MasterCard Foundation and FAWE Scholars, Ethiopia

The Role of the Philanthropic Sector in Achieving the Education SDG

This blog is part of a series of last minute reflections before a new education goal is set in stone. It is written by Kim Kerr, Deputy Director, Education and Learning at The MasterCard Foundation

CaptureThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are putting forward an ambitious new agenda in education, one that is well aligned with The MasterCard Foundation’s goal to ensure access to quality, relevant education for youth, particularly in Africa. The Foundation applauds the expansion of the global goal in education to include universal secondary education as well as affordable, equitable access to technical, vocational and university education for youth. It is a welcome development that the international community is paying attention to a student’s full educational journey – from early childhood through to primary, secondary, vocational and higher education – as each level of the system has a role in supporting and enabling the previous level.

While The MasterCard Foundation contributes to achieving education goals in Sub-Saharan Africa, we know that resources are only a part of the solution. We often ask ourselves, where can the philanthropic sector best add value or play a catalytic role in the education sector? We focus on testing and piloting new approaches, scaling up approaches that work, disseminating learning and best practices, and convening stakeholders to encourage broader collaboration.

To this end, the Foundation is playing a pivotal role in the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy, a multi-year initiative led and financed by like-minded foundations and other donors. The partnership will facilitate more active and coordinated engagement by philanthropic organizations in the SDGs at both global and national levels. The knowledge shared among philanthropic organizations will streamline and maximize investments and new pathways to research.

Participating in this Partnership, the Foundation has three key priorities it will be voicing:

  1. Put learning front and centre
MasterCard Foundation and FAWE Scholars, Ethiopia
MasterCard Foundation and FAWE Scholars, Ethiopia

The emphasis on learning outcomes is an important addition to the SDG on education. The MasterCard Foundation has been an early and ongoing supporter of the Global Compact on Learning, which helped ensure that access plus learning is a core part of the education agenda.  In addition to supporting high quality learning environments and outcomes for young people, the Foundation also places a strong focus on ‘relevant’ learning to ensure that education is responsive to labour market needs and provides pathways to employment and entrepreneurship for graduates.

Through our work in financial inclusion, we know it is often the payment of school fees and related expenses that consume a significant portion of family income. Education must realize its promise for families that make untold sacrifices to ensure their children attend secondary school or higher education.

  1. Put education to work

youth campaign coverThere is a growing need to reinvent and expand pathways to jobs upon graduation, informed by market-relevant data. Students need to acquire the skills needed by employers and must also develop entrepreneurial mindsets and abilities. In collaboration with other foundations and donors, we are expanding our understanding of what capacities are most relevant to employment outcomes for youth. We are supporting programming and partnerships that will enable young people to acquire these capabilities, such as our project with Education Development Center in Rwanda to integrate work-readiness into the secondary education curriculum. Another example is our collaboration with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) that integrates cooperative education opportunities into their graduate programs to enable a number of MasterCard Foundation Scholars to gain valuable on-the-job experience.

Above all, education systems must drive the development of transformative leaders – those who will engage others in an ethical manner to generate positive and lasting change. These leaders will be capable of achieving the ambitious economic, social and environmental agenda represented in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Through our Scholars Program, we are fostering transformative leadership among more than 15,000 youth across Africa. We are inspired by the vision, poise and capabilities of our Scholars but also know that the acquisition of leadership skills and experience, and exposure to positive role models, needs to be greatly expanded to ensure we are able to create the kind of world we desire.

  1. Education is key to achieving sustainable development

transforms_cover_smEducation plays a key role in achieving the other SDGs, particularly as it relates to poverty reduction, youth employment and financial inclusion, which are key goals of the Foundation’s work:

  • Education is a transformational force, especially for girls. The links between education, poverty reduction (Goal 1) and gender equality (Goal 5) are well known – investing in education is key to empowering girls and young women, providing them and their families with better health, a pathway out of poverty and the possibility to achieve their full potential.
  • Education has an integral role to play to achieve full and productive employment and decent work, including youth (target 8.5) and to substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (target 8.6).
  • Through financial literacy and life-skills programming, education can also play an important role in increasing access to financial services, which will facilitate entrepreneurship and job creation (target 8.3).

Our efforts, coupled with those of other philanthropic organizations, will go a long way in driving real progress toward the SDGs and creating a world where all young people, no matter their starting point in life, will have an equal chance to obtain a quality education and pursue their aspirations.



  1. I appreciate the contribution of Master Card in promoting education in such a strategic way. However earlychild learning which is the first step in preparing for quality education has been marginalized. Millions of children in marginalized communities do not have access to ECD care and learning and this has resulted to lack of equlity in learning.

    WEMIHS an indiginous organization in Kenya is looking for partnersh to support her best practices in ECD that are most relevant to Master Card shared goals in learning contribution ot SDGs.

    I look forward to positive response.

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