Attempting to transform the education system in a country of 4.5 million people still recovering from the devastation of a brutal civil war and Ebola is daunting enough. But when pieces finally start to come together and opportunities present themselves, logistics, training and details matter. Which leads us to how More Than Me came to use the workforce development platform Unleesh.
The story of More Than Me’s founder and CEO Katie Meyler is well documented. More than a decade ago, Meyler was working with orphaned children in Liberia when she met an 11-year-old girl named Abigail who was trading sex for clean drinking water. Katie sponsored Abigail to go to school and then launched the More Than Me Academy, a scholarship program for 150 vulnerable girls in Monrovia, Liberia. She has since pushed the Liberian Ministry of Education to launch a major initiative to create partnership schools that improves the quality of education across the country.
To say the education system in Liberia is in crisis would be an understatement.
According to More Than Me stats:
65% of primary school age children are out of school.
More than half (51%) of Liberians ages 15-24 are illiterate.
Approximately 73% of all women and girls in Liberia are illiterate.
Only 17% of teachers have a tertiary degree-level qualification.
More Than Me is working to address these problems by helping the Government of Liberia establish Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), which provides school operating partners like MTM $50 per pupil to run public schools. More Than Me, a non-profit, currently operates 7 schools in Liberia: an all-girls, tuition free private Academy and 6 public charter schools. The organization’s aim is to operate 500 public schools – reaching 250,000 children by 2021.
Logistics and Details
As More Than Me began rolling out training to staff leaders, the organization realized it had some challenges. The non-profit’s model focuses on building the skills that make schools more effective, by training "School Capacity Leads" who are full time staff that are placed at each school to provide continuous training to teachers and principals.
Gathering the leads for training sessions would be challenging and inefficient. And once the leads were settled into their school, More Than Me wanted to make sure the training continued.
There were some extra difficult challenges: the tool needed to be easy to use, because the users would sometimes be novices on electronic equipment, including many who had never used a smart phone. The tool needed to deliver bite-sized training on a regular basis because continuous engagement would be the only way to make sure schools were improving. The tool needed to work offline, and it needed to be able to hold the users accountable in a visible way. More Than Me wanted to build community through the tool, so social capabilities were a big plus.
This led More Than Me to Unleesh. The Unleesh mobile-first platform began as an experiential education app used by Saul Garlick’s social entrepreneurship company ThinkImpact in Africa and quickly morphed into a tool that can be used by any group. Utilized by organizations as diverse as American Greetings, World Learning, the United Nations and The Council on International Educational Exchange, Unleesh had the features More Than Me was looking for and was battle tested.
Unleesh created “Paths” on the platform that allowed More Than Me staff to access workforce development training on classroom management and effective instruction. Each Path required the users to share how they are approaching problems and provide insight into the challenges they are facing while on the job to get feedback.
Unleesh helped improve More Than Me’s process in two distinct ways:
First, it made it easier for the organization to train people on the same material instantly.
Second, it created accountability for the work team members were doing.
Gabrielle Alicino, manager of partnerships for More Than Me’s training partner TrueSchool Studio, said Unleesh made the training readily accessible across Liberia and in the schools.
“Unleesh enables us to continuously share new content with School Capacity Leads while they are out in the field. With Unleesh, CLs are able to learn new approaches and strategies, take action in their school communities, submit actions towards building out a digital portfolio of work, and exchange ideas with their peers,” Alicino said. “It creates a bridge across geography for powerful continuous learning and collaboration.”
More Than Me says they have seen teaching quality improved and onboarding time for new staff dramatically shortened. Because Unleesh has been used in a variety of ways, More Than Me is able to really see changes across the organization.
“We know that employees feel like they are being listened to more than before,” Meyler said. “It has had a tremendous benefit to our culture.”
Meyler believes the collaboration between More Than Me and Unleesh is critical to the success as More Than Me aims to hit its 500-school target by 2021.
“The only way to ensure quality at scale will be through technology that continuously trains people. Since our model focuses on safety, health and education for every child, our staff will need to deliver on that promise and Unleesh will help us get there,” Meyler. “It's unbelievable how much institutional memory can be developed by really listening to your team in an organized and structured way.”