Zia Akhter Abbas is the VP of Inputs at The Citizens Foundation. Zia, heads the teams in charge of advancing TCF towards becoming a more sustainable enterprise. Zia brings with him a strong financial services and retail background spanning 17 years in Pakistan and the UAE. He left the banking industry to join TCF in 2014.

Coca-Cola has always been dedicated to facilitating projects that contribute to the journey of growth and betterment for the community. As part of the initiative of giving back to the community, Coca-Cola believes education is the key to socio-economic development. The Citizens Foundation is a non-profit organization, the brain child of concerned citizens who wanted to make access to education easier for the less privileged. TCF aims to remove barriers of class and privilege when it comes to education by providing quality education in the most socio-economically stressed communities across Pakistan. After 22 years, with 1,441 schools under its management and 204,000 students enrolled, TCF is one of the world’s largest formal schooling systems serving the less privileged.

Recently, the Coca-Cola Foundation in collaboration with TCF approved a $150,000 grant to contribute to the establishment of a school in Kasur.

To enlighten our followers about Zia’s journey with TCF and Coca-Cola, we asked him a few interesting questions:

1. What is the vision and mission of The Citizens Foundation?

The vision of The Citizens Foundation is one of positive change – to remove barriers of class and privilege to make the citizens of Pakistan agents of positive change. Our mission is twofold: Quality Education - to enable moral, spiritual and intellectual enlightenment and a Better Future - by creating opportunities to improve quality of life.

2. How has The Citizens Foundation’s journey with Coca-Cola been so far? What were the collaborative projects and their impact?

Coca-Cola and TCF have had a stellar track record of working together, guided by a shared drive to address the inordinately high illiteracy rates in Pakistan. Coca-Cola has constructed and supported 2 TCF schools in 2009 and 2017 in Muzaffargarh and Kasur respectively. The two companies have also ideated and executed a variety of joint campaigns; most recently a text book collection and donation drive to provide books to identified TCF schools in Lahore.

3. Can you tell us the story of your Foundation’s prior success, challenges and major responsibilities?

TCF is a non-profit organization set up in 1995 by a group of citizens who wanted to bring about positive social change through education. Today, TCF is one of the world’s leading organizations providing formal education for the less privileged. The TCF model is providing quality education to 204,000 children through 1,441 purpose-built schools located in the heart of Pakistan’s urban slums and rural communities. The organization ensures that girls represent almost 50% of the overall student base. To magnify its impact, improve enrollment and quality of education, TCF continues to partner with multiple provincial governments to adopt government schools across Pakistan.

A major success of the Foundation is that it has been nurtured by its Founders into a sustainable institution. We are fortunate to have the support of a growing local and global volunteer base that guides and fuels our growth each year. Moreover, we measure our success in terms of the trust and transparency that our supporters, such as Coca-Cola, associate us with; this conviction motivates our efforts to expand the reach of quality education to some of the most economically-challenged communities in Pakistan.

The vast geographical spread of our schools and our unwavering commitment to quality lends itself to a gamut of administrative and operational challenges. We have experienced trials in finding competent and committed human resources (ie teachers and principals) to deliver on our outcomes. However, our single largest road block continues to be monetary resources i.e. raising the requisite funds to support the growing effort of managing and enhancing a movement of this proportion.

4. How would you describe the education system in Pakistan in contrast to the West?

Contrary to most countries in the West, Pakistan houses the sixth largest out of school population of 24 million children. The glaring reality of low enrollment is a product of a lack of access of educational institutions and poor quality of existing facilities within the low cost formal sector. Although the private sector, in Pakistan, has made strides to address this societal concern, we demonstrate that providing formal schooling at a low cost across some of the most challenging physical and economic terrains is possible. We ensure consistent due diligence and oversight to deliver on our commitment of proper governance of our enterprise and educational infrastructure. Our ability to implement management controls on our core operations is the basis of an active effort to seek partnerships with provincial governments in Pakistan to expand the scale of our impact.

5. What are some of the up-coming projects of The Citizens Foundation that we can look forward to?

We believe that while we have achieved our initial objective of creating and managing a 1,000 schools, the journey to be a part of the solution to Pakistan’s education crisis has only just begun. To this end, we have set ourselves a medium term objective: to scale up almost ten times and impact the lives of 1.5 M children relative to the 0.2 M children enrolled in our schools today. To achieve this goal, a pipeline of initiatives are being ideated, incubated and piloted by a dedicated department in the organization, the Strategic Development Unit. These projects include but are not limited to the direct adoption of government schools in partnership with relevant provincial governments, leveraging text books developed in-house and our core competency of teacher training services to benefit the low cost private and government school sector.

6. How can people be directly involved in The Citizens Foundation’s mission in Pakistan?

The Citizens Foundation endeavors to continue to apply managerial discipline to increase the scale of its movement of imparting quality education to some of the most marginalized communities in Pakistan. We welcome any funds contributed towards supporting our efforts and encourage volunteers to represent our cause as ambassadors and fundraise for us. There is a very simple one-step, sign-up process on our Facebook page and website. Please take out a minute to visit these and share with those around you.