We got the opportunity to catch up with Peggy Mativo, founder of PACE, an initiative to improve education outcomes by creating  equitable learning opportunities for students in rural and slum areas of Kenya so that they succeed individually and contribute to their communities. Peggy is an  inspiring education advocate and our first Advocate in the Spotlight interview. Check out our interview with her below:


(SAFWE): Thank you for your time, Peggy. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

(Peggy Mativo): Interesting question. I’m a senior at Harvard College majoring in Chemistry and passionate about education. I grew up in Kisumu and in Nairobi, in the most beautiful country on earth: Kenya. I have two younger sisters-both amazing young women, who inspire and challenge me to become a better person. I love volunteer work- and motivating people to be their best.

SAFWE: For those who are unaware or have never heard of PACE and Pacemaker International, please describe what the program is and how it works.

PM: PACEmaker International, which we call PACE for short, is a non-profit organization in Kenya that I founded to help schools in rural and slum areas. We recruit and train the best of our nation’s high school graduates, and send them out as teaching assistants. They work to help out the teachers in grading, tutoring and mentoring. They also focus on giving individual attention to the students and running extracurricular activities within the schools.

SAFWE: Tell us more about your focus area and the role PACE plays in the community.

PM: PACE has chosen to focus on engaging pre-university youth because we realize that they are a group with latent potential that is currently not being put to use. During the time between high school, millions of hours go wasted. Not to mention the amount of academic knowledge that is lost because it is not being used. PACE is not just about meeting the immediate labor needs of our school system. We are an engine that uses service to prepare the next generation of teachers and leaders in Kenya. Imagine the type of difference that a volunteer who becomes the future Minister of Education will make, or a Member of Parliament.

SAFWE: Tell us what PACE has witnessed as a result of its work with its communities.

PM: We have sent out 110 volunteer teaching assistants who worked with more than 3500 children. After doing 7000+ hours of volunteer service, we have learnt that when you give young people the opportunity to serve in communities they care about, they will blow you away with their imagination and passion.
Some of our volunteers have gone into college to train as to become full-time, professional teachers. Others, out of their own volition, have started hockey teams and reading clubs to enrich the learning within the schools. Pro bono peer-to-peer tutoring works: we have seen academic scores improve within our schools. And the best part is that during their university holiday breaks; our volunteers offer to return to serve in the same schools.We dream that in 10 years, we will be sending out 70,000 teaching assistants- who can then support 70000 teachers. We hope that 30% of our teaching assistants go on to become teachers; so that we put a dent in the problem of chronic teacher shortage.

SAFWE: What inspired you to make your vision a reality?

PM: I’m inspired by the idea that anyone, no matter his or her age, can make a valuable contribution to our society. However, there is a need to create structures that ensure that people who want to help- can help and help effectively. The process of moving from idea to reality is a combination of the unique experiences I’ve had during my college years- working as a Dorm Crew captain, mentoring young kids in the US and volunteering in Tanzania. It’s a long story- but I’m willing to share it over a cup of coffee.

SAFWE: What has been the most fulfilling experience since you started your journey with PACE?

PM: My most fulfilling experience… it’s hard to choose. But at the top of that list is speaking with teachers and having them tell me what type of difference the volunteers have made to their students, and how much the kids love PACE volunteers. I also love speaking with volunteers when they’ve been in the schools for several weeks- and you can see a new sense of pride and ownership over their schools. It’s just really inspiring to see the type of transformations that take place among young people when you trust them with real responsibility.

SAFWE: What have been the major challenges to look out for, and how do you tackle them?

PM: This is an important question. Two major challenges: building a good team and finding the right type of finances. How do you build a team around your dream? How do you move from having a personal vision to having a team vision? Where should you go for the money you need?

I learnt the hard way- as a leader, it’s your job to build the team and find the skills/resources needed for your idea. You have to learn to motivate people and support them. Money- you have to find the money you need- because much as we don’t like it- there’s very few things- other than oxygen- that are free. Your willingness to find the money, to ask for it if you have to, to keep pressing on, even when people say no-is a measure of your commitment to your dream. Having money allows you to do a lot of good, but it’s not the only thing you need.

I’m blessed with a lot of grit and creativity- and an inspiring vision. Those are some of the things that make it possible for my dream to be alive outside my head.

SAFWE: What personal mantra, or “quote to live by” do you keep in mind every day?

PM: “Do bold things and do your best. Keep going. You can slow down- but you must keep going.”

SAFWE: What advice would you give to emerging young leaders who wish to make a change in their communities?

 PM: I’d say find a mentor who can be honest with you and who you can be honest with. Ask as many questions as you can (but don’t ask things you can find answers to on Google. Be respectful). Count cost- figure out how much time and money and risk you are willing to invest into making a difference. Set the money aside, save up before you begin- and once you start- keep checking with your gut to make sure you’re doing what you said you would do… or you’re doing something better.