Monday, June 09, 2014

Philanthropy Delivers New Promise of Quality Education for All

Investing in education has an incredible multiplier effect as it leads to increased prosperity not just for individuals, but also for their communities and societies. It provides returns for decades.

This topic was center-stage at this year’s Global Philanthropy Forum.

The Forum, which has been bringing philanthropists as well as political and social sector leaders from around the world to Silicon Valley since 2001, hosted the Presidents of two foundations: Robert Gallucci of the MacArthur Foundation and Reeta Roy of The MasterCard Foundation. Gallucci and Roy jointly announced a partnership of philanthropic organizations investing more than $15 million in grants to 23 projects as well as an additional $13 million available in the coming year for innovative projects that will increase the participation, quality, and relevance of secondary education.

I had the opportunity to speak with both Gallucci and Roy about this unique funder collaborative and more specifically about how the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education would measure the impact of their investments. Gallucci noted that there was one statistic that matters to him: “There are 39 million girls globally that should be in secondary education, and who are not.” Getting more girls to attend secondary school should be a priority for societies around the world, he explained, yet participation rates are extremely low, especially for the economically marginalized. With additional education girls earn more, contribute to higher rates of economic growth on the national level, delay the onset of sexual activity, are less likely to contract HIV, have smaller and healthier families, and survive childbirth at higher rates, he noted.

Governments in developing countries are thinking seriously about how to provide quality secondary education, noted Gallucci and Roy, yet less known are which interventions are economical and will increase demand, access, and retention. This is where philanthropy comes in. Philanthropy plays a role beyond what governments could do—allowing for the testing of innovative models that are responsive to local cultural contexts—and then looks to government for scaling up successful efforts.

Roy emphasized that The MasterCard Foundation will be focusing on evidence-based approaches and will capture and disseminate lessons learned to key stakeholders. She noted that each year the Foundation gathers government policymakers from its three target regions (West Africa, East Africa, and India) to discuss best practices in cost-effective interventions in education.

As CEO and founder of Benetech—a nonprofit technology company that has been creating and delivering technology solutions to expand the educational and vocational opportunities of marginalized groups—I was thrilled to learn firsthand about this funder collaborative and its interest in supporting innovative approaches to tackling the education gap. The Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education’s 2014 call for proposals remains open through June 13. I hope that it spurs the submission of many exciting proposals from NGOs focused on delivering secondary education programs. As a grant-seeker, I am always excited to see a group of donors gathering together around a common objective—and a common application!

This is a hopeful time in the long arc of inclusive education. With today’s rapid technology and industry shifts, I believe that investments in innovations can open up new frontiers for tackling society’s toughest problems, including the education gap.

Granted, realizing a future of quality education for all children requires a shift from viewing inclusive education as a purely legal or social obligation to embracing its benefits for all. But the 2014 Global Philanthropy Forum clearly highlighted the role that the philanthropic community can play in affecting this shift. With focused resources made available by initiatives like The MacArthur and the MasterCard Foundations’ collaborative, we can level the educational playing field for the world’s most marginalized communities. Educating girls especially makes for long-term positive impact.

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