PwC's Project Belize: Scaling Service to Create Replicable Success

July 26, 2012

On a recent flight to Belize City, Belize, where some 400 PwC interns, staff, partners and retired partners flew down to teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship to more than 2,000 students, educators and parents, I began to think about a recent article I read entitled, What Do We Lose When We Scale, by Kriss Deiglmeier of Stanford University's Center for Social Innovation. 

This provocative piece questioned whether social projects and good works, in general, are only worthwhile when they're big and bold, benefitting vast numbers of people.  Call it the "Big Bang Theory of Social Responsibility." But big is not always better, and scaling does not have to mean launching a program with a broad focus right from the start, nor about reaching all of your numerical goals within a defined period.  It's more about being uber-focused on the mission and watching its impact scale up through small accomplishments that lead to replicable success stories.

Here's how this worked with PwC's Financial Literacy Program:

Five years ago, we were taking down only a fraction of those 400 PwC people and, initially, we reached and taught only a small handful of schools and students. Yet, our goal from the beginning was to eventually scale our efforts.  Now, looking back, I can say we've done so thoughtfully and in a focused manner that has lead to more rigorous measurement and an enhanced curriculum.

We are now engaging every student in Belize City - more than 28 schools - and officials ranging from the Ministry of Education, the Mayor of Belize City and even the US Ambassador to Belize and his wife are significantly involved.  By staying committed to a population, embracing the local culture, attributes and standards, and ensuring that our materials reflect the evolving community, our people's work has lead to children creating their own business - selling handmade jewelry, picture frames and post cards to tourists; principals and teachers mandate that financial literacy be taught as part of the normal school curriculum throughout the year and parents gain knowledge about financial responsibility.  And, all the while, we've taken great satisfaction in seeing the spark of understanding and hope in the eyes of their children.

One mother reflected to a member of the Ministry of Education the story of her 13-year-old son, Bryce Morrison, who attended our training and excitedly conveyed every day what he had learned.  The parent went on to mention that she and her husband attended the closing session and how impressed they were with the business ideas the children proudly shared. She confided that they, as a family, they tended to be shy, and that speaking up and articulating ideas at a young age is not so common place for them.  So, she was especially pleased by the presentations the students did and certain that the basic business principles the kids learned will be remembered for years to come.

"Bryce for one is now more aware about slogans, logos, missions etc and has begun to pay close to attention to his father's business. Since he is naturally "money wise" we may have created a monster now!" Bryce's mother wrote.

Taking a targeted approach to "scale" has broadened the reach and impact of our work in a way that has positively contributed to the shifting of the local norms and economic outlook.

That said, the widespread impact that we have tends to be rightfully overshadowed by the human experiences - the children coming from dilapidated homes to rundown schools with smiles from ear to ear, holding on to the lunch they received and not eating, even when hungry, to save to share with their families later in the day, talking about how they plan to give money to local orphanages when they make profits from their businesses and tearfully telling our people on the final day that they love them.

Then, of course, there's our people whose hard work and commitment so moves me.  They've worked side by side without regard for staff class or seniority, conjuring up old school yard games and songs to get the students engaged, proudly sharing the lessons learned from the day and the moment when their students finally "got it."  And, of course, they delight in taking thousands of pictures in an attempt to not let the experience fade away.

At a time where companies are pulling back funding for non-essential programs, and when multi-year commitments are hard to come by, I am struck by our leadership team's commitment to invest in this five-year relationship with a distant city whose people could easily be forgotten.  Only with that in mind, is it not hard to fathom the overwhelming leadership support for the firm's recent five year $160M youth education commitment around financial literacy - Earn Your Future.  That's scalability!  But, mostly, I am proud of the legacy of responsible leadership that the firm has created and even more humbled by the work of our people from July 8-19 in Belize.