5 reasons for $5 billion: Interview with Peter Laugharn

GPE asks Peter Laugharn 5 questions on the power of education. GPE's financing campaign seeks to raise at least $5 billion over five years to transform education for up to 1 billion children in 90 countries and territories.

April 28, 2021 by GPE Secretariat
4 minutes read
5 reasons for $5 billion: Interview with Peter Laugharn

Peter Laugharn is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

1. Since its establishment in 1944, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has been a prominent philanthropic supporter of the fight against poverty and marginalization. As the organization is about to embark on a new strategy, what role do you see for education in the Foundation’s global development agenda?

Education is a priority in several of our global initiatives. Because education begins at birth, the early years are key and parents and caregivers are a child’s first teachers.

We know how critical the first few years of life are for later success when formal education begins. This is the impetus behind our new Global Early Childhood Development Initiative which continues work with partners in East and Southern Africa, while initiating work in the U.S. beginning in the Los Angeles area, where the Foundation is based.

In both settings, this work takes a two generation approach to supporting both parents and young children – with a focus on young parents that face barriers to education and economic opportunities and parenting challenges, such as access to early learning services, including childcare and pre-school.

The Foundation’s two generation approach within our Foster Youth Initiative, supports older youth in the foster care system in the U.S. to complete high school and obtain a college degree, and provides support for parenting youth.

2. As an American non-profit, the Hilton Foundation promptly deployed an ambitious response to COVID-19, both in Los Angeles County and internationally. Can you tell us more about your approach and how education, equity and inclusion have featured in your response?

In the Los Angeles area, our initial grant-making focused on protecting homeless populations. We also supported a statewide fund to help California interrupt and reduce the community spread of COVID-19 by strengthening the public health infrastructure of local counties and supporting the efforts of community-based organizations led by people of color.

COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color and this fund brings equity at the forefront, as well as the understanding that we need to engage people with practical expertise in developing solutions.

Globally, we know that the pandemic has put enormous strains on families and caregivers have struggled to meet basic needs. We are concerned about the impacts on the health and development of young children.

Our international COVID-19 response has, among other things, aimed to reach community-based organizations with parenting support that also includes attention to increased rates of violence and stress within the household and support for basic needs, including cash transfers.

3. Ensuring that vulnerable young children survive and thrive is a long-standing priority of the Hilton Foundation. As a GPE key philanthropic partner on early learning, how do you think your Foundation and GPE can continue complementing their work on early childhood development in lower middle-income countries?

Investing in quality and inclusive early childhood care and education is a priority across all countries. In the aftermath of Covid-19, countries will need as many tools and financial incentives as possible to expand access to quality early learning.

The Hilton Foundation will continue to support civil society organizations, NGOs, governments, and GPE - in our focus countries. We will work to expand multi-sectoral early childhood development services and support to better align our resources and activities to help countries ensure that all young children have access to early learning care and education.

Given that GPE is driven by country priorities, we see an opportunity to ensure that the voices of parents and caregivers are heard by the government officials responsible for creating the sector plans that drive GPE investment.

4. You strongly advocate for global commitments to early childhood and universal preschool funding. GPE has launched its 4th financing campaign, Raise Your Hand, to raise $5+ billion for education for the next 5 years. What is your vision for GPE's role in boosting investments in early learning?

The evidence is overwhelming about the benefits of early learning and the finance necessary to ensure the best start in life for every child, as well as the economic prosperity of nations.

The finance projections show that, on average, across all low and middle income countries, we are far from the levels of investments needed. We recommend that 10% of education budgets will be directed to supporting quality early childhood education if we are to come within striking distance of SDG 4.

Country governments will ultimately decide how much they can invest in early learning. It will be exciting to see, through GPE’s new strategy, increased support to countries in identifying and overcoming key barriers to quality early learning at scale. This has great potential to yield strong investments in early learning globally.

5. Peter, what do you remember most about school? Were there any specific moments or teachers that had a particularly big impact on you?

My undergraduate advisor in college, an authority on the expansion of public education in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. I vividly remember his presentations about rural towns in the American West, which really pulled together to establish their first schools.

These images were an ongoing inspiration to me when, a decade later, I worked with the NGO Save the Children in rural Mali, and we helped almost 800 communities establish and run primary schools that were self-financing and gender equitable, increasing the number of primary schools in Mali by 40%. It’s amazing the impact that a good teacher can have, in unexpected ways, halfway around the world.

Read other interviews from this series.

Peter Laugharn raising his hand to support GPE financing campaign.
Peter Laugharn raising his hand to support GPE financing campaign.

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