The winner of the 2021 Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award is Estee Katcoff, the Founder of Superkids or Superninos Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to mobilize children as agents of change in their own communities. Estee has combined her two passions of education and management by creating two successful educational enrichment programs. Estee’s programs in the US and Paraguay have reached over 5,000 students, supporting them in becoming better scholars, leaders, and citizens. Her program that she started in Paraguay has a staff and board of over 30 people who are dedicated to helping children learn, read, and become change makers in their community. The Vision of Superkids is “ a world where children and adults work together to form their communities through creative and powerful solutions.”
Estee’s compassion for children and her passion to help them succeed was highlighted when asked to reflect on her proudest moment from the program. She described when she helped a ten-year-old boy who his family believed to be “stupid” and “rebellious” and taught him how to read in just three sessions. This child influenced her tremendously and helped her see a new perspective on education. The boy’s sister was a straight A student who was considered the school’s best student year after year. The boy who Estee helped clearly was talented and smart, but simply needed a little extra help to succeed. This left Estee with a question she would ponder for the next six years that would inspire her NGO, and answer the question ”Couldn’t child leaders like her (the boy’s sister) be trained to help other children when adults couldn’t?”
The question of “What if children could help other children read?” led Katcoff on her journey to help children through their peers. She formed a local team who agreed that children are a powerful but neglected resource in international development. In 2016, this team founded The Superkids Foundation to mobilize children to be there for other children through the flagship program Kid Teachers. The children in this program are in grades 5 through 8th and participate in an inspiring summer training at the local teacher's college, becoming experts in literacy. They then take the skills they learned in the training and spend six hours per week tutoring in schools with high illiteracy rates. Helping one child inspired her to make a difference and now everyday Superkids “teaches powerful programs of literacy, life skills, and leadership to empower children as heroes in their daily lives”.
Estee served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay from 2011 to 2014 which has had an influential impact on her life. Her time in Paraguay taught her many valuable lessons which she has carried with her since. Her biggest lesson from her years in the Peace Corps was that she “learned that international development professionals have a responsibility to work not only for communities but WITH communities``. One of the most frustrating things that she encountered as a Peace Corps Volunteer was how the “decision makers were out of touch with community stakeholders”. This helped her when she founded her own NGO as she knew she wanted to be living and working onsite, being alongside her team every step of the way. She credits the team’s collaboration, mutual respect, and team problem solving to Superkids success.
When asked what helps Estee remain hopeful in her quest to help the world better even though there is constant need for aid, she shared her story of how she started her NGO:
“I moved back to Paraguay and started this organization with only $12,000. With that, I was able to hire five staff members for eight months and support my own salary ($500/month) through sporadic online tutoring. A little bit of money goes a long way in the developing world.” She now asks herself and the global community to consider how valuable their contribution is monetarily, “what gives me hope is that you don’t need a lot of money to make a difference. So what’s stopping you?”
She advises girls and young women to gain experience in the corporate sector. This type of environment helps one to gain skills in mission-driven work. She believes that “The corporate sector often offers a better training ground for leadership through mentorship, feedback, and experience on larger-scale projects”. This type of background can be extremely helpful in NGOs and government type work.
Estee’s passion for management and education along with her entrepreneurial drive have led her to change thousands of children’s lives in the place where she once volunteered as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Winning the Kate Raftery Emerging Leader Award recognizes the impact that Estee has made on global communities and the change to come from the programs she has set into place. Estee’s belief in helping children has caused a domino effect of growth and positivity that is the foundation of SuperKids Foundation.