Or how a public/private partnership was able to break down boundaries to build a revolutionary new integrated high/dairy technology school from idea to inception to grand opening in about nine months.
First, I want to wish all my patient readers a rewarding and profitable 2010, filled with health, family, friends, and the time to enjoy them.
If you haven’t read my December column (please see the Dec. 11 issue of the Cheese Reporter), I highly recommend it. It tells the miraculous story of the construction of a school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, fully integrating vocational and academic curriculums, meaning, the math teachers are teaching math in partnership with the dairy tech teacher, in a school concieved and completed, from start to finish, between late 2008 and August of 2009.
This column summarizes an interview with Sergio Menezes Pires, the assessor to the secretary of education of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Tereza Porto, who lead the miracle project. During the interview, which lasted most of an hour, I questioned Mr. Pires in depth how the nine month miracle could occur; what secrets he brought to bear to get it done, what techniques did he use to take a group of people with very different backgrounds, with different aims and outlooks, from both the public and private sector, and mold a team that worked flawlessly at a breakneck pace to create, starting from scratch:
• A revolutionary new vocational high school
• A brand new curriculum that had to be developed and certified between March and August of 2009.
• A state of the art new facility.
• Selection and training of teachers in the new curriculum.
• Selection of students from more than a thousand schools comprised of more than a million students.
• And this is the amazing part, in a public/private partnership?
For us, the idea of the government and private companies working in partnership may seem a bit of a fairy tale. We have been accustomed to a lack of cooperation between the two on important issues, and a little too much cooperation on other issues like Wall Street and banking.
Immaculately dressed, speaking calmly and attentively, as if what he was describing was common practice, Mr. Pires began by explaining when people have interests in common, things flow.
Of course the public and private sectors are wary of each other. They have differing reasons for existing. Government suspects profit motive, and companies don’t trust the state to use money efficiently; but they have common interests as well.
It was his job to articulate that common goal, clearly, and facilitate communication. The team did the rest. With a school system fallen into neglect, a society challenged by social inequalities, and industries that face a shortage of well trained, qualified workers, everyone quickly realized the importance of the project conceived by the state secretaries of education and agriculture with the support of the governor.
The private partner, invited to join the project, had selfish interests, to gain better trained employees, as well as unselfish interests: to contribute to education in the country, the strategic focus of the philanthropic arm of Pão de Açúcar, the Pão de Açúcar Institute, as well as to help the families of its employees in the region, and lend social support to society at large.
The government of the state has selfish interests in needing projects that are attractive to voters, as well as unselfish interests to better develop economically challenged areas, and increase the standard of living for people there by creating incentives for people to produce milk and milk products in the state; in particular, in the region just north of the city of Rio, where the school is located.
Most importantly, to develop a project with guaranteed impact for the students, ensuring they will be employable and employed when they graduate after three years, and provide conditions that encourage learning to the highest international standards for a school with an integrated curriculum.
All kinds of companies have a vested interest in the state providing needed training, and families across the state are hungering for a safe alternative to their children being on the streets. In other words, by clearly articulating common interests, common interests were able to overcome distrust. Given the chance to make a clear difference and contribute to a solution to an obvious problem, most of us would jump in as well.
Having a goal and a desire to help is not enough, there has to be clearly defined responsibilities and objectives and calm, assertive leadership to follow through and inspire. A positive tone is essential, given the breakneck pace, and the weight of work that had to be accomplished, stress is counter productive.
The leader must connect everyone, a weekly meeting must occur, without fail, and a Yahoo or similar discussion group started to facilitate communication and dialogue.
Responsibilities must be assigned in accord with what each does best, and there must be money. The private partners, in the case of the NATA school, a supermarket and electronics chain, Pão de Açúcar, in the case of the Technology School, a telecommunications company, Oi, invested a great deal of money through their foundations. Most importantly, their commitment is for the long term, committed to co-administrate the school with the general office of State Department of Education. That is the first project of its type focused on either the technology of foods, or in the area of multimedia technology.
Playing to each others’ strengths, the private partners handled construction, something the state is not good at due to the lengthy process of getting approval for spending. The private sector can move like lightening in comparison. The state can expedite licenses and get curriculums approved. Things which can take time for a private company, under normal circumstances.
The private partner paid directly for what was within their area of control, and negotiated all the contracts themselves. What they paid for, they had control over. They hired the engineers, the technical teachers, bought the technical equipment, brought in consultants, and purchased raw material. Everything that is not normally provided for a conventional school by the Department of Education, the private partners supply, under contract.
The secret is that the project was designed so that every partner involved could contribute their know-how, in the things they are strongest at doing, lending to a final result beyond expectations in record time. There was no movement of money between the partners, no co-mingling; everyone paid for their part.
There was no interfering with other peoples’ areas of responsibility.
Remarkably, the opposite occurred. Team members jumped at the chance to do anything to help, including volunteering to fill in when one team member or the other had to attend to other responsibilities. People working in the government bureaucracy even offered to help; they typed things on their own time, and let people use their desks. Everyone got excited and wanted to contribute to something that was special.
A clear and compelling reason, articulated well. Calm assertive leadership to inspire and follow through. Constant communication both formal and not, with people given responsibility in accord with what they do best. No co-mingling of monies between public and private. What paid for you control, up to and including negotiating contracts.
With our public schools in disarray, and a shortage of trained American workers with vocational skills, there seems to be something here that all of us could learn from in these trying times. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would think it was a fairy tale.
Nata, Nave and Arca, the dairy technology, multimedia technology and soon to be culinary vocational high school, are actively looking for interchange.
For my part, if anyone in industry or government would like to explore the idea of public private partnership further, perhaps even combining education with worker training, I would be glad to help initiate a dialogue. Send me an email! Happy New Year to you and all you hold dear, and thanks for reading!
Dan Strongin is managing partner and owner of Edible Solutions,
a consulting company focused on helping companies making great food
make a profit. He will be writing a monthly column in Cheese Reporter.
Strongin can be reached via phone at (510) 224-0493, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit and blog with Dan at www.managenaturally.com.
Strongin Articles written for Cheese Reporter
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