Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hello! My name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist. I’ve been speaking with innovators from around the world who are working on education. One of those people is Anna Penido, executive director at Centro Lemann!
Spiffy: It’s wonderful to meet you, Anna. I’m curious about the challenges Centro Lemann is addressing. What can you tell me?
Anna: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! I live in Brazil, a beautiful but very unequal country, where the rich have many privileges and the poor face difficulties in accessing basic rights. In my country, racism is considered a crime, but it continues to exist and deepens inequalities. Black, brown, and indigenous people are seen and treated with prejudice. Cis men also have more opportunities than women and the LGBTQIA+ population. Education could reduce these inequities, but underprivileged groups generally go to the worst schools, are unable to learn well, and have great difficulty improving their lives. We want to promote more equity in education to reduce inequality in Brazil and in other countries in the Global South.
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Anna: I used to be very shy, but full of ideas, opinions, and passions. When I was 11 years old, I promised myself that I would live my life to the fullest and leave a mark on the world. At 13, I started volunteering at a shelter and could feel the suffering of those children. At the age of 15, I started to play with boys and girls in a favela. They were so happy with the games that they wouldn't stop hugging me. Their little fingers, covered with dust, used to leave marks on my t-shirt. I think those fingerprints ended up imprinting a sense of responsibility on my soul. I found my purpose and never stopped working to end poverty, injustice, and inequality. Improving public education was the way I found to achieve this.
Spiffy: That’s amazing! What is the impact of your work?
Anna: I studied journalism to give visibility to invisible people. I was in college when I started organizing media workshops with young people in poor communities. I soon realized that I had to empower those kids to raise their own voices and lead their own fights. I also understood that this empowerment process should take place in public schools to reach everyone. Since then, I have worked to improve curricula, pedagogical practices, and public policies with the aim of promoting the holistic development of students and inspiring them to be agents of change. I currently work at Centro Lemann, which trains educational leaders to offer quality education with equity for each student, without anyone being left behind.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make?
Anna: I have been working with education for 35 years, but Centro Lemann is a new organization. We started implementing our first training program in 2022. As our dream is big and I no longer want to spend my time doing small things, we are already training 3,000 leaders all over Brazil, including in the Amazon Rainforest. To get to some of these communities, we have to spend almost 20 hours on a boat. Some of them are located in areas where the streets are rivers and the school bus is actually a speedboat. Others are in almost desert areas, where water is very scarce. Wherever we go, we want the administrators, supervisors, and principals of these schools to be able to deliver good education with equity for every student to fly higher.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Anna: Our dream is so big that it crossed oceans and reached other parts of the world. In 2023, we started to train educational leaders in other countries in the Global South, like Kenya and Pakistan. We inspire them to create cross-sectoral coalitions to lead educational reforms and ensure that all children learn to read at the right age. After all, we can't learn anything else if we don't know how to read and understand what we're reading, right? It's very cool to meet people from such different cultures, who speak other languages, wear different types of clothes, and eat different foods, but have the same challenges and goals. We learn so much from each other and feel stronger and more hopeful to continue trying to change the world.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Anna—it’s been an honor!
Anna Penido is the executive director at Centro Lemann. She studied journalism and social management for development. She participated in fellowship programs at Harvard University, Columbia University, and The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. Anna contributed to the creation of the Brazilian curriculum standards and high school reform. She worked for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and is an Ashoka fellow. (First published on the Ladderworks website on October 26, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.