Scaling up good corporate social investment practices in developing countries is crucial to realizing the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals. Yet very few corporate social investments have the right mix of vision, financing, cross-sector engagement and leadership to come to scale. Globally, 67 million children are not enrolled in primary school, over 200 million are in school but not mastering basic skills such as reading, and many millions more complete post-primary education without the skills needed to participate in society or the local economy. Overcoming these challenges will require swift and bold action by many actors, including governments, multilateral organizations, donors and civil society. Corporations can use their core assets to generate shared value for business and society by helping get children into school, setting a strong learning agenda and scaling up what works in education. This policy paper looks at what works and what is not working in corporate efforts to further education in developing countries.
The business assets of major corporations—such as innovation, financing, employee talent, labor networks, technology, and advocacy—have the potential to help developing countries make rapid advances in education. Smarter corporate social investments can be good for business operations. Investments in education can increase results-oriented outcomes, narrow the global talent gap, boost consumers’ disposable income, enhance the health and well-being of employees and their families, facilitate the ease of doing business in developing countries and improve government and community relations. However, the current “business as usual” model of corporate social investments in education will not realize this vision. Since the early 2000s, major efforts to bring collective corporate resources to support Education for All have demonstrated few results and little impact. In contrast to global health, this has been a lost decade of private sector engagement in global education. Research shows that in the aggregate corporate resources to support global education are deployed in an inefficient manner. They are small, short-term and disconnected from larger efforts, and fail to address systemic challenges or the needs of the most marginalized.
There is a window of opportunity to harness corporate support for long-term impact in education. In fact, the business community is demonstrating a renewed interest in improving engagement in education and taking initiatives to scale. Meanwhile, national governments, multilateral organizations, donor governments and foundations are expressing increased interest in collaborating with the corporate sector to help expand quality education. Companies should strive to adhere to five principles of business engagement in education to take full advantage of this opportunity and have a profound impact on scaling up what works in education. Drawing upon successes from education, health and other development sectors, this paper highlights how these five principles can be embraced by the business community to achieve practical impact in global education.