Tomás Despouy

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Tomás Despouy was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Tomás is designing and handing over the tools for middle and high school students from vulnerable communities to lead their own education process and encourage that of their peers. Through his organization, Panal, students step into their self-confidence, through practice, and learn to inspire this confidence in their friends. Panal’s workshops and project incubators in schools are the grounds for learning and practicing the necessary social and emotional skills for teamwork and leadership as well as for being successful citizens and architects of better communities.
Tomás, starting with young people in the least favorable school conditions, is transforming the role of the student from passive recipient to proactive driver – learners that not only demand reform but take steps to achieve the changes they see for their communities. To realize this environment where students take matters into their own hands, Tomás is weaving a network of student leaders in each commune (the smallest administrative district of Chilean cities) so that they can function in parallel across a community. In Santiago, Chile’s capital and where Tomás began his work, distance is a barrier to spreading solutions and collaboration, especially in schools. As such, Panal’s design turns on bringing students from different schools together to encourage a comprehensive and efficient network.
The invitation to form networks and build confidence and changemaking abilities is also critical for teachers. The possibility that a student from a vulnerable school could be a protagonist in his or her own education changes the current paradigm, one that tends to equalize students through rote memorization of facts instead of encouraging critical and independent thinking and asking questions. Most of all, the current scenario does not promote problem solving or helping others become problem solvers. Through his own teaching experience, Tomás saw that the new paradigm cannot depend on teachers alone. When a teacher leaves, the old ways return unless the new learning style is infused into the DNA of the classroom. Given this context, Panal prepares teachers and students to be leaders and replicators of changemaking skills.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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