Katelyn Donnelly: Making Your Dreams Reality

Katelyn Donnelly is the Managing Director at Pearson and of the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, which helps foster affordable learning in the developing world. She advises Pearson on global strategy, efficacy, research and innovation agenda and consults to governments on education system transformation and delivery. She is the co-author of "Alive in the Swamp," a leading publication that explores how to better assess digital innovations in learning. She also advises several start-up companies across Europe, Asia and Africa. Donnelly was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Education list.

Katelyn shares with Sam’s Dream Blog about progressing toward dreams one step at a time, what the biggest obstacles are in pursuing dreams and finding motivation.

Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your professional dream? How did your dream originate?  How did this become a personal dream of yours?

Katelyn Donnelly: My professional dream.  That seems daunting.  I've always taken career and profession one step at a time and followed my intuition to take the most attractive opportunity to work with the best people to create something new and special.  I started my career in consulting which provided a great core skill set and exposure to many new challenges and experiences that shaped me. Today, I'm very happy as managing director of the Affordable Learning Fund. Entrepreneurs have a huge ability to create positive change in education. I am playing a catalytic role in that ecosystem.

SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Katelyn Donnelly: I'm most proud of the work I've done in Pakistan.  About four years ago I signed up for a project to work with the Education Department of Pakistan to implement an action plan or "roadmap" to achieve significant improvement in enrollment, retention and quality in primary education.  I was placed at the department to build a strong relationship with the officials and to ensure implementation of the action plan.

Over the next eight months I worked hand in hand with the education department to draft legislation, set targets, analyze data, plan training sessions, solve problems, visit schools and report progress to the chief minister.  We worked in collaboration to set targets for each of the 36 districts and to set up a data system to collect information on progress to meet those targets.

Each month you could feel tangible change building and the momentum for progress increasing. Within a year and a half, we had achieved tremendous results, including one million more children in school, and teacher attendance rates had increased 10 percent.

Additionally, we were conducting a follow-up training with the 36 district education managers to help them lead their districts and deliver on their targets.  At the end of the training, one of education managers turned to me and said, "Thank you for your faith that Pakistan can stand up proudly and take its place among the nations."

I’m proud to have achieved such significant results over a short amount of time and to have unlocked the potential of the system to deliver. I still visit Pakistan every two months to check in with the officials.

SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream?  What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?

Katelyn Donnelly: Every step of the way there have been obstacles or challenges.  I think the biggest obstacles in any situation are a loss of confidence or self doubt.

My advice for others is that you should realize that you control your own destiny.  Set high goals for yourself and work back from there to break the challenge into small, surmountable steps.

When something isn't working, don't look for external factors to blame, instead diagnose accurately and honestly what is holding you back and then work through that issue. You are the only person who can make your dreams reality.

SDB: Educating the world sounds pretty overwhelming.  How do you avoid apathy in the midst of so much need?

Katelyn Donnelly: It is a huge challenge.  Whenever I visit a potential investment, or consult with a new government, I always visit the schools and talk with the students and parents.  When I see the visceral desire for a better life through education coming from both parents and students, I know that it matters to that individual, and I feel motivated by the knowledge that I can help create opportunity and a better world for those people.

Thanks for reading Sam’s Dream Blog!  Learn more about Katelyn Donnelly and Pearson here. Check back with SDB for the next feature on July 8.