Bolder Giving for Stronger Education Impact

Access and Inclusion January 11, 2016

Global business moguls from Ted Turner to Mark Zuckerberg have transformed our daily lives with their brainpower and acumen. But they refuse to confine their entrepreneurial energy to their businesses. Eager to make a lasting impact on people’s lives, they are combining their innovative thinking and the wealth it yields to combat global challenges.

I recently attended the Philanthropreneurship Forum in the French city of Versailles where prominent personalities from diverse walks of life gathered to establish the new frontiers of philanthropy.

For modern, wealthy do-gooders, often referred to as philanthropreneurs, philanthrocapitalists, venture philanthropists or impact investors, charity is no longer about giving money and walking away. It is about developing and managing non-profit start-ups in the same way as their businesses, but sans expectations for it to make money one day. New approaches to philanthropy are proving to be effective, especially in countries where governments are struggling with thinning resources and growing socio-economic challenges. Philanthropy in emerging markets is leading the way in flexible approaches to address social and environmental pressing issues, particularly in the education sector.

“Philanthropreneurship is entrepreneurship with compassion, it is leadership with ethics and altruism, says Shiv Vikram Khemka, chairman of The Global Education & Leadership Foundation.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, whose recent announcement has reignited the global debate on the value of philanthrocapitalism, have announced plans to invest in for-profit and non-profit enterprises focused on education, health and connecting communities.

Their approach to make our world a healthier, wiser place is no different from Pierre Omidyar’s strategy. The co- founder of e-bay Inc. replaced his foundation with Omidyar Network in 2004 to practice “venture philanthropy”. Like many business ventures, some start-ups failed but many more turned out to be a success, for instance, Kiva, an online micro-financing platform.

Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jacqueline Novogratz, Paul Polman, Jeffrey Skoll, Amr Al-Dabbagh are leading a movement of impatient optimists who strive to shatter the centuries-old notion that business principles and generosity are inherently incompatible.

For them, philanthropy is a powerful cocktail of cash, connections and creativity. Indeed, their strategies are not controversy-free or failure-proof, but encouraging results are beginning to show in many sectors.

For instance: education.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) is a shining example. This innovative cost-effective model is shaking up education in Africa.

Foundations, venture capitalists and for-profit investors focused on high-impact philanthropy are funding this network of low-cost private nursery and primary schools to bring quality international education to children from families living below the international $2-a-day poverty line. So far, this award-winning initiative has benefitted more than 100,000 children in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and India.

In fact, many successful and innovative philanthropic strategies in education are rising from the ‘global south’ . Philanthropic activity in emerging markets has grown significantly in recent years and is marked by homegrown philanthropists and new institutions that are well attuned to local development needs.

Charitable billionaires like Mohammed Ibrahim and Strive Masiyiwa are providing concrete support to risk-taking social enterprises in Africa to build capacity, scale-up and become financially sustainable. According to Masiyiwa, chairman and founder of telecom giant Econet, “Most people don’t think of Africa as being philanthropist but many small enterprises actually give a lot.”

Entrepreneur and educator Patrick Awuah invested his funds and found donors to establish Ashesi University to provide state-of-the-art quality higher education in his homeland Ghana.  SPARK schools in South Africa are yet another example of how entrepreneurs apply their business skills to make education affordable for the masses. Like BIA, SPARK uses a hybrid funding model, receiving support from investors like the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF), a venture capital fund established by Pearson Education to invest in education companies that generate social and financial returns.

India’s power couple Nandan and Rohini Nilekani’s Ekstep initiative is a giant leap for primary education in the country. The co-founder of Infosys Ltd. is leveraging his expertise in technology, entrepreneurial skills and philanthropic intentions to improve basic literacy and numeracy skills of millions of school-going children through affordable tablets and smartphones. Vedanta Foundation’s e-Shiksha (education) is a public-private partnership model that is contributing to India’s education reform.

New models of philanthropy are gaining momentum in the global education sector. In addition to boosting innovation in teaching and learning, smart giving models are also addressing a major issue that has plagued the world of philanthropy: transparency,  measuring impact and accountability.

Cultures around the world, especially in emerging markets have a strong tradition of philanthropy and giving but growing levels of corruption and misuse of funds in the past decades have left the masses skeptic of the real intentions of philanthropic billionaires and foundations. In many countries, philanthropic initiatives led by tycoons and their multinationals are often seen as tactics to evade tax, spend illicit money and CSR-related activities are more of a PR stunt.  But the current focus on strategy, return on investment and data-informed impact is gradually dousing these deeply ingrained suspicions.

And the transformation of mindsets does not stop here! Philanthropreneurship is attracting and engaging new waves of support, especially from millennials, to tackle the developing world’s most urgent problems , making social good everyone’s business.

This article originally appeared on Forbes