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Guest Profile

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Tim Howarth

Chief Executive Officer

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About Tim Howarth

United World Schools (UWS) works in some of the world's poorest regions to give every child access to free education. UWS support local communities to establish and run primary schools for out-of-school children in Myanmar, Nepal and Cambodia.


Tim is Chief Executive of UWS. A trained teacher, Tim has worked in a number of schools and educational organisations in the UK and Australia, responsible for staff performance, development and training. 


As an educational consultant, Tim worked with head teachers and school leaders to develop teaching and leadership capacity in UK schools.


Since 2011 Tim increasingly devoted his time to growing and scaling the work of UWS, a charity that his family founded in 2009. Tim was initially a UWS volunteer, then consultant, became Chief Operating Officer in 2012, and Chief Executive in 2015. 


Under Tim's leadership, and working with the committed and passionate UWS Team, UWS has grown - and continues to grow - rapidly. Since 2009 over 30,000 previously out of school children have been able to attend school and learn to read, write and count. 


Today UWS run over 200 UWS Community Schools and learning sites in remote regions of SE Asia, supported by a generous network of Partner Schools and like-minded organisations both in the UK and around the world.   


United World Schools is a 2019 WISE Award Winner for educational innovation and impact.

Episode Overview (22nd Nov 2020)

CEO of United World Schools, Tim Howarth, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss strategic exit planning, transitioning schools to local education authorities and expansion into new geographic regions.


UWS is an educational NGO, based in the UK, with an international approach and a presence in Cambodia, Myanmar and Nepal. 


Through education, UWS transforms the lives of some of the poorest children in the world who would otherwise have no access to education. They work with local communities to build and nurture schools and, then, to transition these schools into the government system. 


They have launched 226 schools and learning sites in Cambodia, Myanmar and Nepal. Each school typically serves 150 children. 


UWS looks to build schools in places where there is a good fit. They identify regions where there are large populations of out of school children, which are remote, difficult to reach and are marginalised for various reasons.  


They identify these communities by liaising with local government and by working closely with teams on the ground. Importantly, UWS engages with local ethnic minorities who have key insight on where needs are greatest.


Each school is different and has its own life journey.  It may take a year or two to develop a school. Then, it’s about developing the enrolment and getting students in the habit of turning up — after all, these are often communities where the concept of attending school regularly is new. From there, it’s about maturing, whereby schools are brought up to a certain quality standard.  


This whole process takes several years; possibly a cycle of between 5 and 10 years. Once the school in question is working very well, then UWS looks to transition it into the local education authority — thereafter providing very light touch support.


We hear how the actual workforce is key to success, and how the whole endeavour is much more than simply constructing a new school building. Local communities, teachers, education authorities  — everyone is vital for success.


One of the hardest things UWS needs to do is figure out where they’re going to invest their finite resources. This means that if they find an education authority that is engaged and provides good political capital, there is an incentive to work with them repeatedly.


When looking to expand geographically, they consider (1) whether the level of need is there — ensuring they only go into places that have a clear need; (2) whether there is the potential for good partnerships, particularly with national and local governments, with good political capital where the government helps with the process; and (3) whether UWS can engage their supporters and donor-base to ensure there’s sufficient funding available.


Tim’s key takeaway: UWS uses this transition concept as an absolute guiding light for their overall strategy because it means they ultimately can deliver their mission and are leaving behind an empowered, well-run, robust project.

Episode Overview (14th July 2019)

CEO of United World Schools (UWS), Tim Howarth, joins Alberto Lidji to shed light on their 200 schools in Cambodia, Myanmar and Nepal and to celebrate their 2019 WISE Award for educational innovation.


UWS is one of 2019’s WISE Award Winners. They were presented a WISE Award for their innovative approach and scalable model; they have had 30,000 schoolchildren through their schools in the past 10 years; they have strong public/private partnerships; and they’re extremely focused on empowering local communities.


UWS started off as a small family charity in the UK and over the past decade has built 200 schools in communities that previously had no access to education – they embrace a model that is low cost, scalable, replicable and simple; a typical school has approximately 150-200 children and is located in remote areas of their respective countries, where local communities are often ethnic minorities that do not speak the national language. Furthermore, these communities are usually at or below the poverty line. UWS are unequivocal in their stance: local communities need to be empowered, they need to be part of the solution and they need to be involved as new schools are built.


When asked what prompted UWS – a UK charity – to enter and operate in Cambodia, Myanmar and Nepal, Tim mentioned that it was driven by a mix of strategy, fit and opportunity. They initially had connections in Cambodia, which presented a good opportunity to enter that market.  Subsequently, as they began to scale up successfully they considered what other countries might be in need of their work and that took them to Myanmar and Nepal.


They have ambitions to grow, reach many more schoolchildren, expand geographically and help achieve Goal 4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all.


Tim’s key takeaway: Be absolutely focused on delivering your mission – use it as your North Star!

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Additional Resources

UWS – United World Schools



WISE Awards (World Innovation Summit for Education)



Tim Howarth – LinkedIn


United World Schools – Twitter

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