Nedgine Paul is revolutionizing education in Haiti, and that comes as no surprise to Mr. Galanopoulos, Chair of King's history department. That she would make positive change in the world was evident during her school days at King when she demonstrated her love of learning and her capacity to be a changemaker. And it is people like Mr. Galanopoulos who still serve as her guiding light.
"At King I started to fall in love with education. It was then that I started to explore how to get involved in education professionally and I started tutoring," she said from her native Haiti. "I was encouraged by people like Mr. Galanopoulos during those years, especially in history, to be an informed leader. After King, I enrolled at Yale where I wrote my senior thesis about the history of education in Haiti. It was then that I realized education reform was possible and that I could return to Haiti with this focus."
Nedgine, in turn, resonated with Mr. Galanopoulos. "I will always remember Nedgine for being a true scholar and citizen of the world, a promising and inspired student with an unprecedented depth of understanding for the human condition, and love of humanity."
From high school through her master's degree, the one core concept that kept coming up in Nedgine's research was that education systems are not necessarily about curriculum or technology, but they are about the people. As a result, she co-founded and serves as CEO to Anseye Pou Ayiti (APA), a nonprofit organization with the mission of reforming the Haitian education system by recruiting, training, and supporting high-quality teachers. In essence, APA is creating education leaders.
"We are in the business of leadership here. In this program, students are teaching at the same time they are receiving leadership development," Nedgine said. "In fact, leadership is so central to what we are doing, we call our teachers 'teacher-leaders.' These are the people who are in the trenches every day, who are doing the work and who have been doing it since before I came back to Haiti. They may not be the charismatic leaders or future presidents of this world, but they are the leaders we need to succeed."
The selection process for APA is tough, and the demand is great: this year there were 700 applicants and only 45 were accepted. Nedgine is looking for specific attributes when selecting candidates for the program, particularly the humility to lead from behind, and the mindset that leadership is really about the collective.
"We select really strong change agents from across the country. These are people who are interested in going back to the rural villages where they grew up, to help people pull themselves and the entire community out of really desperate situations."
Taking on the Haitian education system is daunting, yet Nedgine is inspired daily by those she is teaching. "Imagine being a product of a system you are trying to change, when all you have ever known is to repeat after the teacher and never to ask questions, and then changing that system. The fact that our teacher-leaders have been able to debunk all these myths about what is possible and actually lead it themselves, that is what has been very powerful to me."
Nedgine's own leadership has gained national attention. In 2014, she was named among the top global social innovators by Echoing Green, and in 2016 she was selected for the Forbes Magazine "30 Under 30" Social Entrepreneurs. In 2018 she was one of 20 selected from a pool of 20,000 for the Obama Foundation's inaugural class of Obama Foundation Fellows.
Nedgine continues to draw heavily on her own educational experience, still thankful for the teachers that guided her along the way. "It has been a leap of faith but it has been a faith journey in so many ways. I don't think it is by coincidence that certain people were put in my path. From the Mr. Galanopoulos of this world to my history professor at Yale, there are people who have had such transformative marks on my trajectory, I would not be here without them. It is humbling. I am so grateful."