PEPY Philosophies

Posted on: February 26, 2010 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

PEPY Philosophies

Have you read our PEPY Philosophies?  We'd love it if you would!  Check it out and comment below, or click here for a permanent link.

In order to empower people to make changes in their own lives–to create our vision for a world where everyone has access to quality education, increased health and environmental awareness—we believe we need to:

Build capacity in people.

Partner with other organizations.

Share the lessons we have learned.

Allow flexibility in our programs.

Work with local government systems and power structures.

Overall, we believe that the changes we want to see in the world are only possible if we invest time in people.  Changes won’t result from giving things away, they won’t result from throwing more money at a problem, and they won’t happen by rushing to reach more and more places without committing the time to create high quality impacts.  We are just as impatient as the rest of the people looking to make change in the world, but what we have learned through our mistakes and our slow and small successes is that investing time in a team of passionate leaders will keep us on the path to reaching our vision.

Build capacity in people.

We believe in the power of individuals to make positive changes in their communities.   Our most effective programs are those that invest in individuals, and we’ve learned the hard way that improvements in infrastructure and resources without capacity development components have little impact.  Check out some of these programs to see how PEPY is investing in developing Cambodian capacity:

    * Empowering communities to be involved in education.

Our Primary School Development Plan Program is a three year plan in which PEPY staff work with local school support committees, school administrators, and teachers to create and implement community-driven solutions to school problems.  At the end of the three year program, we expect School Support Committees to be advocates for education in their communities, to understand their rights and ministry commitments, to be able to identify and solve school problems, and to serve as the monitoring agents for government school budgets.  In addition, teachers and school administrators will have opportunities for extensive training in areas they identify.  In this way, PSDP strengthens schools in the specific ways they need.

    * Hire staff within our target areas. 

We hope in five years that individuals from the communities where we work are running our programs.  At present, we have not achieved this goal and our Cambodian program managers are mostly from urban backgrounds where they were able to achieve higher education. To build local capacity, we have hired project assistants and program officers from the Chanleas Dai area who work directly with each program manager.  Over two thirds of our staff are from Chanleas Dai and the surrounding area.  The goal is to have them take over all positions in the future. Our whole team believes in this concept, and that’s why we believe it will work!

   * Support higher education

All full-time PEPY staff who work with us for over 3 months are eligible for a full scholarship to higher education, and they are taking us up on it! On our team, we have Sela (Office Manager) getting his master’s in Tourism, Kong (Guard) learning English, Kimline (Accountant) getting her MBA, Riem Bon (Program Assistant) doing his BA, Thy (Driver) studying computers, Rithy (Program Officer) getting his BA in English, Chim Seng (English teacher) getting his BA in English, Ratana (Education Program Manager) doing a master’s in Education, and An Em (Program Officer) doing a BA as well.  In addition, we are supporting 16 teachers and youth from the Kralanh/Chanleas Dai area to obtain their high school equivalency degree through a weekend program at the District of Education. 

    * Building youth capacity

Our Child-to-Child Program is all about capacity building, investing in young leaders, and helping them find creative solutions to problems they identify in their daily lives. 

Partner with other organizations.

We believe it is important to partner with both organizations we want to learn from and ones we want to help to improve. Our goals are to not only improve our own organization but to support the movements around the causes we believe in as a whole, which means we need to let others learn from our successes and failures and share the resources we create with others working in education. It also means that instead of simply being critical of others, we speak to groups we disagree with and try to learn from and share with them. We spent our first few years complaining when we saw other organizations harming education in the areas where we worked and then realized that complaining is useless unless we do it directly to the organization itself while also suggesting ideas for improvements. We believe that partnerships and cross-organizational capacity building can raise the bar for the development industry overall. It can also help us to expand our impact from one small area in rural Siem Reap Province to other places in Cambodia and around the world. Here are some of the ways we partner with other groups:

    * Classroom libraries

Our Classroom Libraries Program was designed as a proposal to Room to Read (a nonprofit organization which has distributed many books and built libraries in Asia and Africa) as our idea for how to improve upon their reading room program. The new model brings books into each classroom and provides more extensive and ongoing teacher training for all teachers, not just a librarian, and shows them how to incorporate books into the classroom. This partnership has lead to Room to Read focusing on only Khmer Early Literacy books for the next two years of new book printing and has inspired other classroom library models across South East Asia.

    *Early literacy

 When we found out that BETT (Basic Education and Teacher Training) was making early literacy books, we had a little dance party in our office. These are the first Khmer books that are being created using early literacy best practices, leveled readers, patterning, featured “new words”, the whole shebang! BETT has spent nearly 4 years researching and making this book series, and we are so impressed with their commitment to doing this program so thoroughly. We asked to work with them to continue to learn from their work and to add value where we could. PEPY’s team took on the task of helping to choose books for the extension of the project: lesson plans for commonly found Khmer books for grades 3-6. PEPY has only played a small role in the lesson plan development process, but we are delighted to be a part of this program, which is currently awaiting Ministry approval for use in schools across Cambodia.

    * XO laptops 

Since we became a test school for the One Laptop Per Child project (aka $100 laptops) we have initiated group meetings with other organizations using the new green laptops so we can share ideas and progress from our programs.

Share the lessons we have learned.

We believe that sharing the struggles we have, failures we face, and mistakes we make will help improve the work of the industry. Honesty throughout the NGO world is something we hope for and we try to contribute to through this website and our work with partners. Here are some ways we share what we learn:

    * Our Managing Director, Maryann Bylander, is a board member of NEP, an education network aimed at sharing ideas and lessons across the sector.

    * Our founder, Daniela Papi, writes on her blog called Lessons I Learned.

    * The PEPY team started voluntourism101 to share ideas and best practices in regards to volunteer tourism based on our experiences in Cambodia (site going live soon).

    * On our tours we focus nightly on article readings and discussions on relevant topics we have learned about in our development and tourism work.

Allow flexibility in our programs.

While we of course would love it if our programs reached our goals exactly as we had planned, we know that cannot happen, and never will. Typical NGO funding models require that organizations show proof that they executed their plan as proposed, and many either stretch the truth about their activities or force their employees to enact the plan as proposed, even if it has proven to be an ineffective model. We believe this is causing many problems in development work. As a result we have turned down grants that we felt would limit our ability to change how our programs are designed if the need to do so became apparent. We are able to be flexible in our programs because we have:

    *Individual donors like YOU

We are funded almost entirely by private funding. Past participants on our tours or donors who have an intimate understanding of our programs are our typical funders, and this allows us the flexibility to get on the phone with them and say “You know the money you gave to support math teacher training? Well, there was some extra money, and we’d love to use it to buy replacement books for our library. Does that work for you?” or to tell them that a program we have designed is not working as well as we had hoped and we would like to redirect their funds while we restructure the program.

    *A commitment to put communities, not donors, first.

When we have the opportunity for specified funding, we first ensure that it will provide for the real needs of the communities we are working in.  Where donor needs come first, or will lessen the impact of our programs, we say no.  In 2009, an NGO approached us to give us significant funding to support our Primary School Development Plan Program, but it would require us to tailor part of the program to meet the requirements of a grant they had acquired. As the PSDP model requires flexibility in order to be effective, we felt that taking the money would constrain the program too much.   As such, we turned down the money to preserve the integrity of the program.

    * PEPY Tours

PEPY Tours funds a significant portion of PEPY Ride’s overhead each year, and donations specifically earmarked for M&G cover the rest. This allows our fundraising dollars to go directly to our programs.

Work with local government systems and power structures.

We think it is very important that the work that we do is supported by local leaders and contributes positively to the systems which will continue to operate in Cambodia long after PEPY leaves. We recognize that supporting government schools means that we are in many ways disempowering the government to do the same; some argue this is allowing the government to continue their sub-par support for education in Cambodia. We agree, but we think that supporting capacity building and training in schools is not something the government will be inclined to fund any time in the near future. We realize that this is both a Catch-22 and a “chicken or the egg” situation. We think that capacity building, support for local empowerment around education, and creating a demand for high quality education will lead to communities either demanding government school support in the future or continuing to implement some of these changes themselves.

Here are some ways we work with local government systems:

    * Close relations with district and provincial authorities

We have a close relationship with both the District and Provincial Ministries of Education in the areas where we work. We meet with them regularly to get feedback and input for our programs as well as to find out ways to use their training and expertise to support our teacher training goals. In the Primary School Development Plan Program, the members of the District Office of Education as well as the commune and village leadership have played a strong role in both school selection and program implementation.

    *Sharing with the Ministry of Education in Phnom Penh

PEPY’s Library Program and Chanleas Dai Primary Schools’ overall activities have served as model programs.  On several occasions the Ministry of Education in Phnom Penh have sent representatives to visit, monitor and learn about our activities.

    * Following ministry standards

We closely follow Ministry of Education policies. Our trainers use ministry policy and curriculum to build the capacity of government teachers, and the goals of our Education Program match those of the Royal Government of Cambodia.  Wherever possible, we aim to support, not detract from, the government’s education plans.

A commitment to knowing our impacts:

You might call this “Monitoring and Evaluation." This is an area where, if you look at common practices of reporting, we are surely quite weak. Instead, if you were able to evaluate our team on how well they know the impacts of our programs and the changes that they need to make to fix any problems, we would rank fairly high. We of course write reports when we need to, usually for our own internal records and evaluative purposes, but our reports to donors are typically much less formal than they are to granting bodies. We would like to ramp up our reporting so that we can better share the work that we are doing with all of you who are reading this and keep more detailed written records for future staff and our own reflection process.

That said, we are comfortable with the amount of knowledge we receive about our programs’ impacts, as 75% of our staff  live or spend the majority of their work days in the communities where we work and continually inform us of ways to improve. It took some time to build trust with community leaders and school administrators to get honest answers about the impact of our programs, local needs, their impressions of PEPY, and constructive advice. When you are viewed as dollar signs it is hard to get honest feedback. There has been a significant shift in how the community treats PEPY staff now that there is an understanding that we do indeed want honest feedback and will not remove our funding if we get criticism. . . . Instead we will happily receive it as it helps us improve what we do!