How did your career journey lead you to Geneva Global?
No two staff members share similar career journeys at Geneva Global (though teaching is a common denominator among many). Mine is no exception! Back in Morocco after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I started my career as an English teacher. But I had always wanted to study abroad in grad school. I came to the U.S. and studied for a master’s degree in education.
Parallel to that, I started working as a consultant for a non-profit in D.C. After graduating in 2004, my professional journey in international development started. I worked in a few organizations in DC and was posted overseas in Somaliland and Benin. I also got some breaks where I lived in Saudi Arabia and Cambodia because of my wife’s career. I returned to the U.S. one more time and continued working for NGOs. I finally joined Geneva Global because of its presence on LinkedIn. I saw the job ad for my role, and I thought it fit perfectly well for what I was looking for. I applied and the rest is history!
How has your role at Geneva Global evolved?
I have been at Geneva Global for less than a year but my work is constantly evolving. At first, I focused my energy on understanding the roles of key stakeholders in our company and offices in Ethiopia and Uganda and learning about the programs, challenges, and opportunities. I think that paid off as I am spending more time thinking about the bigger picture when it comes to supporting Geneva Global Ethiopia in particular. Next, I also made sure I provided the best coaching and support to my immediate reports both in Paoli and in Africa. I have spent more time on management and a little less on the technical aspect of work, but I foresee that my work in the future will go back to my favorite balance of almost 50/50 technical versus management.
What fulfills you most about your role?
Working with colleagues in Paoli and in Ethiopia and Uganda is one of the two most satisfying parts of my work. I get to work with a really talented pool of staff members in the U.S., Ethiopia and Uganda on a regular basis. I enjoy learning from them, supporting them, coaching some of them and bringing our heads together to come up with ideas and ways to help disadvantaged children in the communities we serve. Which brings me to the other aspect of work that provides me immense satisfaction: helping those in dire educational need.
Having come from North Africa myself, I saw some disadvantaged populations before. But working in international development in education in general, and with out-of-school children in Ethiopia and Uganda in particular, gives me huge satisfaction in what we do every day. We provide lots of children and their families with opportunities they would not have otherwise had. We are not providing only re-access to education for older kids; we are offering them opportunities to change their lives for the better forever. When you do that for one child, it is a great satisfaction; when you contribute to doing that for hundreds of thousands or more, that is priceless!
How has the international education landscape changed over the last few years?
It is paradoxical that there is constant change in education but without significant change at all. Teaching and learning differ from country to country with some at the highest levels of achievements but at exorbitant price tags (such as in Scandinavia), while the majority of countries–rich and poor–struggle to find the appropriate funding/results balance.
For the countries we support, donors change their funding strategies and focus areas all the time, leading to outstanding results in some areas, though fragmented and temporary at most. For example, there was a strong focus on teacher training as a lever for quality of education. Then, there has been focus on reading and math skills. Then, there is some emphasis on education in emergency situations. In my mind, a meaningful change to education starts with viewing the issue as a whole, not as independent, intricate parts of a giant system. It is only when you see the bigger picture first, that you can start using microscopes to dissect smaller parts of the system and finding solutions for that part, within the whole body.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in education?
I have provided this advice to a few people already this year: three interns at our Education Deportment in Paoli and in Ethiopia. Working in education in international development can take many forms. One has to decide which area they would like focus on: one can be a technical person with deep understanding of educational theories, learning and instruction, practices, and trends around the world. One can be a manager of educational programs. They will not need the same skills, but they will certainly need a strong understanding of both education and management. One can also be in the sub-field of educational assessment. It is a unique area that requires skills in educational research, monitoring, and assessment and the like. The earlier a person figures out where they would feel more comfortable in the larger education field, the sooner they would be able to contribute meaningfully to that area.
What are you most excited about for the future of education?
There are many stakeholders in education starting with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and all the way to policy makers. It is a sector that almost everybody is affected by. Therefore, a meaningful educational system should address the needs of society as a whole, not individual people or categories of people. I am excited that education is attracting attention of many such categories. A few examples are that parents are more interested in what happens at schools, businesses voice their specific need for skilled workforce, and teachers continue to improve their skills through training. It is not a perfect system and I do not expect it will be any time soon, but the involvement of different stakeholders will help ensure that education is not in the hands of politicians only. This may be slightly optimistic, but we need optimism to keep doing what we are doing.
What are you reading right now?
Aside from reading educational materials for work and general knowledge, I read mostly novels for fun. I have finished The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens (I highly recommend it) and started The Couple at Number 9 by Claire Douglas, and I have a list of three books in line: Dark Sky by C.J. Box, The Other Side of Night, by Adam Hamdy, and Wake, by Shelley Burr. I am also trying to re-start reading in Arabic.
Where do you get your news?
I like to stay abreast of what is happening in the world. As such, I read and look for news. As much as I like to have diverse sources of information, I tend to go back to BBC, Reuters, CNN, and Aljazeera for the news of the day. I also like NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me as a source of news in a more satirical and fun way.
For more information about Abdechafi and to meet the rest of our team, please click here.