WHO IS KARI GRADY GROSSMAN?
Kari Grady Grossman is the co-founder of Sustainable Schools International. After traveling to Cambodia in 2001 to adopt their son, Kari and her husband created the school, and, because of Kari, the school has the first primary school music program in Cambodia, a teacher’s residence and library. She also started a silk import business and an environmentally sustainable cooking fuel business to support schools.
A former writer for Discovery Channel Online, Kari is also the author of Bones That Float, A Story of Adopting Cambodia, which was the winner of the 2008 “Peacemaker of the Year” Award from the Independent Publisher’s Association and a Gold Nautilus Book Award for World Changing Books.
Kari is also a frequent speaker about her adventures and successes – check out her 2011 TedX below:
IN TOR 088 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Sustainable Schools International, its origins and evolution in Cambodia.
- Recruiting from within and how people in communities can be the best HR.
- What journalism brings to development.
- How Kari prevents burnout and maintains a source of balance and strength to keep her vision.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Sustainable Schools International
- Discovery Channel (Website)
- Independent Publishers’ Association
- World Changing Books
- The Grady Grossman School
- READ Global Nepal
- Happy Lucky’s Teahouse
- Khmer Rouge
- Social entrepreneurship
- Social capital after civil war
- Education and leadership building
- Human resources
- Burnout, sources of balance and strength
- Microfinance, microlending
- Fort Collins, CO
- Phnom Penh
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Sustainable Schools International
It started in ’01, when she traveled to Cambodia for an adoption.
Work with schools in rural Cambodia.
Giving back after adoption, partnered with organizations, supported a school in his name (The Grady Grossman School).
6 years later, the school was doing great, but there was no empowerment system. As soon as she stopped, it would all stop.
Large learning curve.
How to create sustainability:
Step 2, finance was done before step 1, human resources
Creating both human and financial resources, locally.
Today they have college graduates with bachelor’s degrees.
But it started with the idea: ongoing source of income.
Living wage, housing, sanitation for teachers. So teachers would show up.
Government built schools but did not finance operations.
They focus on financial resources, take example from READ Global Nepal.
Community-own businesses to support schools, silk import business. Sustainable cooking fuel business.
A lot of dysfunction, distrust, miscommunication. Social capital issues remaining from civil war. Uneducated people cannot bring institutional sustainability.
Doing it wrong revealed that money could be better spent building modern leadership skills.
They create a high school scholarship program. Enough kids were finishing primary school, to support a secondary school (up to 9th grade).
’10 Residential program: Leadership academy in Phnom Penh. Today 38 students, giving back to the community.
Career and origin of the commitment
It’s been in many moments. I came as a journalist, two years after the school was built.
Started at Discovery Online. Live storytelling, traveling.
Idea of a book about Cambodia, not a lot was written after the Khmer Rouge.
Research trips, answers were too bothering to stay just reporting.
“Why do kids not go to school? Because the teachers don’t show up.”
Government teachers had no house, money or water when working in rural environments. Had to live inside the schools.
“Why is it so dysfunctional?” Peeling the onion was the way Sustainable Schools International was developed.
Managing a Cambodian operation, from Fort Collins
A base staff in Cambodia. Starting to employ our own graduates, grow from within. Liaisons are also graduates.
Slow HR development process, Sustainable Schools International is an HR incubator.
Sam Kong, first college graduate is now country director in training. His mentor and first country director was a returned refugee.
There’s also a pool of international advisors providing mentorship.
A lot is run from Fort Collins, mainly funding. A manager travels back and forth. “It outgrew my skills.”
Next five years, what’s after the frustrations subside
She wants to continue, maintain the “vision” but off the management role. Chairman maybe.
More local business development, compound on building leadership, staff capacity.
Founder with a strong personality helps sustain a vision.
Become able to raise money easier. The role is prone to burnout.
Keep solving problems, scaling.
Being too successful, it’s a good problem to have. Parents want to take their children to places where teachers show up, no matter how far. We need to move into other regions.
The Leadership Academy
Will expand and take promising students into the city, supplementing higher education with mentoring and entrepreneurship skills.
It’s an incubator, a laboratory.
Owner of Happy Lucky’s Tea House, successful effort and source of balance.
Spends a lot of time in the nature, outdoors. Ski. Sources of strength.
Would go crazy if lived permanently in Cambodia, you can’t break away.
You do a lot of sacrifice when you get into international development.
Sam Kong came late. The only person who went to secondary education. Walked 17km a day to do it. Driven, son of the village carpenter and a farmer. 2y Associate’s Degree in English and Computers. Natural born entrepreneur and problem solver. Met his mentor Paul Chuck for 3 years. Graduates are required to give back to the community, he started a micro loan operation, learned from other NGOs. He is the credit man of the village, $25k in capital, 130 customers, most village businesses, generates $70k a year to fund teachers’ salaries. Country director, but he shines on the village, he makes business owners happy to work with him, tell his story.
New wave of leaders with new attitude, humility.
If you come from an academic path, experience in the field is crucial. Little insight comes from your peers. “Villagers are your teachers. And your mistakes are your other teachers.“
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