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Ovais Yazdani

Passionate educationalist Ovais Yazdani shares his vision for creating an accessible, pluralistic and egalitarian education system in Pakistan.

Name Ovais Yazdani

MSc Management of Training and Development

Year of graduation 2012

Your time at the University  

Ovais Yazdani on his graduation day outside McEwan Hall

While I was remotely working for the London School of Economics – International Growth Center, I was able to attain first-hand experience of learning from professors and researchers based at LSE and Oxford University. This insight into the UK’s academic standard drove me to explore relevant degrees in education there, leading me to the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Management of Training and Development from the School of Education in 2011.

With its combination of university-based learning and hands-on experience, I realized this was exactly the kind of degree that would equip me with the relevant skills required for my role as an educationist. The fact that postgraduate degrees in the UK are highly specialized allowed me to study with a focus on the outcome of the programme after completion in integrating the learnt skill set into my career.

Working on my dissertation was the most efficacious part of my studies in the UK. I decided to comprehensively study the learning practices at White House Grammar School (WHGS), a chain of schools in Karachi, Pakistan founded by my mother, Nuzhat Yazdani, in 1981 on the principle of providing affordable and accessible education for all without compromising on quality.

I remotely interviewed various stakeholders to get insights into the organization and its environment. My in-depth study of the organization, fuelled by discussions with peers and professors, resulted in the development of a social entrepreneurship model for the school, through which over 70% of students currently receive financial aid.

Living in Edinburgh contributed to my growth as an individual at par with my post-graduate degree. I was exposed to diverse cultures and people from all over the world, and enjoyed learning about their experiences and sharing mine. I most enjoyed what Edinburgh and university life had to offer in terms of a rich immersive experience that included attending the many year-round festivals and events, such as the Hogmanay, the Christmas markets and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Additionally, I was able to learn a lot about Scottish culture and enjoyed learning the Ceilidh. I also made the most of my time there by joining several student societies for a chance to network and develop my interests.

Your experiences since leaving the University

Ovais Yazdani making a speech

I work as Director of White House Grammar School. Running operations at the Main Campus and managing a network of growing branches across the city, I oversee a staff of over two-hundred employees.

After completion of my studies, I began carefully restructuring WHGS according to the social entrepreneurship model I had developed during my MSc. Since there is always resistance to change in an established organizational culture, it was a challenge to implement new strategies. Consequently, the process of engineering change was a gradual one. Empowering and motivating the staff members was the cornerstone of the transformative process. It also included aligning every member of the organization to its values and mission of creating an accessible, pluralistic and egalitarian education system.

Today, I have been able to successfully transform my organization into a profitable social enterprise built on cost-effective measures and a generous financial aid program that does not deny any deserving student the right to quality education.

Additionally, I have sought to enrich the education curriculum at WHGS through the implementation of several initiatives, such as the School Health Programme with the health provider Clinic5 that focuses on improving the physical and mental wellbeing of students through routine health checks, health awareness and counselling, as well as curriculum incorporating citizenship education, personal enrichment and the Learning Garden Programme, to encourage horticulture and urban farming amongst children and their families. Moreover, I have also tried to counter the lack of focus on science learning in schools in Pakistan by investing in STEM education resources and robotics. We have recently partnered with FranklinCovey to implement its leadership development curriculum based on ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ for all our stakeholders, including students, parents and the entire school workforce.

In 2016, my efforts were recognized by the Acumen Fund through my selection to their prestigious Regional Fellowship Programme where I joined a strong network of social leaders from around the world. I attended extensive seminars to hone my leadership skills and collaborated with other fellows on various social development initiatives. I was also able to disseminate my vision of social enterprise in education through the fellowship.

In the future, I want to continue to create awareness amongst other educationists in Pakistan and in developing countries about this model of social entrepreneurship to resolve the issue of access to quality education, and extend the vision of a pluralistic education system that transcends all socio-economic, religious and gender barriers. This is the social change I wish to effect, and one that I strive for at my workplace every day. I will also continue my endeavours towards a diverse and tolerant student body that thrives because of its socioeconomic and ethnic differences, not in spite of them.

Today, I have been able to successfully transform my organization into a profitable social enterprise built on cost-effective measures and a generous financial aid program that does not deny any deserving student the right to quality education.

Ovais YazdaniDirector, White House Grammar School

Alumni wisdom

The best advice I could give to students hoping to get into the sector of social enterprise in education would be to redefine what success looks like to them – this path requires a lot of patience and sacrifice, and it may not be as lucrative as a traditional enterprise, however it is the most rewarding sector when you look at the impact you can directly have on the development of individuals. You may not always be appreciated for the good work that you are trying to do or the social development that you’re hoping for, but your driving force and passion have to be far greater than the concern for personal comfort.

Related links

South Asia Week 30 September - 4 October 2019

Edinburgh's global community - Asia and Pacific

This alumni profile was adapted from Ovais's interview for the British Council Study UK magazine March 2019.

British Council Study UK