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Katrina Too, program & partnerships at Alibaba Business School, on finding allyship in moving from tech to nonprofit education

Written by Emily Fang Published on 

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After 10 years in marketing, Katrina Too made a move to activate her business network and start a nonprofit.

Katrina Too runs Programs and Partnerships at Alibaba Business School and is the Managing Director of Open Door Policy, a not-for-profit that trains and connects refugees globally to remote digital work. She was previously a B2B tech marketer and consults for 500 Startups in that domain. Her passion lies in increasing access to education in underdeveloped and developing countries. If your company is interested in becoming a partner or you’d like to mentor, you can submit your interest via Open Door Policy’s website.

Note to ally: Dear Rachel, I’m very thankful for your generosity. You’ve always had a maternal and empathetic sense of leadership. You’ve always created a safe space. We’ve known each other for a good five years, but only really just connected about two years ago. Yet, you’ve been giving from day one and never expecting something in return. Because giving, that’s who you are. And that is really beautiful.

At a certain point in her 10 years of a marketing career, Katrina Too wanted to focus on something she cared about and activate her business network to give back to the world. She started Open Door Policy, a not-for-profit focused on upskilling marginalized communities that lack access to traditional employment, for remote digital work.

In the early stages of looking to make an impact in non-profit education, she sought out a mentor and ended up finding Rachel, who had been on a similar career journey. She too had previously pivoted from a tech commercial role to a more impact driven role in education.

Katrina Too at a volunteer trip to Gansu province for NGO Educating Girls from Rural China where she taught at their Summer Camp. Photo courtesy of Too.

Katrina recalls how they initially met, “We were in the same industry, but we just never met. I was looking for a mentor to fill in the gaps of my weaknesses, which was around the education domain, which is a lot more traditional and serious. Her foundation in pedagogy (method and practice of teaching) was something that I really tapped into because as we were building our curriculum at Open Door Policy, I needed to make sure that we could clearly define our learning outcomes.”

Rachel’s journey in impactful non-profit education winds down an interesting path. She was a Korean native in rural Malaysia teaching for two years through Teach for Malaysia, which rolls up to Teach for All.

Teach for All is a global network that originally launched in the US and Europe, but now across six continents. They tackle complex challenges facing children in disadvantaged communities, with the support of a coalition of leaders addressing the problem in all of its complexity.

After those two years, Rachel moved into tech education, moving into learning and development at big tech conglomerates like General Assembly, Shopee, and Facebook.

“Now, she’s back at the Teach for All headquarters, and managing the global learning systems in different countries and regions,” Katrina nodds. “She looks at education not as black and white, but a lot more holistically and humanizes education.”

Katrina (top left) shares a smile with students from the Middle East cohort. Photo courtesy of Open Door Policy.

By the end of December 31st, Open Door Policy had two pilot programs across five countries, impacted 48 refugee learners, and cultivated a diverse community of industry professionals committed to opening doors everywhere. They had launched in May 2020 and done this all within 7 months.

I ask Katrina how she’s leaned on Rachel for support and how Rachel has advised on the employability program at Open Door Policy.

Katrina responds, “ The program focuses on a lot of education and skills training on the business fundamentals. I leaned on her a lot on measurement and understanding rubrics, how to roll out systemic feedback for mentors and students involved. She’s an expert on how people learn and how to create strategic learning outcomes for teaching.”

I’m curious about the remote nature of the program and ask how it has progressed so far. Adult education requires a different type of framework, let alone doing this digitally across different continents.

Katrina nodds, “We are serving refugee communities. Rachel’s a fantastic person to chat with because Teach for All is about increasing access to education for those who don’t have the opportunities. She was working with regions and countries that don’t even have access to the internet.”

Katrina shares that Rachel and her are also good friends. They have often times used each other as sounding boards to ideate, and share educational frameworks and learnings.

She smiles and concludes, “Given that Rachel is both my mentor and a good friend, there are not many (if not, any) topics that are out of bounds that we discuss. In tech, there is fewer female representation (at least in my previous roles and experiences), and then even fewer that have moved into impact. I think we both acted and stayed true to our calling.”

WRITTEN BY

Emily Fang

Emily is a Community Lead based in Singapore, connecting SE Asia's tech scene to the rest of the world. Originally from Silicon Valley, she's worked in community building, event marketing, and developer relations for MNCs and startups. Most recently, she made the move to Asia to do her own self-guided global MBA.

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