Bringing Teach for America to Chile

HKS alumnus exports educational model to home country

February 17, 2010
Matt Kohut MPA/MC 2003

In 2006, Tomás Alfonso Recart Balze MPA/ID 2008 learned that Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, was coming to speak at the Kennedy School. He knew about the success of Teach for America and was eager to hear more.
Recart was passionate about the need for educational reform in his home country of Chile. He had worked for four and a half years with poor communities in Santiago, and he grasped the essence of the issue. “The right says it's a public policy issue, and the left says it's about money,” he said. “When you go into classrooms, you see it’s about those things and much more. Education is a systemic problem.”
He listened to Kopp with rapt attention. “She said that to change the system, you need people,” he recalled. “You have to introduce highly qualified people into the system, so they know the problem from first-hand experience and can implement the solutions from inside the system—not only as teachers, but also as heads of the schools, businessmen, or politicians. When I heard that, I thought, ‘This is the answer I am looking for.’”
Recart approached Kopp briefly after her talk, and his subsequent follow-through led to a meeting in New York. He learned that Teach for America was collaborating with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to help identify pilot countries where its model could be replicated successfully. The time was right for Recart to develop a business plan for Chile.
In August 2007, McKinsey selected Chile, along with Germany, South Africa, India, Australia, Lebanon, and Israel, as the first group of countries that would participate in Teach for All, a global initiative patterned on Teach for America.
After graduating in 2008, Recart returned home and founded Enseña Chile (Teach Chile). The program sought new university graduates who would go to work in some of Santiago’s toughest schools. Enseña Chile’s appeal was instant among Chilean college students. In its first year, the organization received 500 applicants for 40 spots.
Recart’s experience at the Kennedy School helped on several levels, he said. “All that the Kennedy School teaches in terms of analytics, advocacy, and management is something that I really appreciated. I want to send my balanced scorecard to my teacher and say ‘Look at my activity-based costing,’” he joked.
Most importantly, he credits the Kennedy School with providing the inspiration to implement the vision. “When we came back to Chile, my wife was pregnant, and we didn't have a dime or a single funder,” he said. “Inspiration is number one.”
Since then, Recart has seen the Kennedy School network jump into action across Latin America. “Because of the great environment and contacts at the Kennedy School, this is now being implemented in Peru and Argentina,” he said.
Having seen his vision come to fruition, he has not lost the core insight that he gained from Wendy Kopp. “In the end, everything is about people,” he said.
Recart is one of more than 500 Harvard Kennedy School graduates with a Master in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) degree. The school's newest degree program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is designed to prepare the next generation of leaders in international development. It is an economics-centered, multi-disciplinary program, with an emphasis on analysis, institutions and management in the context of developing countries. MPA/ID alumni now work in governments, non-profit organizations, international institutions, and social entrepreneurial ventures in dozens of countries, from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

Photograph of Chilean classroom

Teachers and students in Enseña Chile classroom. Photo provided: Enseña Chile

“All that the Kennedy School teaches in terms of analytics, advocacy, and management is something that I really appreciated. I want to send my balanced scorecard to my teacher and say ‘Look at my activity-based costing,’” Recart joked.

Photograph of Tomas Recart and family

Tomás Recart MPA-ID/2008, with wife Fernanda Rodruíguez (R) and daughter Ana (L). Photo provided: Tomás Recart


John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page