Event Recap: Investing in Education Roundtable Discussion

March 27, 2015Shubha Jayaram

The past few decades have seen a growing focus on “smarter” and “better” programming and funding to achieve socio-economic benefits for individuals and communities. There is an increased awareness of cost-effective, demand-driven programming, greater attention to the importance of metrics and measurement, and a growing appetite for innovative funding mechanisms. Although this shift may have first been seen in global health, it is now increasingly seen in other sectors, including education. A variety of literature has shown that investment in education can bring substantial returns to the individual, to communities and nations at large.

However, better evidence is needed on which interventions work, why they have an impact, and what will be required to scale them. As a first step, funders, researchers, philanthropists, and investors need regular opportunities to come together to share ideas, experiences and challenges that they continue to face in identifying initiatives, as well as devising and implementing investment and financing strategies in education.

On 9 March, in an effort to cultivate a space where knowledge can be exchanged and critical questions can be tackled, Fabretto Children’s Foundation, Results for Development Institute (R4D), FormarHub Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin American Program co-hosted a roundtable discussion along the theme 'Investing in Education'. The event kicked off with short remarks from roundtable leaders Kevin Marinacci (President, Fabretto Children’s Foundation), Nicholas Burnett (Managing Director, R4D), and Emiliana Vegas (Chief, Education department, IDB), with Gabriel Zinny from FormarHub effectively moderating the conversation.

In order to ensure an effective dialogue on sector priorities and investing strategies, Gabriel drew on the perspectives of gathered high-level experts representing foundations (Tinker Foundation), investors (Acumen, UBS), implementers (FHI 360)  and multilateral organizations (IDB, IFC, World Bank).

The conversation touched on a number of topics, but three key themes seemed to particularly resonate with participants. First, the relevancy of education is crucial. Given that we don’t know what the labor market of tomorrow will look like, it is important for our youth to be equipped with a combination of both core skills as well as transferable skills, such as critical thinking and communication. Participants agreed that firms can easily invest in job-specific skills, but it is the broader, cross-cutting skills that are especially vital.

Second, stakeholders representing multilateral organization and private investors remarked that in education, the challenge remains in moving beyond deep-rooted ideology and embracing hybrid public-private mechanisms and initiatives. The growing experimentation with Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) and Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) is promising, and the influence of the private sector in education cannot be ignored. There was agreement that the focus now needs to turn to quality, and being able to better distinguish the models that work from the models that don’t.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, participants emphasized the need to focus on inclusive, equitable education. Indeed, in the LAC region and elsewhere, education is no longer for the elites. There is growing awareness of innovative financing strategies and alternate models of education that better serve marginalized and disadvantaged children, with many models being tested and adapted to suit different contexts.

All in all, the event drew necessary attention to the 'why' and 'how' of investing in education, and also allowed those organizations with a stake in the issue to hear a range of perspectives and learn from each other.

Shubha Jayaram is a Senior Program Officer at R4D. She is an expert on skills for employability and secondary-level education innovation. Ms. Jayaram most recently led R4D’s Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE) initiative and the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE) project. Prior to R4D, she worked in both the private and non-profit sectors. Ms. Jayaram holds a Master in Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and International Relations from Tufts University.

(Featured photo courtesy of Fabretto Children's Foundation)

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