I would like to start by thanking Teach for the Philippines for the opportunity to learn at the Asian Institute of Management. It was a week full of wisdom, and I am very grateful to have completed the 9th Leadership and Management of Change for Development Managers (LMC/DM).
We were taught bridging leadership, appreciative inquiry, systems thinking, stakeholder analysis and engagement, and others. We discussed cases essential for the above-mentioned topics, and we were even able to present and discuss an action plan as an application of the lesson we have learned.
Let me share with you what I learned by summarizing it to three key notes:
1. See the Structure Instead of the Root Cause
I was trained to solve problems using cause and effect. My thinking goes like “educational inequity leads to poverty,” “education is the key to a good government,” and “education is the solution to unemployment.” And as part of the youth, I always get to be idealistic, and I wanted to solve problems by attacking the root cause immediately. Given the following, it made me realize that one of the driving forces to pursue the education field was because I believed that education was the root cause.
But in systems thinking, we were trained to think differently. Instead of asking “what is the root cause,” we now then ask “what is the structure that is causing the pattern that produced the event?” Of course there are multiple causes, but what is clear is that there is no root cause. So in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world we are now living in, instead of attacking what is assumed to be the root cause, it is more appropriate to see our problems as a system consisting of reinforcing and balancing loops.
An example that was given was the problem of traffic jam in the Philippines. The more highways we have, the less traffic jams. But, the more highways we have, the more it is attractive to vehicles. And we know that the more vehicles on the road, the more probable it is to have traffic jams. The solution we came up with was to build more highways, but to make these highways unattractive—expensive parking lots, expensive toll ways—but at the same time, to make public transportation attractive. Now, the problem in the Philippines, as what our professor in Systems Thinking, Professor Antonio Perez said, the public transportation needs improvement and more planning to provide people a choice.
I am trying to apply systems thinking in analyzing the loops concerning educational inequity, but it seems that I need more space to draw the loops to see the bigger picture. As I get to the bigger picture, I realized how critical it is to analyze who thr stakeholders are.
2. Break up Your Stakeholders
Oftentimes we tend to list who our stakeholders are without “breaking them up.” In the plan of ending educational inequity, we ask, who are our stakeholders? We could easily list: students, parents, administrators, teachers etc. However, it is essential to break them up to avoid generalizing that they are all allies or all adversaries. What I learned from. one of my co-fellows, Christine Fua, is to do it in a quadrant form like this:
Though we could break them up even more, this one is a good start in analyzing stakeholders.
I also learned how difficult it is to convene these stakeholders to your mission, and how people oftentimes focus too much on the result but take social outcomes for granted. In my two years in the public school system, I realized that it was only natural to ask “what is it for me?” And while this holds true, there is also this challenge on motivating them and inspiring them on remembering why they are doing what they do. It is becoming more natural to value promptness and rewards no matter the costs than honesty and integrity. You see, there’s the judgement here that the latter is more humane than the former. But who are we to force our values onto others if we have not been in their shoes?
3. “Impossible is temporary.”
The most painful and self-changing part of the five-day course was a session with Mr. Tobit Cruz, president and founder of Angat Kabataan. What I admired most was how motivated and eager their group was. They were so purpose-driven that they were able to involve and engage their stakeholders, most especially the community. The greater part there was they were able to answer the question “what is it for them,” ans at the same time, made the community realized “why they do what they do.” More than that, they acknowledged that their efforts became more meaningful because the community was a part of the solution.
It was painful because it made me reflect on how I see and do things. I dreamed big for the Philippine educational system. But when I was part of the system already, I got overwhelmed. As a result, I limited myself to the things I can do. But hearing Angat Kabataan’s story inspired me to return to my let’s-be-crazy-and-let’s-change-the-world spirit.
The five-day course brought me back to dreaming big. It challenged me to find my mission. I was able to ask questions to myself that I never asked before.
How do I bring other people to a place they have never been?
What is the current situation? What are the strategies that lead to our desired outcomes?
How do I make change orderly and predictable?
It made me reflect on who I really wanted to be and where I wanted to be. While it is easy to list all the problems in the world and list of solutions on it, the real challenge is how to make this happen and how to make it sustainable. In the words of Mr. Tobit Cruz, “Dream big. Start small. Scale up.”
The why is clear, but I still have many things to discover within myself yet. For now, I am grateful to learn the how.