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Zia Akhter Abbas

As Executive Vice President at The Citizens Foundation, Zia leads TCF’s global resource mobilization efforts, serving a movement of thousands of committed volunteers across 14 countries. He has also stewarded TCF’s partnership with the Government, through which, more than 40,000 students receive high quality education at 300+ TCF-managed public schools.

Zia is a board member at Global Schools Forum – an organization aiming to strengthen the global education sector by working with non-state organizations serving children from low-income backgrounds in developing countries.

Before joining TCF in 2014, Zia spent 17 years in senior business and risk management roles at Citi and Standard Chartered, and served on the Board of Directors for the leading payments switch in Pakistan.

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The Citizens Foundation
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Non-profit Social Enterprise
Gender Inequality; Education
Areas of Impact
South Asia, Pakistan

The Citizens Foundation

The Citizens Foundation (TCF) has evolved a model to establish schools and deliver quality education in Pakistan’s most neglected urban slums and rural communities, catering to out of school children, especially girls. Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world. TCF is one of the world’s largest networks of formal schools for the less privileged sustained through philanthropy.

A faculty of 12,000 teachers and principals composed only of women makes TCF the largest private employer of women in Pakistan. With 1,482 school units in 61 districts across Pakistan, the Foundation has mastered the challenge of operating at scale. TCF has over 200,000 students. Ensuring that half of the student body is girls has been a priority for TCF’s founders from the start. TCF has achieved a nearly 50-50 gender ratio by listening to parents and incorporating innovations such as employing only women teachers and building schools in the heart of communities within walking distance for children. Some 99% of TCF students pass national exams that allow them to graduate at the end of 10th grade, compared to 47% nationally. After 23 years, almost 23,300 students have graduated from TCF Schools, of which 88% have continued their education beyond matriculation. Today, 71% of the alumni aged 22 or more are employed or running their own enterprise while another 15% are still studying.

The organization follows the founders’ belief that poor children do not deserve poor schools. TCF has therefore invested in designing systems that identify, harness, and develop the potential of women in remote communities to become great teachers and school leaders. Digital tools are used to build teachers’ capacity and effectiveness rather than replace them. The foundation has developed its own curriculum and textbooks in Urdu (Pakistan’s national language) drawing from the best materials available around the world and adapted to the context of a less privileged child in Pakistan. TCF has also developed its own assessment system through an internal testing unit, in addition to external assessments conducted by independent experts.


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