Talking with the Impact Team: What I Learned and What I Gained

Over the past several weeks, I have been fortunate enough to speak with some members of the team at Impact Network. I spoke with Hope Zimba, our Education Program Officer in Sinda-Petauke; Lweendo Maanya, our Head of Operations in Katete; Karly Southworth, our Director of Operations; and Felicia Dahlquist, the Director of Academics and Evaluation.


Hope studied at The University of Zambia, where she earned her degree in arts with education. At university, she studied the motivations of students in the classroom. Hope is inspired by the progress that she sees within the students. Hope believes that “we are reaching so many students, and with the education that we are providing, they will grow up to become better people in society.


Lweendo enjoys working with community members and developing relationships with the PTA – Parent Teachers Association. This gives him the chance to engage with our parents and involve them in various school projects. Lweendo measures his value as ensuring that inventory within the schools is up to par so that learning is not interrupted by a lack of resources or broken technology. Education is important to Lweendo because he feels as if it is the duty of the educated to share their wealth of knowledge.

Karly is inspired by seeing the progress of the team in Zambia and seeing them take more initiative as the organization grows. I discussed my background and interests, my mission work and interest in helping people, along with my uncertainty regarding my career path. Karly assured me that I will take many different paths before I find what works. She also advised me to not settle and that I should always strive for more, whether that be education, experience, travel, or simply inspiration.


Felicia is inspired when a teacher, student, or staff member understands something that he or she has been trying to make sense of. She described these instances as “lightbulb moments.” Felicia enjoys witnessing the development in knowledge and know-how of her team members. She also appreciates digging into our data, and seeing what level of progress our schools are making and how much reach our teachers are having.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Although this may be a challenging ideology to live by, the Zambian team succeeds in doing things that are unexpected with a vigorous passion! It’s inspiring to watch, and I’m here for the journey.


Financial Literacy - A valuable tool for the inclusion of women into the financial world

Katete women participating in financial literacy training.

Katete women participating in financial literacy training.

In February 2019, Impact Network in partnership with FSDZ and Mwabu/iSchool conducted a pilot study on financial literacy with grade 7 pupils at Joel, grade 10 pupils at Chimutende and NetGirls women in Dole community. The objective of the pilot was to test out the materials to be used in the larger project on financial literacy, which will be carried out later this year. The project’s goal is to increase financial literacy in women and girls– particularly adolescent girls. It will also increase the financial capabilities of low-income Zambians in rural communities across three provinces in Katete District. The project is targeting 15,000 girls and boys including young people in primary and secondary schools, as well as 2,000 out of school women and girls through NetGirls.  There was excitement among the  NetGirls  women who participated, as they expressed keen interest in learning more about financial literacy. They used the tablets during the mixture of facilitator-led and participant-led pilot sessions, navigating through each module passionately and participating fully. The women indicated that they learned a lot about how to generate, save, and manage money. Program participant Bathsheba Banda, for example, stated that she “enjoyed the financial education sessions because they cover so many things that she did not previously know, such as managing, saving and using money.” The pilot was thus proven to be a success as the digital content was well-received and there was full participation among the participants. It showed that Katete women are very interested and eager to learn about financial literacy because they do not want to be left out on financial inclusion.

Attendance and interest in the sessions were both high.

Attendance and interest in the sessions were both high.

Globally, there is a gender gap in financial inclusion among women that needs to be closed. This gap makes women have more financial problems and be more financially unstable than men. Closing this gender gap in financial inclusion could go a long way in solving  financial problems and creating financial stability. However, the gap can only be closed if women are educated on money through financial literacy education, which has been recognized to be a tool that plays an important role in the financial inclusion of women. Financial literacy is defined in different ways but is usually understood as the knowledge and understanding of personal financial concepts and the skills, motivation and confidence to make informed financial choices and participate in economic activity. Program facilitators for the Katete pilot strongly agree with this message, with one of them emphasizing that financial education “incudes women and girls in the financial world. It gives them knowledge as well as skills to help them become self-sufficient and financially stable.”

Day 2 of financial literacy training with youth learners .

Day 2 of financial literacy training with youth learners.

Financial literacy leads to making good financial choices that can have positive outcomes on the financial wellbeing of an individual. It is a form of education that provides an understanding of various financial topics, including those that relate to money management, personal finances, income and investing. It focuses on the ability to manage personal matters in an efficient manner and includes the knowledge of making appropriate choices about personal finance. It also involves the proficiency of financial principles and concepts such as financial planning and profitable savings techniques. With the benefits of this program, women gain the skills to make financially literate decisions so that they are no longer excluded from the financial world.

A strong spirit transcends rules

Three years ago yesterday, the legendary artist Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in his home – the prolific singer, songwriter and innovator was beloved for his varied and funky music, and extravagant stage presence. I admittedly, have never been the largest Prince fan. But in college, I was always impressed by his genuine talent – Prince (for the most part) wrote his own songs, played each instrument, and arranged all of his own music. At that time in my life, such independence and autonomy over music was rare, and it’s even sparser now. 

Prince was born in 1958 in Minneapolis, and wrote his first song at just seven years old. His youth was largely spent recording songs with his cousin’s band, and he went on to make his first album at the age of 19. His next album went platinum and he became a legend thereafter – winning seven Grammies, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. His greatest asset was being able to shift from genre to genre, never letting any one of them define him, integrating funk, rock, R&B, soul, pop, and more. As then President Obama said in a statement after his death:

Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. “A strong spirit transcends rules,” Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative.


What I often find myself doing when a unique artist like Prince is recognized, is envisioning what that artist was like as a student. Who were his teachers? How did he grow up? What were his supports? If I had to guess, Prince was an unconventional child – he could have easily been discouraged from pursuing his dreams. But someone believed in him, and he was able to reach his full potential. He worked exceedingly hard at honing his skills, learning a variety of instruments, making sure each song arrangement was just right.

Each day, of each week, of each term in the school year, we welcome over 6,000 students through our primary school doors. Some of those students do exceedingly well in our schools. Some of those students work hard to develop their skills and improve. But each one of them has the potential to shine even brighter in their future academics, to invent, and to lead, if we give them the foundation they need to thrive. As we close our school doors for the first term of 2019, it’s important to remember the gravity of this responsibility.


One in a million...

Recently, a Kenyan teacher named Peter Tabichi made the headlines and won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, awarded by the Varkey Foundation. Tabichi teaches in a small village called Pwani in Kenya, at a school called the Keriko Secondary School. The school serves a high proportion of impoverished communities, and one third of the population have lost their parents. But, Tabichi has gone on to empower his science students to win and compete in numerous competitions – even qualifying for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. On top of that, he donates 80% of his salary back to his students in the village. In just a couple of years, he has been able to double the number of students attending university from her school.

Peter Tabichi.jpg

“Africa’s young people will no longer be held back by low expectations. Africa will produce scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose names will be one day famous in every corner of the world. And girls will be a huge part of this story…

- Peter Tabichi

Tabichi is just one teacher, but the prize is meant to celebrate teachers from around the globe – many of whom work long hours in extremely tough circumstances. What strikes me is not that Tabichi’s story is not extraordinary – it’s that Tabichi’s story is both extraordinary and exceedingly common. In my time in Zambia, I’ve had the great privilege of seeing our own teachers reach incredible milestones with our students. We can build hundreds of classrooms, we can provide thousands of books and pencils, and we can fill our classrooms with eager young students. But without our teachers, none of it works. In truth, they are the heart and soul of Impact Network!


Literacy Day! The Key That Opens the Doors to Knowledge


“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” -Dr. Seuss

Literacy Day is an exciting day, which allows our learners in grades 1 to 3 to showcase their literacy levels to their parents and guardians. Parents come to school with their children to meet the teachers, engage in lessons, and see their children participate in educational activities. It is a well-established day in our termly calendar to highlight the importance of literacy to our learners, their parents and the broader communities that we serve. It is also a great opportunity for parents to learn about the Impact Network model, how tablets are utilized, and the way lessons are conducted for their children.

Literacy day is a way to involve parents in the learning process and to allow them to share literacy skills and knowledge with their children in an educational and fun way. The event not only sharpens the parent’s skills but strengthens the relationship between themselves and their children. With many parents having only basic literacy skills, they are excited to see their children read and share what they have learned in class. It is a nice space where parents also get the opportunity to meet and interact with other parents in the community and collectively celebrate the impact that quality education has on their children.

 The activities are coordinated by our Teacher Supervisors, Teachers and the Operations team across all Impact Network sites in three districts (Katete, Sinda and Petauke).

This year Literacy Day was bigger than ever before! Involved in the event were 36 schools, 2,014 parents, 112 teachers and 2,532 students in grades 1 to 3. Activities included: identifying vowels, reading words and sentences, matching objects with words, quizzes (parents vs students), word puzzles, games, spelling bees and poetry presentations. All the activities were structured in a semi-formal way and the results were great.


“Literacy opens the doors to knowledge and places. Literacy follows us every day, unconsciously: at home, on TV, in shops, restaurants, work, buses, and streets. Literacy is everywhere.”

It is with this in mind that we strive for our learners and their parents to be familiar with the world in which they find themselves through reading. We know that literacy follows them on their way home, at the farm, on the playground and in many other places that they visit. Above all, it helps them to get connected to places that they have never been and to know things that they have never heard before. This is why we celebrate and share all the knowledge and skills that students have acquired through reading with parents and community members. Literacy truly opens doors to new opportunities and we want everyone to take part!



I've failed over and over again...

In February of 1963, in Brooklyn, New York, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, and earned the title of the greatest basketball player of all time. At 6 ft 6 inches, MJ joined the Bulls in 1984, and quickly became a fan favorite, known for his incredible leaping ability and scoring. He still holds the NBA record for highest career regular shooting scoring average (30.12 points per game) and playoff shooting average (33.45 points per game). He was such a force that teams created “Jordan Rules” – defensive strategies to limit his scoring during games. 

 But today it’s not the shots that went in that I want to talk about. It’s the shots that didn’t.


I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.

I've lost almost 300 games.

26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.

I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

-Michael Jordan

This mindset is one that we see from star athletes around the globe, time and time again.  It’s something that we talk about to children (“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”).  But it’s also something that we don’t celebrate or talk about. Today I want to talk about one of Impact Network’s greatest failures.

When we started out in 2007, we started by building schools in rural Zambia.  We knew about the millions of children who were shut out of the educational system. We knew that, especially in rural areas, bringing access to education would transform communities. We knew that providing a safe and secure space to learn was important. But after completing the construction on several schools, we saw that while the buildings were impressive, the level of education being received by the hundreds of students in attendance was not. Building was the easier step.

In 2010, we shifted our focus beyond the build, to create a solution that could deliver high-quality education year in and year out, while keeping costs to a minimum. We researched how this could be done, looking into scores of strategies used across the globe. Today, we believe that the highest impact way to accomplish this is to provide technology to classrooms, and empower teachers with comprehensive coaching and training. But we are always changing, always experimenting, and always trying new things to prove ourselves wrong. We have some incredible new programs to test out in 2019 – from piloting homework programs to early childhood education. Stay tuned for our failures, and hopefully, some of our successes too!


Talent is Universal

Last month, one of the most incredulous stories I read was about a third grader – Tanitoluwa Adewumi. Adewumi is an 8-year-old, who arrived to New York City a year ago, after fleeing Nigeria. He just won his age group at the New York State chess championship.

Adewumi’s story is one of those ones that gets highlighted in press because he has succeeded against all odds. He was undefeated at the chess championship, despite only learning chess a little over a year ago. His family is seeking asylum and was living in a homeless shelter while he attended the local public school. Because of the dynamics of the state, he was up against children with chess tutors who have many more resources and training.  And yet… he won.

Source: Tani’s GoFundMe page “Just Tani”

Source: Tani’s GoFundMe page “Just Tani”

But instead of focusing on these limitations, I want everyone to instead consider why it was that Adewumi did succeed. I want you to consider the myriad of reasons that make it not unexpected that he would take home this first place prize. First, he has two very supportive parents – apart from their tireless support of his education, his mom takes him around to practices and tournaments, and his father helps him practice on his laptop each evening. Second, Adewumi is gritty and works incredibly hard – his chess teacher claims he does 10 times more chess puzzles than typical kids his age. And third, Adewumi had a coach and mentors at his school who saw his potential, and helped him learn and master chess. They spent time nurturing his talent and honing his skills.

It’s from these reasons for Adewumi’s success that I hope to draw lessons on how we can better serve our 6,000 Impact Network students. I found this quote incredibly powerful: “Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich this nation — and that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not.”

The full article is here:

Also, there was a go fund me for Adewumi’s family and a follow-up report written on them here: Currently, it’s at over $250,000. The Adewumi family decided that they would donate the full amount – 10 percent to their church, who helped them when they needed it most, and the rest to a foundation to help African immigrants.


What do Leonardo da Vinci and Water Have in Common?

World Water Day Graphic for blog.png

Famed Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci once said that “water is the driving force of all nature.” Like many of da Vinci’s designs and inventions, this quote rings just as true today as it did in the 15th century. Water is the ultimate elixir of life – all forms of nature need it, including humans, who are made about 60% just water! Without it, life on earth would be impossible. On Friday, the world celebrated UN World Water Day – the day where we celebrate the importance and power of water worldwide.

Yet World Water Day is about so much more than just how awesome water is. It is our duty today and every day to recognize the massive water-related inequalities worldwide. Sadly, some 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water. Even more people – upwards of 35% of the world’s population – do not have access to improved sanitation, such as hand-washing stations and latrines. Lack of clean water and sanitation is a catastrophe for many reasons, including high disease transmission rates and poor nutrition.

Water & sanitation access in Zambia is improving, but more work must be done.

Water & sanitation access in Zambia is improving, but more work must be done.

Zambia is one of the nations most affected by water inequality – especially in rural areas. According to UNICEF Zambia, only 44% of rural Zambians use clean drinking water services and only 19% use basic sanitation services. As an organization serving the needs of rural Zambian communities, we have a duty to do all in our capacity to fight against this inequality.

Impact Network’s projects live up to this duty – our schools have a borehole nearby with safe drinking water not only for the schools, but for the local communities as well. Our schools have latrines for students and hand washing stations located close by.

Farm training at a Seeds to Grow school

Farm training at a Seeds to Grow school

Recently, our work with water security has increased with a community school pilot farm project at 3 schools with funding from the Bayer Foundation. With this project, entitled Seeds to Grow, we are training students at the schools how to grow crops, including water maximization and importance. We are also in the process of implementing “VIP WASH Stations” at seven of our existing schools. These improved stations will provide well-needed increased sanitation space for older grades in our schools.

In short, next time you drink a glass of water, cherish it. We’re happy and proud to be fighting against water inequality with our current and future projects, but there is still much more work to be done.


It behooves us to nurture them all...

Hi team!

 Hope everyone had a restful weekend.

 I recently spent time with some fellow Winnipeggers (that is, individuals hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, such as myself :)), and was reminded of a favorite Winnipegger of mine – John Urschel. Urschel was an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, and started playing football in high school, during a time where he already had developed a love of something different – mathematics.

 It’s seemingly rare in professional sports to find a player equally accomplished in another field, largely because of the dedication and time that sports training can take away from academics (and vice versa). But in 2013, Urschel taught calculus at Penn State, earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mathematics, and won the equivalent of the Academic Heisman, called the William V. Campbell award. A few years ago, he published an article called "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians." [I have a degree in maths too, and could barely get through the abstract of the article].  Urschel has loved mathematics since he can remember, and recalls going through puzzles and logic teasers incredibly quickly as a small child.  At 22, he taught an undergrad class while completing his graduate school credits at Penn State, prepared his thesis, finished his master’s degree, and was still able to make the football team’s workouts.  And the guy is Canadian! :)


 Urschel retired in 2017, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in math from MIT. He retired shortly after a major study published an article on the existence of CTE, a debilitating brain disease, in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players who donated their brains to research. While not specifically citing this as a reason for his retirement, it likely played a role. For his part, Urschel states that he just “stopped liking football as much as he liked math.”

 What I love about Urschel is that during the prime of his career, he remained unwilling to choose.  That in the face of two incredible interests, two incredible talents, and two incredible drives, he chose neither – this despite the fact that he fit in with neither group as a result. He is living proof that no matter how much our skill sets may vary, it behooves us to nurture them all – you never know where you might end up. 

 For those interested, I enjoyed this article on where he is now:


Forward for Women and Girls

Friday, March 8th was International Women’s Day, and across the world, stories of female empowerment were shared along with poignant calls for equality and justice. The importance of supporting women around the world was highlighted as the key to progress, development and the way forward (check out our very own Isaac Bird’s blog here:

In today’s world, storytelling is the key to how we understand ourselves and those around us. Through photos and diverse narratives, we gain a better understanding of other people’s lived experiences and how we can position ourselves in the world. My favorite article from this year’s International Women’s Day is actually not an article, but a compilation of photographs. “What I See” offers us a glimpse of the world as seen through others’ eyes. Nine documentary and portrait photographers were asked to share an image that captures the essence of the word forward as it relates to women around the world.

What I See: 9 photographers on what forward progress looks like

The striking photographs highlight the many different experiences women and girls face globally. It is through these stories that we continue to learn and imagine the way forward.

Although I am certainly not a photographer, I have also chosen to share a photo from one of my recent school visits, that relates to the word forward.

I spent some time in a classroom where I was struck by this young girl's focus, intention and enthusiasm for what she was learning. With a female teacher encouraging her and being a good role model, her trajectory is changing. Against the many odds, this girl is in school, she is learning, she is supported and she has a brighter future.


International Women's day is a good reminder to listen to all the stories around us to make sure we do everything we can to support women and girls around the world. Audre Lorde's words strongly resonate with me: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

By continuing to support women and girls in rural Zambia through education, we know that their stories are changing and their way forward is full of opportunity.

Onwards and upwards!

Thank you, Felicia!