29 May 2023

How to Design Programs Around Intergenerational Collaboration and Leadership

Source: Enseña Perú

Franco Mosso is the co-founder and CEO of Enseña Perú. His profound knowledge of educational systems as well as his expertise in leadership and change management, made him an apt advisor and consultant to many significant initiatives over the years like Teach for All as well as the Center for Adaptive Leadership. His efforts and successes as a change-maker in Peru were recognized when he received the Leadership in Education Award by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2018. Today he is building educational systems for teachers and students alike that center around agency and collaboration and continues to inspire change throughout the regions of Peru.

In our interview with Franco last year, we discussed what happens if we equip learners and educators with real agency based on his experience in Cajamarca. In his view, we often expect kids and educators to become change-makers, but we reserve the tools and the ways of thinking to do so.

According to Franco, transforming education systems is intense and frustrating at times, but it’s through the discomfort of shifting your mindset that we can create change. He is convinced that putting power in the hands of students and educators to drive their own purpose in education is one of the most important changes in education during our time. Building on the New Education Story framework, systems thinking, and applying both to intergenerational leadership and collaboration, Franco is taking the next step in his efforts to create change in education.

This article is a part of the New Education Story Global Insight Series, aiming to showcase what education transformation looks like in different contexts.

Franco’s Experience in Implementing the Three Drivers of Transformation: Power, Purpose, and Practice

To put power in the hands of students to drive their own purpose in education, we need to ask for their opinions about the purpose of education. There are beautiful statements of purpose in the constitution and the national plan, but it’s different from the view of the students in real life. Once, I visited a school where I asked a girl what education is about, to which she answered, “So I can get an A in my test. If not I feel like I am no one”. For students, education is full of pressure and is more about narrow choices, accumulating prestige against peers, and academics.

This is how we started making tangible the discussion of the purpose of education, through the actual lives and opinions of our students. We started to ask students what they think about the purpose – why education exists, having a conversation with them and gathering the data. With our students, we talk about what it means to acknowledge that the education system has been built towards individualistic purposes and how to turn it into a collective purpose. We also discuss what it means to go from being purposeless to being purposeful and get your own action, from being a passive observer with no voice to active, courageous leadership.

Three drivers of education system transformation. Source: Franco Mosso, Enseña Perú

Oftentimes we think that to do youth work we have to include youth in adult spaces. But it’s equally important to include adults in youth spaces designed by youth. In our program, we promote that adults participate in spaces that adults did not create. Students make their own curriculum choices and craft their own path. This reshapes the balance of power between youth and adults, as we don’t impose anything on what they do; we only ask what they want to change about education.

In terms of practice, it’s not natural for adults to engage in this way, because it wasn’t normal for themselves when they were students. So we create professional development for adults around topics such as agency, student participation, and personalization where they can come into contact with their 15-year-old self so that they can walk the path with youth as companions. 

We designed our leadership program to give as much power as we could to our youth leadership. One of my students created an organization called Wake Up Now that focuses on the development of youth around gender education and quality education. Another student created an organization centered around STEM, helping students have their first experience in research. Another girl, Cindy, was the first student in six years who wrote an article in an adult-dominated portal that was read by thousands of people and reposted by ministers. Camila led the creation of a youth parliament with over 130 students discussing the nature of the community. And this is the nature of our work – to help our students to exercise leadership in different contexts, in their own terms.

Eva: Franco, how do you design your programs around intergenerational collaboration and leadership? 

When you think about systems, you don’t focus only on one piece of the puzzle, you focus on how the pieces of the puzzle are related to each other, in this case, to achieve holistic education and intergenerational leadership. You need to be willing to engage with multiple people in a community. Thinking systemically doesn’t mean you work only with teachers, principals, or policymakers. It’s a shared work with multiple contributions, and interrelations between what everybody does

When designing the programs, I aim to go deeper and relate to the students. The key principle is when you’re designing with someone; you have to spend time with someone.

If we’re going to help the other level of leadership – the potential of students in educational change – I have to spend time with them, start deciphering what it means to be an ally for them and understand how they view the world. I knew that it was going to be a leap because we’ve done this work with adults for a long time.

I’ve learned many things from working across generations in terms of how they contribute and reshape the system. Firstly, there are thousands of kids who are willing to shape the world and create a better future at an early age. In Peru, there are 2.8 million kids between the ages of 12 and 18. Take only a fraction of them as change makers and you have a different country. We’re only scratching the surface and activating the potential that is already there. So my first challenge is to find and connect all of them. Another important learning for me is that there is a weight of world and academic history in terms of how we see students. In my work with teenagers, I realized that humanity has treated them rather unfairly. A lot of research on adolescence shines a light on a teenager as if it were a problematic person; fortunately that is changing in the last 20 years. But I also learned that there is an incredible power in teenagers. There is a dynamic ecosystem fueled by technology, community, and self-organization that is actively shaped by teenagers in my country – and I bet in every country – who create opportunities for kids of their own age, launch their own organizations, and partner across regions. And I think that often goes unnoticed by the adult world. 

The number one principle for me is giving the power to design to students. We continue to follow that principle and ask what they need. Another key principle is to connect with my students as human beings. It’s essential for me to do the work from a place of mutual trust. With my students, we develop our relationship with each other based on that. 

As the system was developing, I talked to a student every single day of the year since I started in 2021. It was a constant conversation without an agenda. Because I’m not only a manager; I’m also a mentor, a coach, and a tutor in the program. Immersing myself into the experience creates trust and connection between us to the point where they educate me about their world. A student once told me that if I wanted to understand what’s going on behind the curtains, I should go online to certain platforms I had never been to. So I went to those social media platforms to see how they chat, process and relate to each other. This helped me understand them better and be in alignment. There is a parallel system shaped by my students themselves and a growing amount of student organizations. Such insights are not necessarily in the reports and studies that are often designed by adults. 

Eva: Franco, how does the student leadership work in your program?

The 7- week student leadership program was almost 100% created by students. I always envisioned that it would be led by them. My only condition was that this person is Peruvian, no older than 19 years old, and had gone to public schools. We found an 18-year old person who came up with the whole design – a seven-week virtual program with a 24-session curriculum that includes self-knowledge and purpose sessions. He also created the structure of people that will be contributing and became the first coordinator and led a team of 80 volunteers, youth and adults. We started in September 2021 and now we’re in the seventh edition of the program. In 17 months we have received more than 4500 applications from every region in Peru.

Student Leadership Program. Source: Franco Mosso, Enseña Perú

The students go out of the program with a sense of possibility and enthusiasm to do something. Some even claim to feel more Peruvian. They also appreciate an unlikely network of friends from multiple cultures of our country. Students create their own stuff, become founders, and 40 to 50% youth guides. We’ve counted more than 20 student organizations that have been born as a result of the programme so far, all of which are impacting students themselves.

Those who finish the seven-week program, get an invitation to join the one-year program if they fell in love with education. I designed it with everything that I learned from education globally. In the program, each person crafts their own experience. We ask them what moves them in education and become a partner to them to help them find a passion. Students have agency and autonomy about choosing not just what moves them but also what they’re going to do with it. As a student, you are the master of your own journey; I will be your co-pilot as an adult. Curriculum is their journey and their own path crafted by them. And if something goes wrong, that’s also a part of the journey. There are no grades and no rankings; everything that happens is a potential for a student to grow as a leader. 

The four key elements of the program include in-person sessions where students come together and build relationships. Every session, they go deeper into their personal stories and have challenging – but kind –  conversations. Number two is mentorship. Each of 15 students gets a mentor and they can arrange a meeting with them whenever they want. Thirdly, we provide mental health support and have a list of certified therapists for our students. Finally, we provide extreme flexibility. Students don’t have to go to the sessions; they have four portfolio presentations – 15-minute inspiring presentations on how they are growing – that serve as milestones for them.

Enseña Perú’s work and insights showcase the transformative power of intergenerational collaboration and leadership to transform education systems. By prioritizing student agency and actively involving young people in the design and purpose of educational programs, Franco’s leadership has unlocked untapped potential and ignited a passion for change among young learners. Through trust, connection, and a deep understanding of students’ perspectives, the different initiatives have sparked numerous student-led organizations and enabled learners to become active participants in shaping their own educational journeys. As we embrace the practice of shifting purpose and power, EnseñaPerú’s work stands as an inspiring example of how education can be reimagined to create a future in which all children can thrive. 


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