From an idea to a business: Pro.Svit

A lot of ideas remain just ideas and are not likely to get realized. The same with business: in order to develop your idea into a project and start implementing it, you often need a push. For the graduates of Lviv Business School of UCU Innovations and Entrepreneurship Program such a push was their business education. We continue to tell the stories of these successful people. This time, you are welcome to read the material by The Ukrainians about the Pro.Svit Centre for Innovative Education, co-founded by the graduates of our program Liliia Borovets and Anastasiia Sirenko, and also Dzvinka Zavalii, the graduate of Lviv Business School of UCU MA in Human Resources and Organization Development Program.

Liliia Borovets

Today, the Pro.Svit Centre for Innovative Education is a successful project that can boast of a hundred graduates from all over the country, a dozen of realized projects, and its own education crowdfunding platform. Besides, this organization won the Challenge Fund 2016 Competition and was recognized as one of the best during Global Skills and Education Forum in the category of Education Challenge.

However, Pro.Svit members aren’t going to stop there. On the contrary, their team is constantly growing, and they start a lot of new and really useful projects.

We had a talk with Liliia Borovets, the co-founder of the Pro.Svit Centre for Innovative Education, about how the organization manages to bring up ‘the agents of educational change’, about new educational methods, challenges in education and the prestige of a teacher’s profession.

 How did you come up with the idea of creating Pro.Svit? Who was the main mastermind behind it?

 The majority of the girls we now work within the Pro.Svit Centre for Innovative Education are the alumni of AIESEC public organization. When we were students, AIESEC was a special environment for us, and it motivated us not only to study at the university, but to wish for more. That’s why when our journey in this organization was over, we were united by the idea of creating educational opportunities for the people who want to make influence on the changes in the social sphere. The themes of educational social innovations were the most interesting and the closest to us.

The story of our organization started two years ago. Our co-founder Yuliia Vasyliv had completed a Coursera online course and proposed to create an alternative project for teenagers in Lviv. We supported this idea and engaged a team of teachers. The project had a very good effect on children, but what is more important is that it was a transforming factor for the pedagogues. At that moment we understood that we needed to change the strategy and switch from working with children to working with teachers. So that teachers would become not the source of information for children, but the creators of educational environment. This means creating education program for students, content, new interaction formats, and noticing their own professional growth in this sphere. It was at that time that we saw there was no platform for teachers in Ukraine where they could gain new skills and qualities. So we decided to create such a platform on our own.

At the very beginning our team consisted of three people: Yuliia Vasyliv, Nadiia Mykhalevych and me. Later we were joined by Dzvinka Zavalii, Olena Khomichak, Anastasiia Sirenko from Odesa, and other girls. Now our organization is actively developing.

If we think of Pro.Svit as a startup, then why exactly educational innovations and not any other issue?

Recently, I have read about a very interesting case. In 2013, Microsoft bought Nokia, and it turned out that the company had to radically downsize the number of its employees in Finland. But instead of firing people, they offered them to create their own startups. The company promised them continuous investments. As a result, Finland had ‘a startup boom’. And now these startups are winning international markets.

When I was reading about this, I was thinking: why did the Finns make such a decision, and how did the people get so eager about the idea of creating their own business? My answer to this question is that Finland has top-quality education. Children there are taught to think systemically, and at the same time to analyze the situation critically. Moreover, they are taught that their fails aren’t a mistake but an opportunity. Because of this, the managers of the company were able to handle the given situation with dignity and make it a win-win for the employees. To my mind, quality education can solve our strategic problems, and that’s why it’s so important. Quality education is characteristic of a society that can think, be self-independent and successful.

According to the data of the Pro.Mova Company, approximately 4-5% of people in our society are subjects. The situation is the same among teachers: around 5% of pedagogues are ready for changes, for certain transformations. But unfortunately, in our country there is no environment for these people where they could produce ideas; there is no platform to help them understand what exactly they need to change. We would like to create an environment for those teachers who are subjects, to give them instruments and opportunities using which they could make changes in their schools. If we help these teachers to make changes, then there will be a critical mass that will make it possible to spread the innovations among other educators.

We work with teachers and headmasters. We help teachers change their approach to teaching, and we help headmasters change their approach to management. Recently, we have determined our target audience profile, and we realized that in our case the age doesn’t actually matter. It’s important not to be afraid to take responsibility for the changes. As English people say, “learning by doing”. Particularly important are the values around which people are united, as well as realizing the need to change.

Our teachers are different because they support the presumption of a child’s intelligence. They believe that children are worthy people, and treat them as partners. Our target audience are the people who have a certain mindset, and it’s interesting that recently they have started to find us themselves. We can see that there they are, and this really motivates us to be active and move in this direction.

What education format do you offer? What are your current projects?

We have a module program that lasts for three months. During the studies we discuss important issues: blended learning, project management etc. By the way, the idea of blended learning belongs to Clayton Kristensen, the author of the book How Will You Measure Your Life?, who is famous for his concept of ‘disruptive innovation’. In fact, Christensen Institute employees develop the methodologies that transform education in the United States of America. Their format is close to us; we tell educators about new methodologies.

We offer an education program for teachers; it provides for the change of interaction during lessons: implementing various interactive learning methods, using international experience etc. The teacher-student interaction changes respectively.

Now we also have a hub schools project in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Western NIS Enterprise Fund. These are 24 pilot schools where headmasters learn together with teachers. The teachers learn about international teaching methods, and the headmasters rethink their role in management. We focus on the issues of organizing staff work, interacting with community, financial and operational management.

Besides education programs where teachers implement interactive learning methods, they also need certain materials, equipment for schools. That’s why this March we have launched our own GofundEd crowdfunding platform where teachers can raise funds for different needs. Another important function of this platform is an opportunity to gather people there who can show alternatives to other teachers. We wish that there be projects that can be scaled up. So when any teacher or headmaster visits GofundEd, he or she can see that certain things can be implemented in their schools.

Why did you create your own crowdfunding platform for educators, instead of launching fundraisers on existing platforms?

We deliberately made our platform for educators only. Now we have extended the network because at first, we had only teachers, and then we received requests from various public organizations as well. We realized that we also want to extend this segment because this will give an opportunity to show other things that teachers can use at schools. Moreover, we teach a lot of teachers if they offer their ideas. We help them elaborate on these ideas.

What is the format of your organization’s activities now? What kind of business model do you follow?

We have a hybrid funding model. Partly we depend on grants, and we get some money from GofundEd platform. We also have some nominal payments for the teachers’ trainings. We noticed that when people pay nothing, they value what they get less. We need to encourage people to pay for intellectual products.

Besides, we have a base of benefactors who support our initiative. For example, our Supervisory Board members aren’t just people who direct us strategically but they also are our social investors. Now we are facing a big challenge: how to become less dependent on grant funds and follow the format of social entrepreneurship in order to develop sustainably.

Teachers from what regions turn to you most often?

Both from small villages and big cities. For example, a teacher from the village Kryva in the Transcarpathia, with two or three thousand inhabitants; she realized her project and managed to get her colleagues interested, and they also started their own projects. We have active people from Kyiv, Sloviansk, from the whole of Ukraine.

At first, we were announcing the calls for application in social networks as well as through the Advanced Training Institute. Now, more and more often teachers come upon the recommendations of their colleagues. And that’s even better, because we can create a network of people with the same values.

In what cities do your programs function?

We have programs in Lviv, Vinnytsia, Sloviansk and Odesa, and also in our hub schools in Kyiv. Teachers come to Kyiv from different regions. Participants from Kropyvnytskyi, for example, come to Lviv, and that’s very important, because the group dynamics is completely different. All pedagogues are different, you can feel the context of every city.

In case of Sloviansk, the people are super active — they hear about something and they do it straightaway. Lviv has absolutely different specifics — people spend more time on ‘contemplating’, and only after that they start doing. When the dynamics is multifaceted, the effect from learning is greater. And that’s important because we try to sew the social fabric together: we introduce teachers to each other, they create projects together etc. For instance, last year a teacher from Sloviansk brought children to Lviv for Christmas, and the traditions of celebration were a revelation for them. They cooperated with a Lviv school, and it was very nice. Because there are things we don’t have a direct influence on. It’s nice when people become agents of changes, change their usual trajectory and start gaining new qualities.

One of the examples of positive changes is the Pro.Navychky Program. Within its framework, you teach innovations and project management to teachers. What projects do they offer, and what do these projects change in the lives of their schools?

We are now focused on changing the teacher-student interaction, and on implementing new methods of school teaching. For example, the transformation of lessons: learning is partly online, during lessons they have experiments, work in groups, use brainstorming technique. The other category of projects is related to using computers at school.

This is a paid program. You have created a stipend fund to pay for teachers’ participation in your projects. Did you negotiate with public officers, with the Ministry about paying for such programs from the state budget? Is it even possible?

The new law on education stipulates that money ‘follows’ the teacher and the student: the government allocates money for every one of them. The money allocated for teachers goes to institutions of advanced training. So far, there is only one such institution in Ukraine: the Advanced Training Institute for Pedagogues. But with new rules we will have more such institutions, and money will go to the institution the teacher chooses. However, it’s just an idea; we don’t know how it will be realized, because it’s unlikely that monopolist institutes will be eager to lose their markets, they will resist. Besides, we haven’t got enough organizations that can train teachers.

Since the government doesn’t allocate funds for such projects, parents do the funding. How can you persuade them that it’s better to train the teacher rather than buy a new board for the classroom?

Parents should feel the difference between the old and the new form of teaching. If they see that everything is going better, they themselves will demand changes from teachers. We have a good example of a school that started implementing blended learning: the students said they didn’t want to study in the way they did before.

In your opinion, how powerful is the informal education environment in Ukraine?

I think it’s just beginning to grow now. We have 400 thousand teachers in our country. We need more opportunities for public sector and other organizations that can offer alternatives. Or come up with a decision on how to involve more educators. Now it’s less than one per cent.

The biggest problem teachers now face is that students stopped being involved in the learning process. They are quite passive, it’s very difficult to activate them during lessons and make the learning process creative. Pedagogues ask us to help design more interesting lessons in order to get children more involved and make them use their tablets or cellphones for learning purposes. Actually, it’s possible to do that, because the USA, for instance, have such experience. So, if there are any questions about how to draw attention of every child according to their abilities, then our program gives answers to them.

Do you feel support from the representatives of the formal education sector, for instance, from the Ministry of Education?

Now we manage to cooperate with the Ministry of Education, we feel they are open. First and foremost, we have a certain amount of trust in the context of the hub schools we work with. Also, institutions of advanced training give credit to our teachers’ trainings as a part of their courses. They stop being monopolies and are ready to share this opportunity with other public organizations or institutions. This means that the market of educational services for teachers is growing; by the way, this market didn’t exist before now. And that’s good because there will be competition. We as well as other market players will try to offer the best quality of education services so that teachers choose us.

My colleagues also were part of the team that was forming the concept of the New Ukrainian School. So we try to cooperate, and we are very happy that there are some advances. We would like this process to be quicker but I don’t know all the pitfalls. A lot of teachers and headmasters are now waiting for the changes in education. But now these changes aren’t happening, and they feel certain disappointment. That’s why we wish to communicate with educators, explain what influence certain reforms will have on them. Teachers should realize what is going to happen in two or three years, what they should be ready for.

By the way, how do you assess the changes in school education initiated by the Ministry of Education and Science?

The concept of the New Ukrainian School isn’t just redecorating, it’s establishing new foundations for the development of education in Ukraine. But at the same time, this law is just a framework, it’s very general. What happens to education next depends on the bylaws that will outline the mechanisms of implementing the changes. A lot of teachers are skeptical about the Ministry’s propositions. But we should remember that changes happen not only from the top to the bottom but also vice versa. The Ministry gives us effective strategies, and the people below take up these strategies and implement them.

Educators are now somewhat restricted by various bureaucratic limits. But we hope that in 2018 they will actually get more freedom. It’s important for school workers to be able to convert this freedom into responsibility and implement the changes. And if pedagogues aren’t ready for such challenges, then the reform will just pass by and be ineffective.

For many years, there is polemics concerning eleven or twelve years’ school course. In your opinion, how crucial is that? What problems can twelve years’ school course help solve?

In twelve years’ school education system, a person studies at school till he or she is 18 years old. And it’s OK, because exactly at this age people become legally responsible for their actions, they are no longer under their parents’ wings and decide for themselves what to do with their lives. The efficiency of such education is another issue. The reform provides for greater teacher and school autonomy, therefore, they will be able to offer their own effective decisions for twelve years’ school education.

The aim of Pro.Svit is forming new Ukrainian educators. Who are they? And what does an ideal teacher look like?

An ideal teacher learns a lot, he or she is a life-long learner. It’s a person who experiments and analyzes, understands students’ needs well and can meet those needs. And, you know, this is enough for the changes to take place at school. The role of a teacher has to change: from communicating content to creating content. It’s breaking with frontal teaching method and building democratic relationships with students. There may be many variations, but the most important thing is that it’s a person who independently builds learning space for students.

An ideal teacher is a person who is a subject, is proactive and able to solve problems on his or her own. This person takes responsibility for creating innovative experience for students. A new teacher will certainly depart from the image of an authoritative mentor, realizing that he or she is a partner for schoolchildren. The task of such a teacher is to create learning environment in order to discover the talent of every child. This means a change in teachers’ thinking, their mindset, a transition from teaching children to developing their competences. And we already have several examples of such people who change teaching methods at their schools — in Lviv region, in the Transcarpathia, in Kropyvnytskyi etc.

Can one teacher who studied at your center become an agent of change among a lot of staff members?

That’s a good question. We started by inviting one teacher from one school. Now we invite them in little groups of two or three. We usually engage headmasters in our education programs because we realize that the role of a headmaster is dominant, and this very person can either make changes possible or obstruct them. International experience shows that if there are three or four pedagogues in one school who are active and willing to change, they can give impetus to a very passive environment. Our experience also confirms this. The above-mentioned teacher from Khust raion started to involve her colleagues, and now they are forming a whole team of people who teach in a new way. And though one man is no man, still everything depends on the context and school specifics.

Sooner or later, in any discussion on the quality of school education you will certainly hear the argument about low salaries: say, you cannot expect teachers to be modern, professional, innovative and attentive to students as long as they are paid pennies. Is that true? If, for instance, every teacher got a salary that is several times higher, would that give a new quality to school education?

I am deeply convinced that money isn’t the most important thing. Even if the salaries get higher, it’s unlikely that there will be any changes. Because at first the thinking changes, and then the actions do. I don’t know whether money is motivation to change the thinking. Teachers in Ukraine should definitely get higher salaries because they are struggling to survive and think of meeting their basic needs rather than doing their jobs in the best way. This stops them from growth. However, when making salaries higher, the mechanism of certification should be used; the education reform that is being now implemented provides for this mechanism. The certification will at once show who is a professional and deserves financial stimulus, who should learn more, and who is incapable of working at school.

How do you make a teacher’s profession prestigious?

It’s interesting that in big cities being a teacher isn’t so prestigious, while in villages it’s an honorable status. That’s why when talking about prestige, the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is worth mentioning. The creation of patrol police made society change their attitude to this profession, and it prompted a lot of people to go to work there. I think something similar can be done to school education; maybe we need ‘a new teacher’.

However, there are a lot of people both at school and in society who just don’t want to change. They are sure they know everything. It’s unlikely that we can change them, we can only make them doubt that their approach is correct, and show them other models of behavior. At the same time, we have to think about how new people who come into the system with fresh ideas should not lose themselves. Very few young and intelligent people go to work at school. This year universities with pedagogical specialties have enrolled entrants with the lowest EIT results. School doesn’t offer career progress.

A person whose occupation is a teacher will remain a teacher for the whole life, and the highest position he or she can achieve is a headmaster or an official at local education authorities. We have to think about how to build anew the system of interaction, how to offer growth to the people who go work at school. We have excellent experience of the USA: there, the graduates of prestigious academic institutions go work as teachers at village schools for two years, and in this way they make the profession popular. That’s like Peace Corps Volunteering. We already have a similar initiative in Ukraine.

We also should understand the ‘village — city’ context really well. The problem with big cities is that we don’t have enough schools and qualified staff who want to work in the sphere of education. In Lviv, for instance, young people don’t wish to go work at schools because it’s easier and more favourable financially for them to work in IT companies.

During my recent visit to the USA I got to know that in one of the regions of Iowa only ten schools provide services for almost eight thousand students. While in my native Sokal raion of Lviv oblast 30 schools provide services for 7200 students, i.e. the efficiency is 1:3. Because of such wide distribution of resources, there is no chance to pay decent salaries to teachers, to hire the best professionals and create all the opportunities they need. This is one of the components. Instead, there is a certain amount of teachers in villages and towns who are very active and look for opportunities. We can see this because they participate in our programs.

If the government suddenly were to have lots of money for the sphere of education, what would be the best way to use it? What is your opinion on this?

If I were to have lots of money, I would invest it into educational technologies that would give many school and university students the access to education content, and into people. It’s very important to invest into teachers, their growth, effectiveness and working conditions. People are everything.

Your organization is already more than two years old. What are your achievements? What results are you proud of?

What we work for is changes at schools. As of today, we have 13 projects initiated by the teachers who changed their teaching experience and are building communities around themselves. A lot of educators who participated in our program have now switched to GofundEd. Thus they get the entire experience. That’s why we are proud of active pedagogues who not only rethought their role as a teacher but also became kind of social innovators thanks to GofundEd. It’s because they attracted wide audience, invited benefactors, communicated and improved their idea. They have changed. And we are proud of it. As for now, we have 100 graduates from all over the country. Everyone is active in his or her school and implements new teaching approaches.

If we talk just about GofundEd, we are happy that so many benefactors join the funding. Today, there are almost 400 people who supported 13 projects. We are close to the point of half a million hryvnias of donations. It’s a good indicator for us; the platform functions for only nine months. It’s important to our team because it means that there are a lot of people in Ukraine who care about education and are ready to join the process of changes. It confirms that we move in the right direction.

What are your strategic plans?

During the strategic session we realized that we would like to solve a problem that we have in our organization and that could be no more. (Smiling) After all, we are very flexible. We form our strategy in process, we build plans for one year, reevaluate our results and change our trajectory. For instance, in the past we worked with students, and now we work with teachers. And maybe in one year we will think of something else. In fact, there are a lot of similar organizations in the USA, and they have been there for the past 30-40 years. They change, elaborate on their strategies, and at the same time stay useful to the environment they work in. So I don’t know what will become of us; the most important thing is to work and facilitate educators’ potential.

What advice would you give to young Ukrainians who just dream of their own business?

You just need to start doing something. Don’t postpone for tomorrow. What I often hear is “first we will register an NGO, then we will register as individual entrepreneurs, later we will develop a strategic plan and start working”. But there is no need to wait for so long — you have to act here and now.

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Arsen Kostenko, Software Engineer at Twitter, Pro.Svit Supervisory Board Member

The team is young. Well, it’s more correct to say that the team is of easy-going age. The beautiful age when you haven’t forgotten English yet, you haven’t given up the plans to change the world yet, but you realize really well what ‘work’ is, what brings results and what doesn’t. The girls use rather modern approaches in organizing the team and its interaction. This is important because it gives an opportunity to develop initiative by involving people.

The organization has chosen a scaling-up approach and a correct pattern of communication with partners. The team doesn’t go to schools ‘to make changes’ themselves; it forms the environment of active teachers; therefore, this approach can be developed, copied and improved (but not given up).

The girls don’t force teachers but invite them to interact, and thus they can gather together people who have at least some initiative. This initiative gives hope that some teachers will realize their own responsibility and finish their projects. And after finishing, they will be proud to tell about them. So the influence will get bigger. If every teacher persuades at least one other colleague by his or her own example, it will be a success. And if two other colleagues, it will be fantastic!

I support Pro.Svit because the team works in Lviv, and it’s my way of saying thank you to the city for everything it gave me.

Besides, it’s a girls’ team. It would be great if other teams looked up to them and also started to act.