Pathways for Change FERNANDO REIMERS
Where capacity is limited and incentives
perverse, regulation becomes a barrier to
the entrepreneur and to innovation.
of regulators to advance the public interests they serve
rather than their private interests. Where capacity is
limited and incentives perverse, regulation becomes a
barrier to the entrepreneur and to innovation.
The authority of school supervisors and ministry personnel to authorize the functioning of private schools
or universities in systems that lack transparency occasionally creates the incentives for those supervisors to
request bribes in exchange for the permits that authorize the functioning of those establishments. In systems
of public administration where patronage is common,
who regulates the regulators? Even when explicit bribes
are not the currency that smoothes the transactions
between entrepreneurs and regulators, the inordinate
power and lack of accountability of regulators often extract substantial time and require significant skill on
the part of entrepreneurs to maintain their enterprises.
The time a private school principal spends smoothing
things over with a school supervisor is time not spent
managing her school.
LIMITED ACCESS TO EXPERT KNOWLEDGE
Entrepreneurs are obsessed with impact at scale. They
define it and look for ways to measure and benchmark
their efforts, and they are devoted to developing a clear
theory of action that helps them understand how to improve and sustain their activities. Few public-private
partnerships in education in Latin America meet these
criteria. More specifically, few have a clear theory of
action that is based on the best available knowledge
of how to achieve impact. Few bother to invest the resources required to evaluate results in ways that enrich
theories of action for future innovations.
A theory of action is a conceptualization of how certain
resources and processes will achieve particular results.
For example, an after-school program for disadvantaged
children, developed by organization X, could be premised
on the theoretical assumption that the academic achievement of those children will improve, and that more of
them will complete basic education. A theory of action often links direct program results (e.g. improved academic
achievement) with larger social goals (e.g. higher gradu-
ation rates, leading to greater employability
of those youth and lower criminality). So the
theory of action of organization X could be
something like: “If disadvantaged children
at risk of academic failure are provided with
additional instructional time and mentoring in the afternoons, and with a safe place
in which to study and do their homework, they will be
more likely to learn, succeed academically, stay out of trouble, and eventually get better jobs and live better lives.”
Furthermore a good theory of action is based on expert
knowledge about what has worked in the past and about
scientific research and evaluation in the domain in question. It also permits the development of tools to evaluate
programs as they unfold, and when they are completed
to be able to improve the program and lay the foundation for better programs later.
Among the many leaders of public-private partnerships
or funders of such efforts I have met in Latin America, all
well-meaning and intelligent people, few have been able
to articulate the theory of action that guides their efforts,
and even fewer have communicated how that theory relates to established education and social science knowledge about what is known to work in addressing the
problem they are attempting to solve. This is puzzling,
since many of these individuals have highly successful
business ventures, suggesting that they don’t apply to
their social enterprises the same sets of skills, practices
and standards that they use to manage their businesses.
LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF ENTREPRENEURIAL LEADERSHIP
Although social entrepreneurship is an emerging field
of practice in Latin America, gradually replacing more
traditional forms of philanthropy, it is not yet well established. As a result, education entrepreneurs lack a
community of peers and institutions that can support
them. Mechanisms of professional development for cultivating the qualities that would make them more effective entrepreneurs are largely nonexistent.
The most successful education entrepreneurs can
hope to be recognized and supported by international
organizations such as Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation
for Social Entrepreneurship, or the Kaufman and the
Skoll Foundations, but these global organizations can
only identify a very small proportion of the entrepreneurs in the region, and therefore their impact is necessarily modest. More importantly, these organizations
typically focus on entrepreneurs who have already dem-