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Building Networks to Power Innovation: Carina Wong: As a senior advisor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carina Wong builds networks to power transformative innovation in education.

In my heart, I always knew that I would go into public service, that I needed to do something that was mission driven. I studied foreign service in college; after I graduated I taught English in the Czech Republic. After teaching for a year, I wasn't sure that teaching 30 students a year was the way I would change the world. In graduate school, I took a class in education policy, and I realized that I could have a large-scale impact in education outside of the classroom.

I began my career in education policy at a think tank in DC. I began what became a pattern for me: going back and forth between policy and practice. It was the interchange between the two that I found powerful--understanding what's going on on the ground and using that knowledge to craft better policies.

I got to the Gates Foundation through a mentor who became director of education at the foundation and invited me to come to work on innovation and scale in education. It was not something I ever would have planned or imagined. When you work in the social sector, besides impact, you are obsessed with two factors: scale and sustainability. The only levers that I knew to use were policy changes, investments in capacity building, or structural changes within a system. When I got to the Gates Foundation, I realized there were other levers to help make those shifts, like well-designed tools, market forces, and community building.

In the last five years, I got interested in the notion of user communities or peer communities as a way of driving innovation and change, and as a way of thinking about scale and sustainability in the field. We launched a project called Teacher2Teacher, which was about creating a peer community and letting the community lead, versus studying a problem, designing a solution at the foundation, and giving grants to scale it across schools.

In this case, we started with the needs of the teachers. What we found was that teachers wanted to talk to other teachers about their practice, but they didn't have a platform to do that. We talked to many lead users to understand what they cared about and what resonated with teachers. We found that the innovation was in using an existing channel for a different purpose--Facebook became a place for professional conversations versus personal ones. Teacher2Teacher now has 1.4 million members across multiple social media channels, which is more than half the teachers in the United States.

We no longer have the problem of scale--we are operating at scale and can focus on finding efficient ways to surface innovations within the community and codify those innovations so that other teachers can easily adopt them. We are also looking for new business models to sustain the community and different ways to measure the impact of the network.

I tell people early in their careers if they want to do something fulfilling, they will have to create their own path. Creating your own path means finding what you really care about and finding ways to make a living doing it. Building a network is a critical part of this. I didn't get where I am on my own merits; I got here in part because I talk to a lot of people and I always ask how they got where they are and what advice they would give me.

Finding a mentor is an important part of the journey, as is keeping in touch with those who have helped you. Never underestimate the power of a mentor to give you a chance you don't think you deserve or teach you how to do something new, even when you have moved on to a new role.

DOI: 10.1080/08956308.2018.1516934
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Comment:Building Networks to Power Innovation: Carina Wong: As a senior advisor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carina Wong builds networks to power transformative innovation in education.(INNOVATION C-SCAPE)
Author:Wong, Carina
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2018
Next Article:Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Address Climate Change.

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