The role of education in transforming for impact: A contribution to the OECD Forum 2019

The assumption that countries have the capacity to take on recommendations from the best available knowledge, achieve understanding, and turn them into effective policy and action, leaves unanswered the mechanisms through which a publication, a series of meetings, or a policy comparison may lead to change.

Technology has already transformed the ability of international organizations to move from knowledge production and diplomacy to new forms of scalable, networked action needed to tackle complex global challenges. This has created a significant opportunity for leaders to deliver on their mission.

‘Skills’ are necessary but insufficient

Some organizations are already offering high-quality, multi-lingual learning. Many are using digital technologies to scale, often at the cost of quality, helping large numbers of learners develop competencies. Conventional courses seldom produce change, even if they become digital and scalable. On their own, these are no longer innovative – much less transformative – goals. Several international organizations have built corporate universities and other types of learning functions that remain confined to the margins of the business and under threat from the next restructuring. None of these initiatives have moved the needle of impact.

Transforming for impact

At the Geneva Learning Foundation, we have developed a low-cost, scalable package of interventions for international organizations to leverage digital transformation to: (1) bridge the gap between thinking and doing at country level; and (2) foster the emergence of country leadership for positive change.

In our first three years, we have worked with partners across several thematic areas, developing this package to translate global guidelines into effective local action, to support capability development from competency to implementation, and to perform multi-country peer review at scale.

  • Over 1,500 professionals in 90 countries have already participated in pilots.
  • 96% of graduates are applying what they gained from the best available global knowledge to implement projects and lead change.

A new economy of effort to produce change

This package can complement or replace existing low-volume, high-cost face-to-face workshops and conferences that are difficult to scale and measure.

  • It is entirely digital (motivating participants without offering travel, hotel, or per diem) and participants do not need to stop work to participate, significantly reducing both expenditure and opportunity cost, while improving efficacy.
  • It has fostered the emergence of informal, self-led and motivated groupings of professionals operating across agencies that may provide a different kind of lever for systemic change than traditional top-down approaches to addressing challenges and can replaced failed, conventional training-of-trainer and “cascade” models.

Recognizing the value of such emergent dynamics creates authentic opportunities to accelerate the transformation for impact.

Fostering such emergence is the hard part.

Sustainable transformation for impact

Last but not least, our business modelling demonstrates that, if the organization has healthy relationships with its stakeholders, financial sustainability (cost recovery) can be achieved within three years, so this is not one more mechanism dependent on donor good will.

As we have seen existing partnerships leads to promising results – above and beyond our own expectations – we are slowly growing in confidence about the strengths and sustainability of what began as a series of small-scale pilot projects and experiments.

Along the way, we have also learned how difficult it is to find the right mix of ingredients to move from ideas to successful execution to develop such a programme if it is to contribute to systemic change.

We will be at the OECD Forum on 20-21 May 2019 to share these promising results with organisations and governments that see the need for new, better ways of achieving change in policy and practice.

About the author

Reda Sadki (blog | Twitter) is the founder and president of the Geneva Learning Foundation, the Swiss non-profit organization with the mission to connect learning leaders to research, invent, and trial breakthrough approaches for new learning, talent and leadership as a way of shaping humanity and society for the better.

In the past, Reda Sadki worked for the United Nations, primarily for the World Health Organization, and at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).