Our mission is to build a global community of passionate educators, students – Warnick
Rachel Warnick, Director of Programmes at the Professors Without Borders (PROWIBO), is making an impact with visionary education. Warnick, who joined PROWIBO as Volunteer Facilitator in 2018, designing and delivering courses in India, Thailand, and Uganda, was appointed Director of Programmes at the PROWIBO in 2021 to take the organisation to new programmatic frontiers. She was elevated to the Board of Trustees in 2020 to provide oversight and governance with a special focus on education. In this interview with CHIJIOKE IREMEKA, she speaks on PROWIBO’s educational project in Nigeria among other issues.
What’s the idea behind PROWIBO, what exactly do you do?
Let me start by explaining Professors Without Borders, the idea was conceived when one of our co-founders was teaching a summer school at the London’s School of Economics. She saw the impact that a short intensive programme like that could have, but she realised that the students coming on board for such an experience were very privileged.
To participate in something like that requires the financial means to pay for the airfare, fees, accommodation, etc. So, the idea was born out of the decision to bring this kind of experience in a country for students who wouldn’t have access to it. Our mission is to build a global community of passionate educators and students.
What we do is to bring relevant, holistic and engaging experiences to our partner organisations. Because we’re contributing to the skills building of the future community leaders, we operate very much on a consultative basis. So, when I partner with the institutions, I do an extensive consultation for them and have them identify the needs of their students and participants because they know these people best.
So, after the consultation, I go away, I take things and look at the team I have; we cast a wide net for potential volunteers. So, I select a team based on the needs of our partner organisations and all of our programmes are bespoke.
For example, even if we teach social entrepreneurship in Uganda and we teach social entrepreneurship here in UNILAG, Nigeria, they are very different, because we’re responding to the local context. We’ve got different facilitators, and different motivations behind them. So, everything is built specifically towards the partner and the students that we are working with in that instance.
The UNILAG project was a huge success to the extent that participants were yearning for more. How did you come about the training in Nigeria?
For several years now, Mr. Titus Ayodele has been working diligently to pave a way to bring us to Nigeria and we’re delighted that our very first partnership here was with UNILAG. We were supposed to come in 2020, but we all know how that turned out, the pandemic. I was personally going to be on that team, so I was terribly disappointed, because I was very much looking forward to Nigeria. But I was thrilled that we could do it again as soon as possible. This was also our first return to intensive teaching since the pandemic.
I feel like it was a wonderful kick-start; it was a wonderful way to open the next chapter after the pandemic. So, I cannot over sound how wonderful Titus has been and his counterpart here in the University of Lagos; he has been the coordinator on this side. Everything went on successfully and smoothly; it has been a dream.
Going by the name, Professors Without Borders, does that mean all your resource persons are professors?
We draw on top academics, but we also draw on experts in their different fields. So, somebody may not have a PhD, but they may have 30 years of experience and may have reached the heights of their industry. We want to do something to give back to the society. Although we began in the academic sense, we look for the people that can add the most value.
Regarding the UNILAG training, how many students registered for the session?
In order to be very engaging and interactive, which all of our courses are, we put a maximum of 25 people in a class size with three professors that would allow us to reach out to 75 students here. I also worked with the faculty on a course this week, and so, that was another 24 students. In total, we reached up to 100 people.
Do you consider gender when selecting participants for the programme? Do you have data for the Lagos training?
I do have that data, but I haven’t processed it yet. In fact, all the students that registered attended. So, it was awesome. We were very focused on gender equality, so we always request that we have a very nice balance and I’m always very happy to see that. We try to be gender sensitive and in fact, we request that our partners select an equal mix if possible.
And we actually do have some projects that are fully focused on females. For example, African University in Uganda is an all-female university and two of the institutions that we work with in India are also all-girls institutions.
How do you select the students and participants that you work with?
We do not do that; our partners do it. So, they select according to their own criteria. Our mandate is that our participants cannot be charged a fee to attend.
We learnt that lecturers were among the participants, what was the scope of their own training?
What we did was to look at the challenges and opportunities that exist in 21st century teaching, not only in this society. We are evolving and that evolution has just been taken up to exponential speed with the pandemic. And so, the educators… we’re facing new challenges, more challenges than we ever had before and we have to find ways to deal with them. So, we’ve had very interactive and multidirectional series of sessions that week.
What’s your assessment of the Lagos training programme?
One of the most incredible things to see when you are on a project for the first time is that the students don’t know what to expect. So, when they arrived at the starting time, they wanted to wait and see what will happen. By the second morning, they were super energised; they were very excited, they were looking forward to things.
At that point, we had other students that were like ‘Can I come in, can I join’ and that was because we have an understanding that education should be fun and engaging, because that’s the best way to learn. You are logical, your brain is prepared to receive and store information. Learning is not enough to simply sit and listen to someone telling you stories.
But our team, if you see them in action, they constantly have kids doing exercises during project. For example, during the programme, Bob led the students through classes all week long, through different steps of learning to the point where students were presented with a pitch for new idea they’ve developed through the week. That was how we operate and it really sparks something in the students, giving them the chance to try something new and liberate themselves. Once they are not in the comfort of their normal routine, they feel a little bit freer to be daring.
If you were given an opportunity to come back and do this again in Nigeria, would you take it?
Oh, absolutely! Well, in fact, I can guarantee you that we will be back, because we have a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UNILAG, which will be in place for the next three years. So, I’m absolutely certain and in addition, we signed a new MOU with Ekiti State, and we had another one in place with Babcock University. We will be organising a programme with them in the near future.
How do you choose places to visit and institutions to partner with?
In fact, everywhere that we have partnerships, it has been at the invitation of our local partners. We have not had to go and seek out these opportunities, because the word of mouth gets round and people are very excited.
So, this has happened through our networks and through connections of connections. They have heard what we do and they have said they wanted to partner with us and would love to offer that to their students. This has happened and we have partners in Thailand, two in India, one in Uganda, two in Sierra Leone, and this year, we have new partnerships coming. We have UNILAG, one in Malaysia, one in Mauritius and there are a few more in the pipeline that I’ll be ready to put out very soon.
What’s the requirement for those who wish to join your organisation?
The first entry is that we welcome new applicants and interested parties to complete an online registration and start with us online. It’s something that we created in response to the pandemic, because obviously, the travel was no longer possible. So, we thought of ways to continue to support our partners from a distance.
One of the solutions was to create a kind of database that is like a matchmaking service. We have volunteers who register and we have a website where you can go and have a look when you are looking for somebody who specialises in the sciences or in medicine or law or a variety of different topics. When you click on that, you would see the profile of each of our volunteers.
And so, if you are in a university or an institution in one part of the world, and you are teaching journalism to your students, you might think, ‘I really love students to have a different perspective, so I’m going to try and find something from Africa or South America to share their perspective of the things I’m teaching.’ You can go online and you find a book that you think is terrific, you’ve made contact with that side. And if that was mine, for example, I would receive your enquiry and then we would arrange a convenient date and time for both of us.
It could be a 40-minute meeting online lecture guided by your request and my expertise at absolutely no charge. So, we welcome all our people who are interested to apply for the registration process there, and through that, we welcome people into the PROWIBO family.
Once they have demonstrated their talents and skills, then we can start identifying them for potential virtual and face-to-face projects that they do, all of which are dependent on what our partners’ request.