Future First on how to get more Kenyan children educated

How can we get more children engaging with learning?

We all know that education is the key to a better world.

But access to education, and the opportunity to succeed once at school, varies drastically around the world.

Today I’m speaking with, Pauline Wanja, the CEO of Future First Kenya. Future First inspires, connects and builds the capacity of public school alumni as relatable role models to provide mentorship, career guidance, scholarship and governance support to their former schools.

We hear about what happened to the education movement in Africa after Colonialism in the early 60s.

Pauline tells us about the reality on the ground for students in Kenya.

And why their model is so powerful.

We hear a story that keeps Pauline up at night. But we then hear about what gives her hope.

And then Pauline tells us who inspires her. Her answer providing such a fascinating insight to her life growing up.

There is so much here. If you’re keen to get a window into another world, understand about an incredible initiative in Kenya, and simply feel injected with hope and inspiration – this one is for you.

So throw on those running shoes, or grab that favourite beverage, and here is Pauline.

And please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

00:00:02:05 – 00:00:27:03
Philippa White
Welcome to the show, where we unearth new ways of looking at ever evolving lights around the world. Seen from a number of different industries, cultures and backgrounds. But there’s one thing that unites everyone I speak to. They all want to do their part to make the world better in their own unique ways. It’s a uniting passion. Whether they’re from the commercial world, third sector or public sector from the Global North or the global south.

00:00:27:15 – 00:00:59:14
Philippa White
My name is Philippa White and welcome to TIE Unearthed. We all know that education is the key to a better world. But access to education and the opportunity to succeed once at school, it varies drastically around the world. Hello and welcome to our landmark episode 50 of TIE Unearthed. Today I’m speaking with Pauline Wanja, the CEO of Future First Kenya.

00:01:00:07 – 00:01:40:18
Philippa White
Future First inspires connects and builds the capacity of public school alumni as relatable role models to provide mentorship, career guidance, scholarship and governance support to their former schools. Over the past six years, she has played a vital role in shaping alumni engagement conversations and alumni work in Kenyan high schools and institutions of higher learning. Before joining Future First, Pauline designed and implemented youth programs for ActionAid International, the World Bank Institute, World Youth Alliance, Ashoka Youth Venture Program and British Council’s Global Changemakers.

00:01:41:03 – 00:02:09:23
Philippa White
She’s an acumen fellow, African visionary fellow and is a recipient of a Nelson Mandela Grasset Medical Innovation Award. She holds a law degree from Moore University and is currently pursuing an MBA with the University of London. We’ll be talking about the reality on the ground in Kenya for students will understand more about what future first does and why it’s so important.

00:02:10:09 – 00:02:20:09
Philippa White
So grab that favorite beverage or throw on those running shoes. And here’s an inspiring chat with Pauline. Hello, Pauline.

00:02:20:10 – 00:02:23:16
Philippa White
It is lovely to have you with us today. Thank you for joining us.

00:02:23:22 – 00:02:25:09
Pauline Wanja
Thank you so much for the invitation.

00:02:25:17 – 00:02:28:18
Philippa White
Tell me, where are you talking to us today?

00:02:28:22 – 00:02:32:11
Pauline Wanja
I’m drilling in from Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa.

00:02:32:16 – 00:02:33:19
Philippa White
Wonderful. And you’re at home?

00:02:34:00 – 00:02:34:23
Pauline Wanja
Yes, I am at home.

00:02:35:04 – 00:02:56:06
Philippa White
Because it’s a holiday. So you’re getting you on a holiday. I’m sorry, but thank you for being available. I really appreciate it. Okay. Thank you. So we’ve been speaking to a future first for many years, actually, and we’ve been desperately trying to get a tie project with you. And we were close one year and then it didn’t happen.

00:02:56:06 – 00:03:11:01
Philippa White
But I’m so excited to get your story out because what you’re doing is so important and it’s so inspirational. But before we get to that, I think it would just be really wonderful to just understand more about you. So can you bring you to life for our listeners?

00:03:11:04 – 00:03:29:08
Pauline Wanja
I’ve been doing this for close to a decade and before that I used to do some work in my neighborhood. It grew up to be right. So I know. Can you just informal settlement. So the idea of creating opportunities for young people from disadvantaged communities, it’s very dear to me.

00:03:29:14 – 00:03:34:15
Philippa White
The start of the organization was was when and your role with them.

00:03:34:16 – 00:04:02:23
Pauline Wanja
Okay. Each of us was such a narrow principle and it was in the backdrop of a global study or propensity or what about you? But that was the old house which which was done in London and then did the research showed the percentage of adults up to the old high school around 52%, with only 2% going back. But in Kenya, 70% of abouts that were polled say to give back to the old school, but only 1% was doing that.

00:04:03:09 – 00:04:31:21
Pauline Wanja
So that created the whole opportunity to explore the idea of adults connecting and giving back notes. So we’ve been in Kenya for close to a decade now, and every batch I collected shows a high propensity of adults up notes. I was writing a paper on why our work is important. So at the end of colonialism zero in the early sixties, there was a huge number of Africans wanting to go to school with less food.

00:04:32:04 – 00:04:46:11
Pauline Wanja
So what happened to fill the gap was communities donated land labor to build schools and that that culture of giving back to school or community engaged school is very ingrained in indications, right from its inception.

00:04:46:14 – 00:05:01:07
Philippa White
Perhaps you can help our listeners just understand what is this context? What does it what’s the context that you’re working in and why is it important that people who have come out of the schools and the adults are engaging with the schools? Why do you need to have that in Kenya?

00:05:01:08 – 00:05:27:24
Pauline Wanja
Okay. So I think this weekend, last can be start president and in 2003, he declared free primary education for every child in Ghana, which was a huge win for our education system. But on the other hand, our system was so overwhelmed in terms of infrastructure. So schools and classrooms went from having around 50 students to double or triple that amount.

00:05:28:09 – 00:05:45:07
Pauline Wanja
So we that the teachers don’t have a lot of time to connect the students and give them the extra curricular support they need. And also, on the other hand, we have generations of young people who their parents didn’t go to school. So they are the first of their families to go to school. And then you talk about this key.

00:05:45:08 – 00:06:04:02
Pauline Wanja
Like even in my school, my parents can go to school. So from home, you don’t get that support. You need to ever think around a career or even if you get you don’t know what the next steps are in choosing that line of work. So what we hope we go up is alumni, use the schools, build that infrastructure.

00:06:04:02 – 00:06:19:03
Pauline Wanja
We’d be true, especially for public education system, to provide that service that most students cannot get from their teachers or their families. So we hope all this plays out very critical role in Townsville, creating a role model for young people.

00:06:19:08 – 00:06:37:00
Philippa White
That is incredible. And you know, I’m just I’ve got two young children at home so I’ve got a seven year old and an 11 year old, but seven year old, she’s still having fun. She’s knitting and painting and she’s you know, that’s there’s no problem there. But my 11 year old, she’s now having exams. She’s learning about algebra, she’s learning about science.

00:06:37:00 – 00:06:58:20
Philippa White
So we’re talking about dilution. And I’m having to go back to my years of being in school and remembering how, you know, exponents and algebra and sort of having, you know, and I sit with her and she’s obviously got lots of questions and she doesn’t really understand what the teacher was saying. You know, it’s a it’s a class of 17 people, maybe 20 people.

00:06:58:20 – 00:07:17:21
Philippa White
So, you know, there’s a lot of students that the teacher has to in many classes. Obviously, there’s many schools that have many more people than that. You just think it’s impossible for the teacher to be able to give that attention, that close attention to every single student. So, of course, someone has to take that and help the children learn.

00:07:17:24 – 00:07:39:16
Philippa White
And if the parents haven’t gone to school and understood and that algebra or have the time or like you say, just even the desire because didn’t really understand, never went to school, who never really saw that children need to have that mentorship because they need to obviously see what is possible afterwards, but also just to help them get through it.

00:07:39:21 – 00:07:49:15
Philippa White
Right. Exactly. It’s almost like children are you know, it’s a losing game a little bit. If they don’t have that support, then they’re really left to their own devices or anything is true.

00:07:49:20 – 00:08:19:11
Pauline Wanja
And just to contextualize that, in the school, we started working in 2014 and I think from our first two shows, we brought a couple of alumni who agree with one of the lawyers. Those are because it was one of the popular musicians in the old school, and I remember the composition from the teachers was like it was the first time the students were believing people like them can be successful and they felt that actually that’s what this year they did very well in the end of exam.

00:08:19:17 – 00:08:45:24
Pauline Wanja
And the teachers like now even the students believe that you can come from these poor neighborhoods and get a shot and that motivates them just to get here. So I think there’s a whole lot of the model itself presents a lot of opportunities for young people, especially from backgrounds where they don’t get support at home or from public education system that I mention is overwhelmed to assist mentorship and just that inspiration to do better.

00:08:46:02 – 00:09:17:16
Philippa White
Absolutely. For people who I mean, I have connections with South Africa. Well, Africa, because I was born in South Africa. And so the continent of Africa has always been very close to my heart. And of course, Ty, we’ve been working in the region probably since 2000, and I think our first African project was in 2009, maybe 2010. So we’ve been supporting organizations and probably, you know, we’re working in 25 countries around the world and many of those countries are in or in Africa.

00:09:17:17 – 00:09:42:01
Philippa White
So I understand many of the challenges and sort of the reality on the ground. You’ve touched on it already, but I just wonder for our listeners who maybe don’t understand just the intricacies and how things are in specific Kenya, perhaps you can help us understand in a little bit more detail just the challenges that you face in that part of the world, perhaps helping people understand what’s the background of these young people.

00:09:42:01 – 00:10:11:16
Pauline Wanja
So the context sees you working in public schools and most of the schools are under resourced in terms of human resources. Teach us tools, textbooks and school uniforms so they can need that kind of supports in terms of the infrastructure, but also in a context where a teacher in a classroom has between 50 to 100 students, they’re not able to specifically help a student or give that in-depth attention that a student needs.

00:10:11:20 – 00:10:25:22
Pauline Wanja
So we feel like these need to fill that gap. And from where we sit, the government is overwhelmed. The parents are overwhelmed. So we’re looking at a generation of Kenyans that have gone through the educational system that can be rallied to fill that gap.

00:10:26:01 – 00:10:38:07
Philippa White
Can you just tell us a story about one of the students perhaps that has gone through the mentorship program and just to bring to light the power of this type of model?

00:10:38:07 – 00:10:58:06
Pauline Wanja
Oh, I’ll give an example. And I think this is something that’s been keeping me awake for the last two years. And I live in a place called Westlands and one of the evenings you’ve been to Nairobi, it’s traffic. So I may may I mean, this old man crept across the road and he was limping. So I decided to help him through it.

00:10:58:06 – 00:11:24:09
Pauline Wanja
And as he starts talking, he tells me that good. And he said he just completed primary school. That is great. It’s at 14 and he’s been admitted to a very prestigious Kenyan extra county school, but he’s not able to pay school fees. So I told him, okay, I won’t be to alumni so I can go back to my records and see if he’s an alumni from that school willing to pay school fees.

00:11:24:09 – 00:11:42:11
Pauline Wanja
So I go back home and after two days I think he had given him that. He calls me back. So I go through my record and I have an alumni. I think you wouldn’t have an MC just named Alumni Scotland Single Alumni. I call him up and they say, Hey, there’s this boy who just finished school. He has very good grades.

00:11:42:12 – 00:12:16:20
Pauline Wanja
They get up. What would you have for my school? Can you rally some of your troops, fellow alumni, to pay school fees? And within a day that sorted the boy for a whole academic year. And I remember I’m delighted to follow up with the kids for the boy. And what was surprising is that never met the alumni from the other and all he needed to know they someone from my own school and they get up for 20 inches and this last year he he was to his position to the out of who a thousand students.

00:12:16:20 – 00:12:43:06
Pauline Wanja
And when I sent the records to the point that heads of whatever ability we need to meet this boy we need to see through school, we need to know we need him to know that he’s supported and I don’t know everything. I remember that. So I feel about the missed opportunity, like it was this connection with an old man telling you he big boy finish school, he can afford going to my food and I feel if we expand the model is a missed opportunity.

00:12:43:06 – 00:13:07:11
Pauline Wanja
Where how many students who wouldn’t have access to education this year because they can’t pay school fees? But we have alumni who’ll be so willing when a phone call supports the whole the lesson $1,000, roughly $500 for someone like a lot of other people who can afford to give that $500. So I see me as not not being able to work at a large scale.

00:13:07:14 – 00:13:27:07
Pauline Wanja
We have missed opportunity to help hundreds of students that do not have access to secondary education. So they their results like best announced two weeks ago and they keep getting calls to just connect and all it devastates is a phone call, a key. I know you went to this to have a student that needs to go to you, inform us, can you support a school to.

00:13:27:16 – 00:13:48:10
Pauline Wanja
And more often than not, everyone is like, well, yeah, let me let me help this. But then you’re doing it at such a small scale that it’s broadly a missed opportunity. That’s why I feel like as conducting our national campaign and rallying more even in desperate, we give thousands of young Kenyans an opportunity to watch good sports.

00:13:48:12 – 00:14:11:05
Philippa White
Oh, my gosh. So tell me, this brings me to my next question, because I’m just like so we obviously have a project written up. We’ve for our listeners, we actually had this project written up a few years ago, but we had it was an in-person project and unfortunately the individual that was going to go that company, there was suddenly some terrorist activity close to one of the borders of Kenya.

00:14:11:05 – 00:14:33:13
Philippa White
If I’m not mistaken, the company at the very last minute had to pull out and they said, We just can’t send somebody there because we’re just too worried for their safety. Oh, my gosh. That’s now going to be an issue from sending somebody in person. How do we how do we fill this project? And my goodness, and then we had a pandemic and then, you know, two years passed, but now we’re working virtually, which is so exciting.

00:14:33:13 – 00:14:50:10
Philippa White
So we don’t have to worry. I mean, I don’t even know if there’s still an issue from that point of view. But anyway, we don’t need to worry about actually. We’ve got projects in so many different places around the world, you know, Syria, Iraq, we can now do it virtually. And we have a handful of companies that are wanting to get involved with TIE, with the TIE program before the end of the year.

00:14:50:24 – 00:15:03:22
Philippa White
And so I’m just so excited to get this out there because this is our opportunity to support you in the way that you need to be supported finally. And I just wonder if perhaps you can tell our listeners how you hope TIE can help.

00:15:03:22 – 00:15:31:13
Pauline Wanja
So I think the broad picture will actually is to have a national shift in the way I know, especially the global not the whole composition of alumni become obvious, people remain engaged, but that’s not the case here. So we hope that to build a culture, once they leave school and able to reconnect, they can always call me back to go and mentor students as confused for another young student to get to get access to education.

00:15:31:22 – 00:16:08:11
Pauline Wanja
So at the moment, I think what we’re struggling with is conducting a national campaign which will and will be a huge undertaking, perhaps of communication and logistics. So we hope about running a national campaign to save alumni from ensuring that that happens. But schools don’t keep up. So we build an alumni management system. So hoping to have a lot of signups so that easier communication instead of me going through my effort to look for an alumni, probably tear up the interest of our students, can just post it on our site from the alumni management system for US School go to the end of the year.

00:16:08:11 – 00:16:37:12
Pauline Wanja
Anytime you connect to my old school or it’s June, I’m walking, I’ll be Nakuru and to speak and I suppose just to give a mentorship talk or hug it online. So you’re hoping to run a national campaign and given what type of information combination, I think that’s something we are grateful for. The support that we bring you. We ran a few campaigns, but none at National because of the logistics support, of course.

00:16:37:12 – 00:16:58:17
Philippa White
Yeah, this is exciting as well because the way that Ty likes to work, I like to build on projects. So if we, you know, we do a campaign, that’s sort of the first step, but I can imagine kind of a strategic project as well, kind of writing it. And actually if you go to a case of how can we scale this, how can this actually become something bigger, you know, a business plan to kind of help drive that as well?

00:16:58:17 – 00:17:20:22
Philippa White
Like I can imagine, as the team would work with you on this step one, I can imagine building on that afterwards as well and helping sort of build a bigger, stronger model so you can reach more people. Let’s let’s let’s see where things get to. And you mentioned what keeps you up at night worrying. I wonder what gives you hope?

00:17:20:22 – 00:17:44:24
Pauline Wanja
What gives me hope? Currently, we run very high on the generosity index, so I feel there’s a whole chance for us to support more young Kenyans by just happy to that generosity. So that gives me lovely stuff to tap you. There’s a willingness to do when we ask people why they don’t give back to the old school, they said No one asks.

00:17:44:24 – 00:18:05:13
Pauline Wanja
You know, that gives you some hope. May only need to do is ask. So I think we need to get better at asking and I hope I’m hoping this engagement with say gives us the opportunity to build that infrastructure that make asking easy shows. I think you’ve been talking about generation opinions that I’ve graduated with. A big difference is that millions of Kenyans.

00:18:05:13 – 00:18:20:06
Pauline Wanja
So how do we get fit that making the ask for them to either provide access to information provide mentorship. Sabino School Board so the logical thing that they would benefit from us asking better.

00:18:20:11 – 00:18:22:07
Philippa White
I hear there’s a little one in the background.

00:18:22:08 – 00:18:27:10
Pauline Wanja
That you really feel I need the background of coming back.

00:18:27:10 – 00:18:33:10
Philippa White
We’re almost finished. I don’t know if they’re hungry or what it is, so we’re open. So tell me who inspires you?

00:18:34:11 – 00:18:36:12
Pauline Wanja
I know this sounds cliche. I would say my mum.

00:18:36:20 – 00:18:40:05
Philippa White
Is a cliché. So me was.

00:18:40:12 – 00:19:02:22
Pauline Wanja
My mum went. My mum didn’t go to school at all, but she managed to raise six kids. See that’s in school, including university and she did that in one of the most difficult environments, like, you know, an informal settlement. So every time and now as a mother, I wonder how the hell did you do that? So I feel inspired every day that she was able to do that.

00:19:03:00 – 00:19:04:19
Philippa White
Now, it’s incredible. How many children do you have?

00:19:04:23 – 00:19:07:06
Pauline Wanja
Just one, six, seven months old.

00:19:07:11 – 00:19:22:21
Philippa White
Yeah. Congratulations. Yeah. I don’t understand how people. You know, I have to. That’s nothing you done juggle anymore more. Tell me we’re wrapping up. But do you tell me, what are you working on at the moment that you think our listeners would find interesting?

00:19:23:01 – 00:19:47:22
Pauline Wanja
Last year, in partnership with an organization called African Philanthropy Network, we did a survey on alumni giving during COVID, and we realized there was an increase in alumni giving during a very hard time. So we are reaching out to people and alumni giving in the problems for education system. Just to give you an example, in 2019, which is the last year, we actually had 50 corporate kids of the alumni we worked with.

00:19:47:22 – 00:20:09:18
Pauline Wanja
And this is just alumni from less than 100 school donated close to $2.6 million to the old school. And so we want to just put that 1008 people in this community for the promise of engaging alumni for the funds for the public education system. So that’s what you’re working in during COVID as close up close for two years to academic year.

00:20:09:18 – 00:20:37:23
Pauline Wanja
So there was an opportunity for us really alumni to just support schools to reopen, which was so it happened a lot. You know, technically it had it’s going to the schools supporting the teachers to feel safe, explaining what’s going on to the students. We had other alumni donating computers to the school so that next time students can go was what happened to the online studies didn’t happen for us because there wasn’t infrastructure.

00:20:38:07 – 00:20:50:08
Pauline Wanja
So, you know, one or two schools have seen alumni set up alumni computer laboratories that can help future online online petition to happen which which can happen. Necessitating the two year break would be.

00:20:50:08 – 00:21:08:19
Philippa White
Fascinating, isn’t it? If you’re pulling together just the thinking and seeing the territory and where you’re working and actually realizing, oh my gosh, you know, there’s so much opportunity there. There’s the desire, there’s the support. Now we’re just lacking the structure to make it happen. I mean, you’re working it, you know, it’s just you need.

00:21:08:19 – 00:21:20:22
Pauline Wanja
To figure out how to be like I donated the funds. That was the student that got the funding because you need to build that, if that’s right. Yeah. So was that student selected. Yeah. Against work in progress.

00:21:21:06 – 00:21:23:06
Philippa White
But it’s exciting and there’s hope. It is.

00:21:23:08 – 00:21:24:07
Pauline Wanja
Neser. Yeah.

00:21:25:05 – 00:21:42:22
Philippa White
Well, Pauline, it is such a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time. I’m so excited to get this information about what you’re doing out there. It is very inspirational. It’s impactful. Education is everything and if we can get it into the hands of more people, the world will be a better place. So if we can be a part of that, I’d be very happy.

00:21:42:22 – 00:21:48:17
Pauline Wanja
Thank you so much for the call and I hope we get an opportunity to upskill and build something great.

00:21:49:05 – 00:21:55:17
Philippa White
Yeah, we do. Thank you. Thank you.

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