If someone were to tell you to grow five schools created from your own funds into a network of more than 1,000 schools across a country, you might laugh in their face! But this is just what the founders of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) have done over the last two decades.
We spoke to Mr. Riaz Kamlani, VP-Outcomes at TCF to hear TCF’s story from being a humble plan to Pakistan’s largest private network of schools today. Mr. Kamlani has 17 years of experience in the corporate and social development sectors. He served in senior managment roles in Shell International Pakistan, UK, South Africa and the UAE before joining TCF in 2008. In this role at TCF, he is responsible for leading teams that work to deepen the impact of TCF’s core and beyond the core programmes.
Here are some things we learnt from him about TCF and its journey so far.
Q. How and when did The Citizens Foundation (TCF) come about?
A. The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is a professionally managed, non-profit organization set up in 1995 by a group of citizens who wanted to bring about positive social change through education. In the early 90s, the founders of TCF would meet socially and hear people complain about the worsening socio-economic situation of the country and they decided to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.
They came to the conclusion that education for all was the only long-term viable solution to these issues. Hence, a plan was put in place to develop five model schools with their own funds in the slum areas of Karachi to provide quality education at subsidized fee. They then envisioned to increase the network to 1,000 schools across Pakistan through donations.
Q. How many TCF schools are there currently across Pakistan?
A. Two decades later, TCF is now one of Pakistan’s leading organisations in the field of education for the less privileged. Today, TCF is operating more than 1,441 purpose-built schools across Pakistan, located in urban slums and rural communities, educating more than 204,000 students with 12,000 female teachers in 58 districts across Pakistan.
This makes TCF the largest private network of schools and the top female employer enabling low-fee quality education to the less privileged. We have also adopted 271 Government schools across Pakistan with a view of improving their quality of education. The organization ensures that girls represent nearly 50% of overall student enrolment.
Q. How many students have graduated from TCF schools and how many are enrolled in TCF schools at the moment?
A. So far 19,100 students have graduated from TCF and currently 204,000 students are enrolled with us. Our first matriculation batch graduated a decade ago when our school network and scale was much smaller than it is today!
Q. Who are the teachers teaching in TCF schools? Do your alumni teach in TCF schools?
A. The teachers employed by TCF are generally of two profiles – those living near the schools and those who live far and are brought to their nearest school location every day through TCF’s fleet of 700 vans across Pakistan. Yes, we have almost 300 alumni now teaching at TCF; that’s their way of giving back to the society and particularly their own community.
Q. How do you convince parents to send their children to school?
A. When TCF started off, education was a demand issue in the areas where we were operating. Back then, our principals had to visit the community people and tell them about TCF schools providing low-fee education – that they would have to pay only as much as they could comfortably afford; that books, school bags and uniforms would be provided; and the fact that this was a chance for their children to lead a better quality life. But I am happy to say that today, most parents want to send their children to school and hence, education now is more of a supply side issue.
Q. What are your sources of funding for TCF?
A. Most of our funding comes from Pakistani citizens based in Pakistan and abroad. Other than this, we get grants from different organisations for specific programmes.
Q. What is the future like for a TCF student? How are they able to afford higher education?
A. To answer this, I would like to define what success means to us at TCF. From our perspective, a student who wishes to serve his community after completing his basic schooling, as well as a student who goes on to pursue a PhD is equally successful in life. All the other ‘greys’ between these two examples are ‘success’ to us as long as our alumni are working with sincerity and honesty.
We provide career counselling to help them work towards their profession of choice while the mentoring programme teaches them to embrace a creative mindset as opposed to a victim mindset. Students who wish to continue their studies are guided through the potential scholarships available.
Q. Do you think privileged students today are more or less socially conscious than those in yester years?
A. Yes, that is an encouraging reality. Citizens in general and the younger generation especially, are more socially aware and conscious of their social responsibility. Perhaps, one of the reasons is that such concepts are now taught to privileged students as part of their school curriculum. Many schools now require their students to complete certain hours of social service. This is a really positive trend for us to become more sensitive and caring as a nation.
Q. Do you encourage students from the privileged echelons of society to participate in TCF? How?
A. We have a singing platform called Obhartay Sitaray which allows students to not just showcase their singing talent but also raise funds for TCF. The programme brings privileged children as well as TCF children on the same platform and it is heartening to see that TCF children are just as talented at singing as the other children. Obhartay Sitaray is a perfect platform that reflects TCF’s vision of removing the barriers of class and privilege to make the citizens of Pakistan agents of positive change. Other than this, students can also volunteer at TCF.
Q. Tell us about some of your programmes designed for young volunteers.
A. One of our volunteer programmes is a summer camp that allows young volunteers to conduct pre-planned summer camp activities with TCF primary kids. This planned programme has fun activities like arts, sports, reading and sessions on healthy habits for TCF children.
Q. Are you currently or have you in the past, been in liaison with private schools in Karachi for mentorship/volunteering programmes?
A. Yes, every year we reach out to the private intermediate/A-Level schools to enlist volunteers for our Summer Camp. University students are also enlisted as their coordinators (part of their social internship) guiding them through the summer camp module.
Q. How can we make students from the privileged class more socially aware citizens?
A. The most impactful way to teach this is to encourage students to do volunteer work. When they get involved in groundwork, spend 3 months at a remotely located TCF school in summers… that’s how they get invested in a ‘cause for life’. The field work gives them insights about the problems of the less privileged and gives them a sense of achievement when they make a positive difference in someone’s life. It makes them value the fact that giving back to society in a responsibility.
Q. Do you have a message for schools, parents and students out there?
A. Our endeavour is to contribute to a better Pakistan through TCF’s education movement. My wish is that every Pakistani becomes a part of this movement so together we can create a more tolerant, educated and enlightened Pakistan.
To find out more about The Citizens Foundation and their programmes, please see the details below:
Address: Plot No. 20, Sector – 14, Near Brookes Chowrangi, Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi 74900, Pakistan