An unprecedented contribution of education philanthropy at the Transforming Education Summit

With a growing role in advocacy and contribution in the education sector, philanthropic actors seized the Transforming Education Summit to reinforce their commitments. The joint statement signed by close to 60 organizations highlights how their actions can make a difference.

October 25, 2022 by Bathylle Missika, OECD Development Center, and Laura Savage, International Education Funders Group
4 minutes read
A panel of an IEFG/OECD event during the Transformation Education Summit in New York.
A panel of an IEFG/OECD event during the Transformation Education Summit in New York.
Credit: IEFG

“Brouhaha”. This was the word that echoed in our ears as we, a group of education philanthropies, left a workshop we had run together in Tanzania this June, and we were delighted.

The workshop, part of the Schools2030 Global Forum, was designed to get participants thinking about others’ perspectives. We gave everyone a role play card and asked them to ‘stand in someone else’s shoes’ for an hour while debating education sector plan priorities in a hypothetical budget process.

This produced, as we had anticipated, the “brouhaha” – a cacophony of noise and competing interests and hidden or blatant incentives, with no group reaching consensus. This is the reality of working within a complex system: everyone – from parent, student, teacher to government decision maker, civil society activist, funder or textbook producer – has a different sense of purpose, their own theory of change and an idea of how to address problems –small or big.

It is not possible to agree one single sense of purpose in education. But we believe it is possible to go beyond this “brouhaha”, and to harness the diversity within to define and achieve success.

A first for the education philanthropy community at the UN

In September, the education philanthropy community did exactly that. It did so through a joint statement to the UN Transforming Education Summit and, in this, created the first moment – to our knowledge – of joined-up education philanthropy to a UN summit.

Both of us have the privilege of working for two networks that connect and enable collaboration between private philanthropy actors. The OECD Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) has three working groups: on education, gender and health. The International Education Funders Group is a network of 100+ education philanthropy organizations working in low- and middle-income countries.

There is incredible range across our members, in what they fund (from early childhood education through to youth entrepreneurship), who they fund (from those in school, those out of school, girls, boys, children with disability, refugees), how they fund (from competitive grants to unrestricted grants, to prizes, social impact bonds and multilateral partnerships), and who they partner with (from global multilateral partners through to grassroots activists in rural Mongolia or Kenya).

What binds them together is being neither civil society nor the private sector and somehow not having been terribly well included in the global development agenda over the last decades.

Philanthropy’s increased role in education

Indeed, philanthropy is growing in advocacy, contribution and impact in global education. Philanthropic funding for education was USD 4.5 billion between 2016 and 2019, according to the OECD Centre on Philanthropy.

Collectively, cross-border philanthropic giving was the eighth largest source of financing for education in lower-income countries in that period, on par with some of the most prominent official development assistance providers.

Philanthropic actors have been working to strengthen and transform education systems for decades. They’ve been leveraging innovation, looking for solutions to pervasive challenges in education. They’ve been producing and brokering knowledge, enabling a culture of evidence in policymaking. They’ve been advocating for change, backing important education agendas at a time when global support is declining.

Nearly 60 (and counting!) of these organizations signed the joint statement of philanthropy before the Transforming Education Summit. We, together with our partners GPE, UNESCO and NORRAG, hosted a full-capacity event in the TES margins to discuss the statement’s themes and commitments.

These commitments are made by philanthropy but they are a call from philanthropy to others too. There are two key overarching messages from this action that we took away.

Charles North, GPE’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, speaking during an IEFG/OECD event during the Transformation Education Summit in New York.
Charles North, GPE’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, speaking during an IEFG/OECD event during the Transformation Education Summit in New York.

Two takeaways on the potential of philanthropy

First, there is potential and strength in diversity. The range of philanthropic focus areas and approaches is almost a microcosm of the range of options, offers and practices happening around any given school or Ministry of Education in many countries around the world. This can feel like chaos and raise concern about duplication or contradictory action or lack of efficiency. But there can be power in diversity too: as Michelle Holmes, chair of the IEFG, said at the event, “we don’t all have to do the same thing; on the contrary – our diversity is something to be celebrated”.

Second, and to harness that diversity, we are louder together. Transforming education will require pooling the diverse approaches of many actors – and philanthropy proposes to start within. Prioritizing education is not only the job of governments and international organizations: philanthropy has a unique offer and comparative advantages too, not the least its capacity to help lower the political costs of action for public policy by leveraging evidence and alliances, as highlighted by Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO and Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Department for Education and Skills.

New York and the statement were not an end to itself, but the beginning of an effort towards collective action. Networks are a space for diversity to thrive, and we at OECD’s netFWD and at the IEFG take on the challenge that our members have put to us – to support them to make the most of all of their work, and to enable education philanthropy to speak louder together as a committed and credible voice towards a common, broader but shared goal to transform education.

The joint statement of philanthropy remains open for signature until end of October.

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