Business Takes Aim at Global Education

Friday, March 13, 2015
Chris Henderson

With evolving interest and engagement in education, can business be a force for good? 

“We cannot have young people growing up without the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be productive members of our society… You understand investment. You focus on the bottom line. You know the dividends of education for all.”

Ban Ki Moon, United Nations Secretary General

For a number of years and through many forms global business has engaged with the education sector. Tertiary level engagement in industrialised countries often takes the form of internships or university partnerships and resourcing. In emerging economies the distribution of scholarships and opportunities for competency or leadership development are the norm. Primary and secondary education experiences considerably less in the way of corporate engagement in the industrialised world; in fact it is often resisted as a result of concerns over a loss of autonomy and the erosion of education as a public good. In emerging economies, however, much Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity sees the primary and secondary sectors as an efficient target for philanthropic funds; schools regularly receive what's colloquially known as ‘spray and pray’ donations of technology, buildings, sporting equipment, and other tangible resources.

Less common are corporate funded or skills-based initiatives in teacher professional development, organisational leadership, institutional development, public relations or strategic planning. One might argue that such services are more difficult to quantify in an annual report or capture on the front page of an investors’ prospectus, and therefore less readily contributed.

Change is in the air, however. There has been recent flurry of strategic partnerships between global business and the agencies that have traditionally led international developments in education. It is now common to see UNICEF, UNESCO, or Save the Children’s logo alongside that of a global business brand. Equally common is the presence of education experts from academic institutions, multi-lateral agencies (such as the World Bank or OECD), and governments sharing a conference panel session with CEO’s, PR professionals, designers, and other industry leaders.

Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), aid spending has reduced at an increasingly steady rate. As highlighted by Save the Children, between 2010 and 2011 aid to basic education fell 6%, from US$6.2 billion to US$5.8 billion, this was considerably more than the 3% reduction in total aid over the same period.[1]  UNESCO’s research shows that multilateral institutions have also reduced the share of their education aid going to basic education from 62% in 2000, to 51% in 2011. Humanitarian aid to education in emergency contexts is also chronically low. In 2012, UNESCO reports that just 1.4% of humanitarian funding through the appeals process went to education. And in 2013, just 34% of required education funding was met, totalling only 2.4% of humanitarian aid and leaving a substantial shortfall of $239M.[2]

Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia and current Chair of the Global Partnership for Education states that globally there is a $29 billion shortfall in public spending on education, and as a result our international community is still blighted by intolerable statistics relating to children’s access to quality education, as highlighted below[3].

If we are to maintain any of the momentum gained in the Education for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDG) era (2000 - 2015), a shift to include more diverse sources of funding and support is required.  Leading this shift is the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBCE). Formed in 2012 the GBCE’s main aim is to “bring the business community together to accelerate progress in delivering quality education for all of the world’s children and youth.” What makes GBCE and their associated initiatives different is that they're not pursuing traditional corporate philanthropy; i.e. you will not find bulk scholarships, the distribution of technology, or the sporadic building of schools. This work is about a deeper, more critical level of engagement and more sustainable and strategic funding.

Leading approaches to social change and policy reform are broadly present in this work, even if they’re not specifically named. ‘Shared Value’ and ‘Collective Impact’,which have become the vogue terms for collaborative, inclusive, and responsive project design and implementation, characterize a good degree of the thinking within the GBCE's scope.

Further evidence that this work is not just one-way altruism, The GBCE writes that “for companies, investing in education promotes economic growth, leads to more stable societies, fosters healthy communities and makes it easier to do business.  Education spurs innovation and increases the skills of employees, the income potential of consumers and the prosperity of communities where business operates.” Examples of the initiatives that the GBCE and partner companies are leading can be found here.

As a means of instigating more inclusive global conversations on the engagement of businesses in resolving shortfalls in education funding, access, and quality, the Global Business Coalition for Education has supported the following research. For professionals working in the NGO sector, public sector, or business sector, these documents provide strong guidelines and an insight into the business sector and international development sectors’ current thinking on and opportunities for business engagement in education. 

The Smartest Investment: A Framework for Business Engagement in Education

“Business has a critical stake in ensuring all children, youth and adults have the opportunity to reach their potential.”
In this publication, it is argued that improved business engagement in education can:

Build sustainable societies;
Promote economic growth
Strengthen local workforces
Expand business opportunities
Boost wages
Improve women’s’ empowerment
Planning for Impact: Measuring Business Investments in Education

This publication:

Helps organizations’ and business leaders identify the potential impact of education investments;
connects those in the business sector to additional resources to enable them to dive deeper into specific methods for constructing monitoring and evaluation tools; and
points businesses and organisations towards communicating the impact of their investments to both internal and external stakeholders.
Investment in Global Education: A Strategic Imperative for Business

“Business will increasingly seek to recruit the talented employees it needs from these econo­mies, located largely in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Ultimately, the youth in these regions will be the en­gines of the world’s future growth and prosperity.”

This publication identifies that:

New action is urgently needed to improve education;
access to a good-quality education is a strategic growth constraint for business that has a direct impact on the bottom line;
there is in fact a significant return on invest­ment in education, as well as the potential to close a major value gap;
innovative new vehicles for business invest­ment in social sectors are emerging.

[2] UNESCO policy paper 09: ‘Schooling for millions of children jeopardised by reductions in aid’. June 2013

[3] UNICEF Podcast 92 More funding needed to keep the promise of education, Released Jun 20, 2014



Photo: Cubao, Manila, Philippines. Credit: Chris Henderson.