SIS Myanmar2019 Financial Times - International Finance Corporation (World Bank) Transformational Business Award

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2019 Financial Times – International Finance Corporation (World Bank) Transformational Business Award

Written by Jaspal Sidhu
SIS Group of Schools, Founder and Chairman

Jaspal Sidhu

I am pleased to share that SIS has been nominated for the prestigious 2019 Financial Times/International Finance Corporation (World Bank) Transformational Award in the “Solutions in Education Knowledge and Skills” category. Out of more than 90 global educational institutions nominated from around the world,  SIS is now amongst the top 6. The winner will be announced during the FT/IFC (World Bank) annual gathering of business innovators, social entrepreneurs, investors and other thought leaders in London in June.

What is this award?

The FT/IFC (World Bank) Transformational Award is a premier global award recognizing private sector enterprises that make a difference in addressing development challenges and in helping the world achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In particular, the category in which SIS is nominated for the Transformational Award relates to Sustainable Development Goals 4; “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Who are the judges?

The panel is made up of leading world experts and luminaries. And these include Pilita Clark (Associate Editor, Financial Times),  Stephanie Friedeburg (Chief Operating Officer, IFC- World Bank), Darren Welch (Director of Policy, UK Department for International Development  and Kalipso Chalkidou (Director of Global Health Policy and Senior Fellow of Centre for Global Development).

What did SIS have to do to reach this far for this award?

 Well, we just told our story. We showed how we continue to establish and expand SIS schools at different price points while ensuring out-standing teaching out-comes across all our schools.  To do this we had to answer (with evidence) several questions.

We share some below:

Our official entry for the FT/IFC (World Bank) 2019 Transformational Award

Over-view & Bench-marking

Describe what is the problem you are trying to solve and what is your solution and what makes it transformational. Summarise main competitors and key differentiating factors of your project and transaction. 

Lowering tuition fees to encourage accessibility means engaging families with different incomes, cultural and social norms. These schools and their local teachers are also burdened with limited budgets resulting in often limited access to the pedagogical developments that international schools enjoy.

“Budget schools” tend to collaborate with other “budget schools”. We call this the “Horizontal Collaboration” phenomenon. It tends to create a dull exchange of ideas around a common body of knowledge. The Horizontal Collaboration phenomenon is particularly stark in the public sector.

What if these could tap into a different eco-system, one that allows for a “Vertical Collaboration” with schools up and down the tuition fee ladder?

The SIS success story is all about this.

Emulating the best practices of the most well-resourced international school in Jakarta (Indonesia) which charged USD28,000/year in 1996, we established the Singapore International School (SIS) a year later and halved those fees to USD14,000/year.

In 2004, we teamed up with IFC and established 3 schools for the local communities with fees at USD7000/year (half of our first school). From our learnings, we halved those fees to USD4000/year and established 3 more schools. All SIS Schools use the Singapore curriculum (ranked number one in the world by OECD’s PISA rankings.) The difference between these schools lie in their after-school offerings, teacher composition and infra-structure.

Every SIS school up and down the tuition fee ladder collaborates all year round: sharing pedagogical ideas, best practises and creating an exciting culture through a unique and innovative eco-system. The results were phenomenal.

Inspired, in 2012 we decided to push the ante and halved fees to USD2000/year to establish yet another school in the world’s most populous Muslim country. In 2013, after understanding new challenges around teachers and parent expectations from this social income group, we strengthened the management and supervision structure to amplify the Vertical Collaboration process.

Today, all SIS schools have delivered outstanding academic results with high pass-rates in international examinations, the current 3300 enrolment growth is at a double-digit trajectory, stake- holder climate surveys put SIS schools as “great place to be”. Competition is largely from stand-alone schools competing on fees operating in isolation.

SIS is now scaling the USD2000/year schools, with an eye on the USD1000/year and USD500/year school models. Through “Vertical Collaboration”, any good curriculum can be transferred into a developing country, scaled and made accessible to different income levels. We are doing it everyday.

2018 FT/IFC Transformational Business Award Winners


Summarise innovative and ground-breaking features of the project or transaction, including business model approach, market innovation, and financial structure. Describe approach to diversity and inclusion. 

All SIS Schools offer an international curricula. The SIS ecosystem demands each SIS School to persevere on its own P&L, arising from its local reputation and the faculty it can attract. The challenge is to maintain the quality of the offering. This primarily comes from teachers hired from the local communities.

Our “Vertical Collaboration” model aims to deliver on two aspects. One, ensuring the spread of a common SIS culture across all schools, propagating a sense of pride and confidence to encourage the collaboration process in its entirety. Two, ensuring all schools collaborate ceaselessly up and down the tuition fee ladder, ensuring at all times that no SIS school operates in isolation.

One innovative approach is the way leadership in SIS schools engages with each other. Like the United Nations, SIS created its Council of Principals, a consultative body that meets quarterly, hosted by different schools. At these meetings, key educational and operational matters are raised. Experience is shared and problems are solved using the collective wisdom of the group. Pedagogical discussions and ideas that work are echoed so that everyone can benefit. As leadership of this Council passes on from schools up and down the fee ladder, a sense of confidence develops all round, which in turn trickles down to its faculty. Teachers within the Group collaborate through the use of technology.

An umbrella supervisory and management team advances the vertical collaboration process through constant sharing of best practices with school and departmental leaderships.  HR and professional development systems of all SIS schools are similar and benchmarked against top multinational companies operating in Indonesia.  All principals and teachers have similar KPIs across all the schools. All Schools have common feedback systems that allow intervention when the need arises. There is a common approach to green ideas, diversity around gender, race and religion.

SIS practices cultural diversity and equal opportunity in hiring. Its staff come from 16 countries from around the world. This diversity has further heightened the benefits of the Vertical Collaboration model. Women account for 59% of its total workforce and they comprise 66% of the total faculty. Stakeholder climate surveys put SIS schools as “great place to be” for teachers, parents and students. SIS teacher turnover stands at 16.56% which is low compared to the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) data whose range of turnover is 20%-50% for its member schools.

SIS Medan


Summarise the main environmental, social, and economic impacts and benefits that the projector transaction has provided since launch, including estimated number and type of beneficiaries. 

The impact of the SIS eco-system that encourages Vertical Collaboration is in 5 areas:

First – SIS schools lead Public-Private-Partnership initiatives wherever they are established. Mid- priced and budget SIS schools open their doors freely to public schools to allow them to come, observe and learn. In essence, allowing a further trickling down effect of best practises down the tuition fee ladder. SIS schools are also centres for interns from public and private teacher training institutions. In the past 3 years, twenty interns have directly benefited from being part of the SIS ecosystem. Not to mention the hundreds of teachers, students and administrators from public institutions that have interacted with SIS employees throughout the years of our establishment.

Second – As SIS schools expand within the ecosystem, each will provide employment to the local community where the school will be established. Currently, SIS employs over 602 Indonesians making up almost 70% of our current total workforce.

Third – Many Indonesians have been, in the past, moving either to Jakarta (Indonesia’s capital) and even to Singapore in search of quality education. With quality and affordable Singapore-style schools now in many parts of Indonesia, there is now an alternative. The lowest cost for one foreign child to complete their entire K-12 journey in Singapore today is about USD100,000! Our estimation has about 10% of the 90,000 Indonesian students and professionals in Singapore today, in the island’s K-12 schools. The establishment of SIS schools is seeing a number of these Indonesian families remaining in Indonesia.

Fourth – SIS schools down the tuition fee ladder in cities keep families together. Without good quality and affordable schools like SIS, many of these families would have had to be split apart as they move to Jakarta, and in the process making the already crowded capital polluted.

Fifth – SIS plays and active role in public policy. SIS’ management is often asked to sit in meetings by the Education Ministry at the provincial and central levels, where SIS shares its views in the ever-changing education sector. The Founder speaks in local and international events, the recent being the IFC Education Conference in Cape Town and the Indonesian Economic Forum. The Founder interacts with Politicians, CEOS and the Indonesian Government often sharing his views around best practises in education and in the process help craft theirs. SIS’ management also sit in bodies like the ‘SPK’, the only body that oversees private schools in Indonesia.

SIS Bona Vista

Scalability, Replicability, and Financial Sustainability

Summarise the scalability prospects of your project or transaction and the potential for local or global replication, citing any major barriers, that have been or would need to be overcome. Highlight pressing needs to take the project or transaction to scale. Provide key metrics and trends that make or will make, the project or transaction financially viable and within which time horizon. 

The thesis that SIS set out to prove was that through the “Vertical Collaboration of Schools”, any good curriculum can be transferred into a developing country, scaled and made accessible to different income levels. We believe we have proven this.

Our next phase of expansion will begin with yet another SIS budget school charging USD2000/year, established in a Tier B (outside Jakarta) city. That School will be plugged into the established SIS Vertical Collaboration ecosystem. We believe we can at least scale this to at least 10 in the next 3 years, all vertically collaborating with SIS Schools above the tuition fee ladder. With the experience of “Vertical Collaboration of Schools” behind us, the stage will be set to halve that fee to USD1000/year and we will push the ante to halve that fee to USD500/year and establish schools in smaller townships. They will all have a similar curriculum with the difference lying in after school offerings, teacher nationality (all Indonesians) and school infrastructure.

Above these schools will be smaller regional supervision and management support bodies that will coordinate and advance the Vertical Collaboration process. Members of these bodies will themselves be Vertically Collaborating with their counter-parts from above the tuition fee ladder. There will be a common approach to ideas, diversity around gender, race and religion. The essence of the Vertical Collaboration process will remain as what it is achieving today; Creating a common SIS culture across all schools no matter where they are in the tuition fee ladder, propagating a common sense of pride and confidence, creating an atmosphere for ceaselessly sharing up and down the tuition fee ladder and ensuring at all times that no SIS school operates in isolation.

SIS expects a higher degree of scrutiny to come from local authorities. And this is where the public- private partnership role of SIS Schools will be replicated.  These schools will open their doors freely to public schools to allow them to come, observe and learn. They will also continue to be centers for interns from public teacher training institutions.

We expect these schools to be just as impactful as the other SIS Schools are today as they reach denser middle and lower income townships, keeping aspiring families together and driving regional economies. These schools will also collaborate to pick up ideas behind design concepts from the SIS green school philosophy in our journey to be EDGE (IFC) certified.

SIS Kelapa Gading

Aspirations and Other Comments

Where would you like your project or transaction to be in 5-10 years in terms of scale and impact, and what steps are necessary to reach that level? Any other comments you would like to share with us ? 

Our desire is to see public schools in developing countries ceaselessly collaborating vertically with private schools, without social and cultural barriers. Success for us means eco-systems that allow a cultural shift and where pedagogical developments and educational ideas can trickle up and down the tuition fee ladder for the benefits of young Indonesians facing a very unpredictable and challenging 21 st century.

In 10 years, SIS sees itself establishing at least 10 USD2000/year schools in 10 of the major Indonesian provinces, with 5 USD1000/year schools collaborating vertically upwards with each of the 10. Then down the tuition fee ladder, we see at least 3 USD500/year schools in townships collaborating with each of the USD1000/year schools. Plugged into the system will be public schools. Potentially 500,000 Indonesian students can benefit from this system.

Having brought our fees down from USD17,000/year to USD2000/year, the next step is for SIS to fine tune the branding, the financial model and infra-structure design for immediate and active scaling. Indonesia is in the bottom rungs of OECD’s PISA rankings of schools and today most of the Indonesians are in public or budget schools.

SIS’ successful Vertical Collaboration eco-system has to be the answer.