Farewell Letter from Dzameer, Co-Founder and Managing Director of TFM


This is Dzameer Dzulkifli, the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Teach For Malaysia. Today, I’m writing to share with you news about my resignation as Managing Director of Teach For Malaysia (TFM), and I will cover the following areas:

  1. my reflections over the last 10 years
  2. introduce my successor: Chan Soon Seng
  3. my gratitude
  4. what is next for the organisation and movement.

 

Please find here a formal statement from TFM’s Chairman, YAM Tunku Ali Redhauddin, Tunku Besar Seri Menanti on the transition of leadership in TFM.

COVID-19 Restricted Movement Order

Before I begin, I hope you, your loved ones and your team are doing well in this once-in-a-century pandemic. Despite the healthcare and economic challenges, it has been inspiring to read how Malaysians are rallying to support each other through this. Teach For Malaysia Fellows and Alumni have been adapting to online learning experience with a variety of tools such as Telegram, Facebook, and Instagram to ensure their students are still learning in this unprecedented period as per MOE approach. 

In addition to that, TFM is also supporting YTL Foundation’s Learn From Home initiative to develop student/parent-led content in line with the curriculum for Maths, Science and English from Standard 1 to Form 5. YTL Foundation has been a longstanding donor of TFM since 2012 and we are proud to have been invited to support this. Please follow TFM’s social media accounts to keep track of our progress of iterating our approach to support all students.

 

My reflections after 10 years of TFM

I initially co-founded TFM on the premise that it was a great programme to attract top talent into the education and social sector. I fell in love with the programme when I was rejected by Teach First (UK) in 2007 upon graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and I wondered if I could be a participant if the programme existed in Malaysia. 

By 24 Dec 2010, we had secured the necessary government endorsement and financial support to launch this programme in high-need, low-income public schools. As we were about to launch I had to ask myself how long would I commit to doing this as it couldn’t just be a start-up fad. I explored further on my big WHY was I doing this because ‘running a great programme’ wouldn’t be enough in the face of unknown challenges. 

Upon reflection and just before our big public launch, I was fortunate enough to connect the dots and realise that my personal motivation and inspiration for doing this in the first place came from my own family. My parents, a rising middle class family, had provided my younger brother and I the privilege of attending public, private and international schools throughout our K-12 education. I found school relatively easy as it was suited to my learning style. My brother on the other hand had a different learning style, which unfortunately is labelled as a ‘learning difficulty’, dyslexia. He was very intelligent but struggled to succeed in the typical confines of schools in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

Unfortunately, one of the international schools we attended labelled him a failure and trouble maker in which he wasn’t even expected to graduate from high school. At this point, we enjoyed another privilege that my parents had which was confidence and instead of listening to that particular school, my parents found another school that believed my brother was much smarter than his age but recognised that the traditional schooling system wouldn’t be able to cater to his needs. The school counsellor said both the school and the family needed to put in additional support to get him through high school as well as university but he would succeed once he is out in the real world. 

True enough, by the age of 25 in 2010, my brother had a job working in rainforest conservation in Sabah that was paying him three times the amount I was earning as a fresh graduate in a consulting firm AND they had offered him a full-scholarship to do his Masters and PhD at either the University of Cambridge or the University of Zurich.  As such, as TFM was about to launch, he became my inspiration to set aside my fears and anxiety about taking an unconventional career path and my motivation to find and uncover as many other talented individuals hidden across Malaysia that could find the cure for cancer (or in this case a pandemic), solve our traffic woes or even lead this nation someday.

Over the past 10 years, a key insight that proved itself over and over is that, if we hold our students to high expectations, they will always exceed it. If we empower students today, to be agents of their own transformation and not just recipients of change, they will be able to transform their families, their schools, their communities and also our nation right away and not at some distant point in the future.

The need is great and we have to approach our work with urgency. Teach For Malaysia has worked with tens of thousands of students over the past 10 years and there have been so many inspiring stories that our students, Fellows and Alumni have shared. I wish to share with you a 3 min video of  Chia Ching, a recent SPM leaver from Penang, presenting his flood prevention system at the 2019 Teach For All Conference in Armenia. 

Chia Ching’s story and similar other student transformation stories keep TFM’s, Soon Seng and my sense of possibility burning as we explore how we can reimagine a different approach to education to realise the potential of every child. If we can make this change happen for hundreds of students, what do we need to do to reach 10,000 students? 100,000 students? Or even all 5.5 million students across Malaysia?

 

My resignation as MD

As such, it is with a heavy heart that I announce my resignation as TFM’s Managing Director and with pride that I hand over the leadership role to Chan Soon Seng, TFM’s current Programme Director to assume the role of Chief Executive Officer with effect on 1 April 2020.

24 Dec 2020 will mark TFM’s official 10th Year Anniversary and I’ve served since Sep 2009 which brings me to 10.5 years in total. I believe this is a good transition point to allow new leadership to helm TFM for the next 10 years. I believe that the vision, mission and values of TFM is larger than any single individual and I want to ensure I do not let my ego get the best of me.

 

My successor, Chan Soon Seng

Soon Seng is an Alumnus of the first cohort (2012) and has been on staff for the last 6 years in various roles across our training and support team. He holds himself and his team towards a very high degree of excellence and centers their work passionately around the vision of drastically transforming the lives of children in low-income communities. 

He has faced setbacks and picked himself up consistently and most importantly, he courageously confronts his shortcomings to grow into the leader that is needed for the mission. I’m extremely confident in handing over the stewardship of TFM to him because he is a role model for constant learning. An education organisation needs a leader that is willing to learn.

I believe a key success in TFM’s journey over the past decade is our culture that brings out the best in all of us as an organisation. Soon Seng has been instrumental in creating that culture and I’m confident it will evolve as well into greater heights under his leadership.

 

My gratitude to you

I have so much to be grateful for as this has been an extreme privilege to be given the support and resources to work on something that is very much aligned with my personal purpose.

I want to take this time to recognise the Ministry of Education and the Economic Planning Unit that had already been exploring the idea of TFM in 2009 well before we were introduced to them by Teach For All. Their trust in a young and unproven team cannot be understated as they made an unprecedented decision to empower an NGO to support with the recruitment, training and development of teachers in underprivileged communities that had previously been solely delivered by public institutions. TFM was fortunate to enjoy a unique moment of aligned leadership across the Ministry and a series of civil servants that believed in strong public-private partnerships for the education agenda of Malaysia. 

Since our launch, TFM has had the privilege of working with dedicated civil servants across the system and specifically in our Task Force teams in both Insitut Aminuddin Baki (IAB) and Institut Pendidikan Guru Malaysia (IPGM) that I want to specifically recognise. They ensured that TFM continuously operates within the government structure and routinely assists us in navigating structural issues. In addition to the Task Force, we’ve also enjoyed unparalleled support from principals and other teachers in the system. After the initial confusion of first meeting a Fellow with “only two months of pre-service training”, many principals and teachers threw their full support in coaching Fellows to grow and create impact inside and outside of the classroom. We recognise how all of you have dedicated your whole careers to education and we set up TFM to attract more talent into the education ecosystem to complement your efforts.

In addition to that, donors such as Khazanah/Yayasan Hasanah, YTL Foundation, Program Pertukaran Fellowship Perdana Menteri Malaysia, UBS, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, DHL, Yayasan DayaDiri, and Yayasan Tun Ismail believed and helped proof the crazy idea that top graduates and young professionals would want to be teachers in low-income communities and then go on to contribute to nation-building as Alumni. As we questioned how we would scale over time, we had the privilege of meeting new donors, such as, Hap Seng, Hartalega, OSK Foundation, Royal Bank of Canada, PwC, UOB Malaysia, Cagamas, Accenture, CIMB Islamic, CIMB Foundation, Selangor Properties Berhad, Yinson, Bank of America, IGB REIT, 3M Malaysia, Subsea7, and Skrine that gave us the necessary nudge to grow. 

We are also grateful for individual donors who contribute on a monthly basis and we are glad to have slowly grown this community to 300 regular monthly donors. The continuous funding from all of our government, corporate and individual donors has provided TFM the necessary resources to not only deliver a great programme but more importantly to institutionalise good governance, talent management and knowledge management practices to ensure long-term and continuous success.

Finally, we are thankful to supporters such as yourselves who have been part of our mission to ensure all children in Malaysia are able to attain an excellent education. Whether it is through your donations, your involvement with the organisation, or your belief in the work we do, yYour support has been extremely crucial in allowing us to imagine a whole new reality for thousands of students growing up in low-income communities.

Besides the Ministry and donors, I am also very grateful to have amazing support from within TFM. I never felt the full weight of leading TFM as that responsibility was shared across the Board of Trustees and the staff members. TFM staff members and I have had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants, our current and past Trustees, who we have learnt so much from –  YAM Tunku Ali Redhauddin, Shahnaz Al-Sadat, Datuk Yvonne Chia, Dato’ Tharuma Rajah, Chen Li Kai, Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood and Dato’ Noor Rezan Bapoo. Their dedication to the national education agenda was inspiring to witness and their support made all of us in TFM feel like we could accomplish anything! 

TFM also had the privilege of attracting some of the most passionate and talented individuals into the team. These are the hidden figures of TFM as most of the attention is on our Fellows, Alumni and students, but the staff members of TFM ensured that the programme ran smoothly at all times. They were my very own leadership development programme as they demanded and consistently gave me feedback to be the best CEO that I could possibly be. They were also compassionate at times when I failed them and allowed me to grow. Most importantly, they put their trust in me to lead them at some very challenging points of our history including a year where we only had 1 month’s cash-in-hand to operate. To all past and present staff members, thank you so much. 

I also want to recognise my parents, wife, siblings, and immediate friends for their relentless support, understanding and encouragement in navigating the perils of leadership. There were moments I felt like giving up and your hug or phone call helped me to keep it together. 

I wish to also appreciate all 453 Fellows and Alumni that answered the call to teach for 2-years in schools serving underprivileged communities. Fellows and Alumni personified perseverance and grit in meeting the learning needs of the students across Malaysia and I am truly inspired by your actions as Alumni in this movement. You have continued as teachers in the classrooms, launched innovative STEM programmes, initiated principal training programmes and continue to innovate to meet the needs of the communities. I am humbled by your dedication to the mission and values of TFM and I’m confident many many more students will benefit from having you as their champion. 

Finally, the students and parents we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Time and time again, we appreciate you allowing us to teach you, and no matter how much we teach you, I’d like you to know that we learnt a lot more from you. Whether it were moments where you were solving flooding issues in your community or your willingness to learn basic English at the age of 15, inspires us to always be learners ourselves. Your generosity in giving up your lunch allowance to donate to a classmate that lost a parent showed us the meaning of abundance. Your courage in telling adults not to cut down a tree reassured us that the planet might have a chance in the future.  Your smile and the way your eyes light up in our classes, tells us we made the right decision with how we want to spend what little time we have in our lives. Terima kasih pelajar-pelajar.

 

TFM’s evolution moving forward

Given that we would be celebrating our 10th Year Anniversary in December, Soon Seng will engage critical stakeholders for feedback as he evolves the strategy for the next 10 years.

His focus in the near term would be to:

  • Deepen our impact by further developing and enhancing our student and Fellowship leadership development programmes
  • Accelerate and put a spotlight on the systemic impact that our Alumni are demonstrating
  • Maintain TFM’s scale and impact of recruiting and supporting 100-140 Fellows in the classroom while driving cost down
  • Explore options to expand TFM’s leadership and teacher training capabilities to regular teachers in the system
  • Explore non-donation revenue streams by diversifying the programmes within TFM 

 

Once again, thank you

It is imperative now more than ever to recognise and validate the role that our teachers play in educating and shaping Malaysian children. Students and schools across Malaysia are facing challenging times now, and will continue to face the repercussions of COVID-19 long after the RMO has ended. This phase has highlighted, even more prominently now, the discrepancies and challenges that vulnerable and impoverished communities face at times of uncertainty.

Which is why at this juncture, TFM strongly believes we should continue our mission to recruit, train and empower outstanding individuals to be teachers in low-income communities across Malaysia. I end this in a hopeful note that Soon Seng and the TFM team can continue counting on your support towards our shared vision of empowering all students to be leaders of their own learning, their future and the future of our nation. 

Thank you and my deepest apologies for any of my shortcomings in this period. 

 

Warm regards, Dzam.


Statement from TFM’s Chairman, YAM Tunku Ali Redhauddin, Tunku Besar Seri Menanti
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