kitchen and April Tam Smith


When I first heard about P.S. Kitchen, I was excited about what an incredibly socially conscious and environmentally-friendly restaurant they were. After hearing about their founder April Tam Smith, I was even more intrigued. April was born in Hong Kong and moved to the U.S. when she was 11 years old. She works as a Managing Director at Morgan Stanley during the day, but spends a lot of time at P.S. Kitchen at night. Although April is young, she is able to juggle a successful career in finance, philanthropy, and running her own business. Multi-tasking is no easy feat, especially when your day job is as demanding as hers. How does she make time for it all?

Opened in August 2017, P.S. Kitchen is a vegan, plant-based restaurant in Midtown Manhattan that donates all of their profits to charity. They hire individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives, whether they’ve dealt with incarceration or homelessness. They partner with various non-profit organizations, hosting events, hiring people the organizations service, and donating their proceeds. Reshma and Katie just attended an event this past week at P.S. Kitchen and were able to present on the amazing things we’ve been up to with Impact Network. April has created a space where delicious plant-based food, exceptional organizations, and people looking to get involved can intermingle. [And PS, you may get a glimpse of Muhammad Yunus! https://vimeo.com/235631288]


April’s successful restaurant and ability to balance so many passions at a young age reminds us of all of the exciting things our students will accomplish in their lives. Although our students are young, they can already begin doing amazing things! Seeing their shining faces excited to learn is always a wonderful reminder of why we do the work we do -- it’s all for the kids and providing them with a quality education. April Tam Smith and P.S. Kitchen is a great reminder that you can never be too busy or too young to make an impact.

P.S. Kitchen’s famous vegan Beyond Burger will be a featured appetizer at Chefs for Impact this year! Get your tickets to this year’s event before they sell out.


The Next Wazhma Sadat

A little over four years ago, I wrote about Wazhma Sadat, the first female Afghan student to graduate from Yale. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Ms. Sadat lived there until the Taliban’s violent presence led her family to flee to Pakistan. There, she continued to go to school, and was able to return to Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban fell. At 14, she took an exam to study abroad in the US – it was a very competitive program, but it ultimately brought her to the US for her senior year of high school. She struggled with the prejudice from her fellow students, and with learning and studying in another language. Her first assignment in her American history class received an F.

But Sadat persevered – she put in the effort to study and eventually received an A+ in the course. With the aid of mentors and role models along the way, Sadat met with a Yale Admissions Officer and was accepted into the program in 2010. At first, she hesitated to correct her peers about their ignorant assessments about Afghanistan, and even struggled to tell people where she was from. But slowly, she began speaking up about her past and expressing her opinions in class settings. And this confidence led to other efforts – she gave a public Ted Talk, she studied the Taliban and genocide conflict in her classes, and she joined clubs and groups in the college.

While so many things are amazing about Ms. Sadat’s journey, what struck me most was her and her family’s perseverance in her early education years. Her father picked up and moved the entire family to a different country so that his daughters would be given an opportunity to learn. She took enormous risks just to have a chance at a quality education. On a personal level, it makes me incredibly thankful that I grew up in a country and environment where my education was not constantly at risk.

I learned recently that Sadat is the recipient of the Soros Fellowships for New Americans – chosen for her potential to make significant contributions to the US society, culture, or academics. She also co-founded Firoz Academy, an ed-tech start-up focused on educational and employment opportunities for war-torn countries.


Across our 40+ schools, I believe we have the next Wazhma Sadat (well perhaps not exactly – Zambia has already had a student at Yale). Our students already face incredible adversity to get to school sometimes – heavy rains, hot suns, and cool temperatures in the winter could keep even the most dedicated students from attending. And while we do have students that struggle to attend, we also have some of the most motivated and dedicated students I have ever seen. They show up every day, eager to learn, an hour or more early, they do work on the front areas of the school until it begins, they are excited to learn and thirsty for knowledge. And I believe that thirst will lead them to do great things – so long as we continue to provide them with the opportunity.


Diving into the Unknown...

Four years ago, the swim team at a local high school in Arlington Texas was the “bad news bears” of swimming. They only had 4 people on the team when their coach, Alex Weideman, took over, and they were considered a laughing stock among other teams. The coach said the goal of the team was to finish the race and not get disqualified. That opened the door for an athlete by the name of Gerald Hodges to make the team – someone who was a successful athlete out of the pool, but with no clue on how to swim. He almost drowned at tryouts! Eventually he was able to finish some races, although that was long after the others had finished the race and toweled off.

“I felt like if I couldn’t handle not being good at something, then how could I consider myself a successful person. Setting yourself up for failure is actually a key for future success.”

By Hodges’s senior year, with a lot of practice and determination, he had improved tremendously and swam the last leg of his team’s 200-yard medley relay. The team was in last place when he dove in and won the race, sending his team to state. At this level of competition, making up that sort of time is rare – but so is Hodges. I was so impressed by his courage, his willingness to try something new, and his comfort with failing when so many people were watching.


Hodges’s story reminds me of our students and teachers in Zambia. For many of them, going to school or teaching is a dive into the unknown. Our teachers mostly come from the local villages and are not teachers by trade. Our program, paired with an eLearning tablet, trains and coaches them with weekly feedback and professional development. Similar to Hodges, they decided to try something they had not done before and perhaps were scared to fail. But with hard work and practice, the majority of our teachers succeed and some even grow within Impact Network to more senior positions.

Imagine being the first in your family to go to school. It is an unknown place and you are not sure what to expect. Many of our students have to overcome several obstacles just to attend class. But they rose above those initial fears and roadblocks to attend our schools. They learn to read and write and develop their own aspirations of what they want to be when they grow up. It just takes that first step of courage to try something new and be okay with failing, knowing that with hard work and dedication, the unknown can become something great.


Building the New – Courage, Curiosity and Commitment


Over the past few months, Impact Network in Zambia has undergone a few key changes and new ideas have come to fruition. As a result, we have been able to find better ways of working together. Data has been collected in new and exciting ways, a second pilot of the biometric attendance collection is under way, new tools for coaching have been introduced, different literacy and numeracy assessments have taken place, and reporting from the field has been updated (among so many other things!). But change, in all its’ forms, can be hard. It brings new challenges and tests us both as individuals and as a group.

Socrates once said “The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not in fighting the old, but on building the new.” And we are certainly building the new.

The team in Zambia have embraced change with incredible courage, curiosity and commitment. Their efforts, emotional intelligence and flexibility, amidst many changes is truly inspiring and worth highlighting today.


Teacher Supervisors, Teselia and Masauso, both started working in new sites last week. Getting to know a new place and new teachers can be daunting, but they have taken their new responsibilities in their stride – and I am sure that their thoughtful and creative approaches will lead to success. Letticia and Beatrice, their respective Operations Managers, are equally brave as they have started working on building strong working relationships with their new counterparts.

- Teselia, Masauso, Letticia and Beatrice, your courage is inspiring!

We also have new team members and old staff with new roles, who are working incredibly hard to learn everything about Impact Network and how they can be effective in their positions. Amos (Head of Academics), Samuel (Data Coordinator), John Noah (Education Program Officer), Cynthia (Netgirls Director), Daniel and Emmanuel (Operations Managers) and Edith and Ruth (Teacher Supervisors), have joined the team or been promoted, and have gone above and beyond in their efforts. Their new perspectives will surely help us move forward.

- Amos, Samuel, John Noah, Cynthia, Daniel, Emmanuel, Edith and Ruth, your curiosity is inspiring!

No less important is all the hard work that the rest of the team in putting in to support all the ongoing changes. Their support to colleagues and determination to make positive changes in exciting and highly commendable. Change would not have been possible without their dedication and help along the way.

- Richard, Lweendo, Hope, Karly, Sharon, John, Petros and Maxwell, your commitment is inspiring!


It is with great confidence that I look ahead over the coming months and we slowly start preparing to close the academic year. There is so much to be proud of and so many more opportunities to come. I am excited to see the fruits of all our hard work, as we continue building the new together.


The Power of Ordinary People

We’ve heard it time and time again -- “everyone can make a difference.” Yet it so often feels that just one person can’t do much. Actress Cynthia Nixon, however, is changing that perception. This election cycle, Cynthia Nixon is running for governor of New York against Andrew Cuomo, who has been the governor of New York since 2011. Not only is Cuomo the current governor, making him harder to beat, but he started 2018 with over $30 million in his campaign.

Most politicians would accept this as defeat. Typically, the candidate with the most funding wins elections. Nixon, however, had other plans. Nixon refuses to accept any donations from large corporations and instead relies on everyday New Yorkers to fund her campaign. Her grassroots movement has inspired many New Yorkers into believing that each single person can actually make a difference.

Being an outsider to politics and a woman, the odds have been stacked against Cynthia Nixon from the beginning, yet she proved that with the help of everyday people, she can be a serious contender. In six months of campaigning, Cuomo received 1,939 donations while Nixon received more than 30,000 donations in less than four months. Nixon’s campaign would not work if ordinary people did not believe that they could make a difference. Whatever your politics, it’s clear that Nixon has done an incredible job harnessing the power of those small donations.


At Impact Network, we understand that power. We send students to school for just $5 a month. If more people believed in the impact of their actions and donations, think of how many students we would be able to educate! Without Impact Network schools, our students would not have access to education. They would not have the opportunity to learn how to read or write. They would not have the opportunity to follow their dreams. Every change starts with just one person believing in the power of their actions.

Do you believe you can make a difference?


Overlooked No More

The New York Times started a great new column called “Overlooked No More”, which profiles minorities and women whose deaths were not covered by the paper.  Last month, they profiled Doria Shafik, who was one of the most important – and unknown – figures in Egyptian history.

Shafik was born in northern Egypt, and went to an French missionary elementary school. When options for secondary school were only open to boys, she studied on her own, completed the official French curricular exams early, and was the youngest Egyptian to earn the French Baccalaureate degree, at just 16. She later earned her PhD, and went on to run a French cultural and literary magazine.  She also began publishing an Arabic magazine in order to help educate Egyptian women in particular. By age 40 she had created a union to speak for women – to help solve their issues within society and fight for their inclusion in Egypt’s laws.  They ran literacy classes, employment resources, and cultural events for women.


She was thus perfectly suited to bring together two leading feminist groups (one of which was the union she founded) to march into Parliament on February 19, 1951. There, 1500 organizers interrupted proceedings for four hours in order to speak for the women of Egypt.  While the president of the upper chamber “pledged to take up their key demands: the right of women to vote and to hold office.“ Despite this, no real change ensued. Shafik continued to push for political change, using hunger strikes as another tactic to gain attention and pressure Egypt’s leadership. After speaking out about the dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser, she was placed under house arrest, and was largely silenced. Her magazine was shut down, and she led a solitary life.


Shafik’s story is one of triumph: Where educational opportunities did not exist, she created them; where women were not included, she protested and pushed for change; and where she saw indignities, she created and participated in groups to correct them. But it is also one of immense sadness. She lived a very secluded life and limited her movements, even when it wasn’t required. She was erased from history books and news media. She was expelled from the same union that she founded.  She ultimately committed suicide at age 67. It’s just a reminder that change – real change – comes with great sacrifice. And while we celebrate our heroes today, they are still human. They experience sorrow, they are misunderstood, and they make mistakes. It reminded me of a quote from an Ursula Le Guin book, A Wizard of Earthsea, “To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”

Full story is

- Reshma


Mindsets Matter

I hope everyone had a great week!  I am just returning from a beach vacation, where I spent a ton of quality time with my family.  I couldn’t help but remember this story a few years ago, and wanted to re-share it with you today.

It comes from an article from Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, a free online education platform.  Khan started tutoring his cousin in mathematics using Yahoo!’s Doodle notepad, and when other family members asked for the same tutoring, he decided to create a YouTube account with his lessons.  The popularity of his videos eventually prompted him to leave his job as a financial analyst in late 2009, and found Khan Academy.  Today, his channel on YouTube attracts over 4 million subscribers, and 60 million registered users in 2017.

But today, rather than the man himself, I actually want to focus on a technique that he is using to educate his own son:

Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.

What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.


Full article here.

We have talked about the growth mindset a few times at Impact Network, because of what it means for our students, and what we have always believed in for our students:  That their intelligence and abilities can grow, as long as they (and we) embrace the struggle of learning.  It means that despite the odds being against them, our scholars can persist in school, learn to read, write, do math, and go on to successful high school careers.  But in order for them to do so, we need to reflect upon how we encourage them.  We need to start complimenting them not where they are already successful, but when they work through their biggest obstacles.  And in our own lives, we need to start tackling the areas where we have failed in the past, and persevere through them.  

So this week, I challenge you all to pick something, one thing – it can be something you’ve struggled with in the workplace, a puzzle that you can’t seem to solve, anything that you’ve had difficulty in thinking about over the last few weeks.  And work at it. Work at it like you are a student again, persevere, and learn something about yourself and your brain.  If we want to expect this of others – of our teachers, of our students, and of our staff, it needs to first start with our own selves.  



Reflections on my time in Zambia


For many of us growing up in the western world, school is normal part of childhood. The photos of me and my sisters dressed in homemade onesies, gaped toothed smiles, and fish shaped name tags fill my mother’s photo albums, memories of being sent off on a yellow bus for our first day of school.  School was such a large part of my childhood, it seemed unquestionable.  Days spent staring at a white board, playing soccer at recess, eating uniformed lunches off styrofoam trays, and gritting my teeth through late night homework.  I couldn’t imagine a childhood any other way.

However, as many American children become complacent and bored with their school day routine, little do we realize how incredibly privileged we are to have those consistent, eight-hour school days.  In Zambia, I have seen another side to education. 


In Eastern Province’s rural community schools, education is driven not by status quo, but by commitment.  Commitment from excited children, who overcome adversity to arrive in the classroom each day, daring to challenge social norms and expectations and to dream of opportunity. Commitment from hard working Zambians striving to create a better future for their children and their communities, sacrificing often comfort and time with their families to do so. Commitment from a small international staff who bring inspiration and focus, creating bridges not only across the ocean but across cultures and misperceptions, establishing a sense of global community so important to today’s world.

Interning with Impact Network, I have met many of these committed individuals. 

I have met young students who wake up early to complete their household chores before walking, sometimes for over an hour, to get to school, pulling their thin shirts tight against the cold winter winds, and persevering forward. So excited for the day to begin they laugh and sing as they enter the schoolyard.


I have met twenty year old men who swallow their pride and sit in the grade five classroom with students half their age, taking educational opportunity as it comes. 

I have met teachers who awake before the sun to bicycle more than 20 kilometers to school and make the return trip after a long day teaching in busy classrooms and return to homes without electricity or running water.  Who cook nshima with the light of the fire, collect water from the borehole, and prepare themselves to make the trip again the next day.  

I have met teacher supervisors and managers who have moved far from family and friends to work in these rural areas. Who stay late writing reports on Friday evenings and travel, sometimes kilometers, searching for a cellphone signal underneath a tree in a random field to submit the reports.

I have met international staff and interns, who can be found hard at work in the office on the weekends, finishing up a hectic week and preparing for the coming one, conducting teacher trainings, holding workshops, or trouble shooting the never-ending challenges of running an NGO.  Who focus on encouraging the staff they train with such passion, that soon they may work themselves out of a job. 

The students, teachers, and management staff of Impact Network’s 44 schools face challenges everyday. Far distances, busy classrooms, limited resources, diverse and multi-leveled classes, and the constant need for more training all effects the ability to provide quality education in this context.  The struggles of everyday life in rural Zambia, including malnutrition, disease, and poverty, bring their own challenges.

However, I am amazed by how those who have chosen to fight for education persist.  The commitment of Impact Networks students and staff is a strong weapon for dealing with these challenges, leading to a level of problem solving and adaptability that I find astounding. 


As Malala Yousafzai has said, “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the word.”  I am happy to know that Impact Network’s 6,000 students, 150 teachers, and 20 managerial staff are all making their own contribution to changing the world for the better, and I am very thankful to have been part of it.  


Remembering Three of the World's Brightest Stars

This month, some of the world’s brightest stars have passed away – and three individuals in particular, whose work spanned continents and will endure far beyond August of 2018.  Aretha Franklin, Kofi Annan and VS Naipaul have all played a role into shaping our world, and each of them have actually helped shape me as well.  I couldn’t possibly do them all justice today, but I wanted to share three of my favorite little nuggets about each of them.

Aretha Franklin was a singer, a writer, a pianist. She had a powerhouse voice, dubbed the “Queen of Soul”, she sang at the inauguration of three presidents, and she worked alongside all of the big names of the entertainment industry. But she also said this:

‘Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.’

It’s my second favorite Franklin quote.*


Kofi Annan was born in Ghana and served as the Secretary General of the United Nations during some of my more formative years – 1997 to 2006. While his time there was not without controversy, his dedication to humanitarian aid and global development has been unwavering.  Annan was also known for his humility – when accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, he said:

“This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On behalf of my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives – and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace – I thank the Members of the Nobel Prize Committee for this high honor.”


And last, V.S. Naipaul, was a celebrated author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and wrote complex, deeply moving stories that take place in India, Africa, and Trinidad – most notably A House for Mr. Biswas.

“The longer I live the more convinced I become that one of the greatest honors we can confer on other people is to see them as they are, to recognize not only that they exist, but that they exist in specific ways and have specific realities.”


While these three are so different in their talents, in their values, and in their choices – one thing that struck me was how consistently they were able to be humble in the face of such incredible amounts of intention. Each of them chose a completely different medium to approach the messages they wanted to send. Franklin chose music, Annan chose academics and politics, and Naipaul chose the written word. How different they might have turned out if someone hadn’t nurtured those skills as they grew. To me, it’s an important reminder that among our 6,000 students, we have the next musician, the next politician and the next author to change the course of Zambia over the next decades.  

[*My favorite is actually “Don't say Aretha is making a comeback, because I've never been away!”]

- Reshma