Innovative Philanthropy: Why Charitable Giving in Global Education Is Good Business
Businesses and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of their social responsibility and the impact their actions have. This shift in awareness has also come to the philanthropic sector. Gone are the days of “give and forget,” in which donors generally paid scant attention to how their charitable gifts were being used — and whether they were making an impact. Today’s philanthropists, both large and small, expect more transparency and engagement from their financial donations and investments.
As a long-term business entrepreneur and philanthropist, I have seen the philanthropic sector change in four key ways. First, people and institutions have a growing desire to become co-agents of positive social improvements, rather than simply writing a check. Second, there is increasing demand for full transparency on exactly how donors’ charitable dollars are going to be used. Third, there is a growing hunger for public recognition of our benevolence. And fourth, many investors now want a real financial return — along with all of the above. In other words, there is a trend towards impact investing in philanthropy.
The smart charities have woken up to these changing donor expectations, and their marketing now reflects these desires, with some charities saying “every cent” given goes to those most in need. Their funding models have also evolved in response to these changes. For instance, some leading charities have adopted an innovative model in which corporate donors sponsor their back-office functions, allowing other donors to focus on direct beneficiary action. This model represents the future for charities in today’s competitive landscape, as it creates long-term impact and financial sustainability. I think some corporations are more willing to take a back seat and fund the less “heart-warming” aspects of a charitable organization, like back-office expenses, and use that partnership to show their long-term commitment to the cause. This also allows individuals to fund the direct charitable activities that are more likely to provide them with the moral satisfaction of impacting the front line.
I had all of this in mind when I made the decision recently to support the Commonwealth Education Trust (CET) through my business and join their donors club, the Founders Circle. My donation will go toward both the front-end delivery for beneficiaries and helping to keep the charity operating effectively.
So why did I choose to prioritize global education with my own philanthropic efforts?
The Global Need for Education Solutions
Half the world’s children are not learning. A child under 11 years of age who can read and understand a simple sentence is in the minority in most countries. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), 53% of children cannot read or understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In poor countries, the level is as high as 80%. Today, hundreds of millions of children with enormous natural potential are denied their right to learning opportunities. The World Bank recently renamed this crisis “learning poverty.”
This issue is not primarily driven by lack of access to facilities: More and more children in LMICs have access to a school of some kind, yet learning is not taking place inside the classrooms. This presents a profound challenge for employers and businesses in my native Africa, as the continent has the fastest-growing youth population in the world. Africa will struggle to meet its potential if half of our future employees are growing up without real education.
According to the best analysis and evidence, the most effective way to tackle this issue is to invest in teachers. Most frontline teachers in LMICs are working in extraordinarily challenging environments, with little or no access to training or continuous professional development.
The CET has joined the fight against this global learning crisis, alongside many other charities and organizations. It recently launched Teach2030, a new professional training resource for teachers around the world. Teach2030’s online courses can be accessed via a smartphone or similar device, enabling any teacher to upskill themselves in effective questioning, classroom management, student assessment and a host of other foundational skills. If you are a school network operating in under-resourced environments, this resource is the ideal starting point to upskill your teachers on a very low budget.
As the CET is seeking socially motivated individuals and corporations to support this work, I heard the call and responded. I am pleased to say that I’m financially backing the charity with a philanthropic financial gift. And I fully expect both a financial and a social return on this investment — what some call the double bottom line. But my financial support is a donation, not an investment: I won’t be receiving any direct returns on these funds. The financial return will come from the impact this charitable giving will have on my own partners, connections and prospects, while the social return will come from the charity’s work.
The Business Case for Charitable Giving
Financially, I expect my partners to see this philanthropic work as a major motivation to do business with me and remain associated with my brand. My partners increasingly want to interact with a company that is supporting sustainable solutions to international development and social justice — not just engaging in online publicity stunts or corporate social responsibility white-washing. My colleagues also want to know that our work as a team benefits everyone, not just ourselves. Charitable giving is one visible way to connect our business success to broader social benefits, which can boost job satisfaction and employee retention.
Giving to the CET is also a good financial decision because, like all of the charity’s corporate donors, it gives me access to their Founders Circle, a community of business leaders who are also philanthropically minded. As the CET is part of the network of 54 Commonwealth countries, the networking and staff engagement opportunities are vast and exciting, bringing together outward-looking entrepreneurs and business leaders from around the world. (We do not hear about “the Commonwealth” a lot in the U.S., but it is essentially a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries, some of which have Queen Elizabeth II as their official head of state. The CET is one of a handful of charities inside the official Commonwealth organization.)
Founders Circle members also advise the charity on its strategic direction, which offers a huge multiplier effect to a charitable gift, as it enables donors to help orchestrate the efforts of the whole organization. Are you part of a private or government school leadership team? Then this Founders Club is a brilliant gateway for your staff and your students to get hands-on experience with international development around the world.
The Social Return of education-focused Philanthropy
Of course, these business benefits complement the clear social return on funding education-focused initiatives like the CET. Charitable support of the sector can give children in LMICs a huge boost in learning outcomes, which greatly increases their opportunities in life. These children are the future of our governments, workforces and services. Because of my support of the CET’s work, I know that hundreds more children will be able to actually learn at school, going on to lead prosperous lives and to make a positive impact in their communities.
Despite its recent launch, teachers, education authorities, school networks and charities in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia have already taken up and started to use the Teach2030 platform. The program has been co-designed with teachers and partners from across the globe, and it is mapped to Cambridge Teaching Standards, which is a benchmark in education quality. The feedback and results the platform has received from participating teachers have been overwhelmingly positive — and scaling it up could potentially support the professional development of millions of additional educators. The program’s impact can be felt most keenly in countries with under-developed transportation networks, where digital solutions like Teach2030 can leverage the rise in smartphone access and the falling cost of internet data to reach teachers in extremely remote locations.
I want to encourage business leaders in countries across the Commonwealth and beyond to consider the value of supporting this new tool, the CET and the broader education sector, and to explore how this support can super-charge your corporate social responsibility agenda. Education has the potential to alter the opportunities and lives of many children. The scale of the challenge facing organizations in this sector is enormous, but it is not an insurmountable task.
By working with organizations like the CET and their partners, funders, donors and governments, you can demonstrate how your brand is part of the global effort to help children become the business leaders of tomorrow. Your support can have tangible long-term impacts on your brand, on the organizations you work with — and most importantly, on children around the world.
Photo courtesy of United Nations Photo.