What role do foundations play in education?

How much are foundations investing in education and where? Who are the main beneficiaries and what difference are they making in education? These are just three of the questions that the GEM Report and the OECD Global Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) put to a room of philanthropists, government representatives, civil society partners and academics at a streamed event in Paris last week.

Motivated by the release of netFWD’s Policy Note on Education and Philanthropy Quality Education for All: Lessons and Future Priorities, the event discussed new OECD data on philanthropic giving to education. It also started the debate and analysis in advance of the 2021 GEM Report on the role and impact of non-state actors in education, among them philanthropic institutions, from the perspective of equity, accountability, neutrality, effectiveness and efficiency.

With an average of USD 693 million per year, education was the second most supported sector by foundations between 2013 and 2015, after health. This made philanthropic flows comparable to the bilateral official development assistance of the United Kingdom and Japan during the same period. How can foundations’ investments help fulfil the promise of quality education for all?


Lara PatilWe are seeing real potential for new philanthropy to move the needle in education and leverage new technologies and financing mechanisms in the process,” stated panellist Lara Patil from NORRAG, an international knowledge sharing platform.

However, netFWD’s Policy Note showed that, despite a common belief that philanthropic investors are risk-takers, they seem to play it safe for the most part, with many still investing through major organisations, such as the World Bank or UNICEF. Similarly, the belief that contributions are not earmarked for specific purposes is unfounded, as core funding is an exception. Long-term commitments are on average only 3- to 5-year engagements. On the other hand, many foundations also implement or design their programs by partnering with governments. A key challenge highlighted by the OECD Policy Note, however, is the need for foundations to evaluate their activities and share information about them.

prachiPrachi Srivastava, Associate Professor in Education and International Development, University of Western Ontario, is currently mapping the scale of the phenomenon and emerging trends in Asia and the Pacific and echoed the lack of data and transparency as a key challenge to her work. “There is a fundamental tension between a desire for the sector to be less opaque and inherent barriers to transparency and accountability structures within foundations themselves.  We need more transparency and more informed discussions about where the (philanthropic) money is going.”

AndrewA second recommendation was for better coordination amongst foundations. Andrew Cunningham, Global Lead for Education at the Aga Khan Foundation showed how his work involved working with schools across ten countries and with a coalition of foundations. This coordination was helping provide flexible funding to expand access to schooling, better measure learning outcomes, empower teachers and school leaders to deliver quality education, and learn from their own work on the ground, he said.

The Policy Note also showed that philanthropic funding is concentrated on higher Olafeducation. Olaf Hahn, Senior Vice President of Strategic Development with the Robert Bosch Foundation described the Bosch Foundation’s programs to strengthen quality tertiary education in Africa and address systemic barriers including leadership training, the lack of resources and combating corruption. In a context where many governments lack comprehensive data on faculty, or the capacity to model anticipated growth and demand in tertiary education, the Foundation is working to support university partners to compile data to analyse current and future demand in higher education institutions across the continent.


A lively discussion raised questions about how education can draw lessons from the global health experience, about the trends that need more analysis, and policy challenges that need clear recommendations. “We are seeing philanthropic organizations increasingly incorporating business logics, blurring lines between profit and social purposes, using technology in their endeavours and seeking to have an impact at scale” warned Patil at the event. These knowledge gaps and warnings set the scene for future GEM Report and netFWD collaboration. An online consultation will also be launched soon asking for your input on all issues related to non-state actors in education. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.

This entry was posted in Aid, Finance, Innovative financing, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What role do foundations play in education?

  1. Pingback: What role do foundations play in education? — World Education Blog – MICHAEL OWUSU

  2. Nick George says:

    This article is good, I love the content. It was very helpful.
    collaboration is very helpful to all foundations to make the better education system.
    gexton foundation


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