Investments aligned with this Strategic Goal aim to ensure that all children and youth have equitable access to a quality education by eliminating gender disparities in educational outcomes, improving data and evidence on different dimensions of equity, and supporting the needs of children with disabilities and disadvantaged populations.


Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Globally, entire groups of vulnerable and marginalized children are excluded from education. Wealth directly affects children’s likelihood of dropping out of school (1). While more girls are enrolling in school, they are less likely to stay in school and less likely to learn if they come from poverty or experience additional disadvantages. Adolescent girls face particularly difficult challenges when transitioning to secondary education (1). Meanwhile, children with disabilities are less likely to start school and, if they do, are unlikely to transition to secondary school. Their access to school is often limited by poor understanding of their needs and a lack of trained teachers, classroom support, and appropriate learning resources and facilities.

Even children who do complete primary or basic education have their learning outcomes shaped by background characteristics such as poverty, location, gender, ethnicity, and linguistic ability (2, p. 38).

Greater educational equity and inclusion will require increased efforts to collect and analyze data on education for the most excluded segments of the population. Yet, data on education in general remain incomplete; many of the most marginalized groups are invisible in national and global statistics.

Equity-oriented programming must account for the multiple factors that affect the starting conditions and educational progress of children and youth and provide targeted support to compensate for their effects on learning outcomes (3, p. 15). Since equity is a cross-cutting issue, elements of other Strategic Goals relate to this one, demonstrating how to integrate equity considerations into all areas of education:

In terms of educating girls, investments aligned with this Strategic Goal can:

  • increase equitable access to learning opportunities through curricula, budgets, and strategies that are sensitive to gender, reflect girls’ needs, and provide support to female teachers;
  • support advocacy and community efforts, including those addressing restrictive social norms, such as early marriage; and
  • improve girls’ safety by making sure the journey to school is safe and that appropriate facilities are provided at school, among other measures.

In terms of building data and evidence on equity, investments aligned with this strategic goal can:

  • attend to equity in the monitoring of education systems and allocating resources; and
  • improve data collection to identify excluded groups and to calculate more precisely indicators related to excluded groups.
    In terms of disability and inclusion, investments aligned with this strategic goal can:
  • train teachers to use inclusive, student-centered learning approaches and flexible assessment methods which recognize individual differences; and
  • provide targeted support to children with disabilities, such as teaching assistants, early screening, inclusive teaching materials, and access to appropriate assistive technology.

What is the scale of the problem?

Globally, 250 million children have no literacy skills, but failure at any step of educational progress hits the poorest, most marginalized, and most vulnerable children the hardest. Across low- and middle-income countries, the gap between the chances of children in the poorest and richest quintiles completing primary school averages 32% (1, p. 33). For those children who are in school, 54% of the richest children learn basic skills compared to only 35% of the poorest. On average, low-income countries allocate 46% of their public education resources towards the 10% best-educated students (1, p. 87). In 10 of 25 low- and middle-income countries reporting data, wealth-related inequalities in primary completion rates are getting worse (1, p. 33).

Gender, geography, family, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, together with other factors, compound the effects of poverty. Fewer than one in 20 poor, rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa are on track to complete secondary school, which is seven times fewer than the proportion of non-poor, urban boys who are on track (1, p. 33). Today, more girls are in school around the world than ever before, but an estimated 31 million girls of primary-school age and 32 million girls of lower-secondary school age are still out of school (1, p. 99). One in three girls in the developing world marries before the age of 18, and one in nine marries before the age of 15 (1, p. 96).

According to the World Report on Disability, approximately one billion people around the world are living with a disability, at least 10% of whom are children and 80% of whom live in developing countries. More than half of the 65 million children with disabilities in low- and middle-income countries are not in school (4).


Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Adolescent Girls: Many adolescent girls drop out of or do not learn in school because of child marriage and early pregnancy. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, close to half of girls still marry before the age of 18. Challenges to the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls also affect their education. These include unsafe abortions, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and gender-based violence apart from child marriage (5, p. 44).

Children with Disabilities: Children with disabilities often require specific support. Disability may lead to a school-participation deficit as high as 50% in some countries, larger than gaps related to gender, rural residence, or socioeconomic status (5, p. 41).

Vulnerable Children: Children in extreme poverty, in remote rural areas or urban slums, and orphans have lower educational attainment, with some populations combining multiple sources of disadvantage (5, p. 27). Depending on context, specific groups of disadvantaged children, including the very poor and those from socially disadvantaged ethnic minorities, are more likely to be out of school. Performance on international student assessments greatly varies by socioeconomic status (5, p. 33).

High-Need Schools: Schools in underprivileged areas worldwide tend to lack resources and qualified teachers. Their quality of instruction is therefore weaker than offered by schools in more privileged areas; learning outcomes and even enrollment can therefore suffer (5, pp. 20–21).

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

Inequalities in education persist across the developing world, with entire groups of children either excluded from education or in school and not learning. In low-income countries, just 57% of those who enroll in primary school reach the final grade (3, p. 24). Over half of the almost 58 million children out of primary school in 2012 live in Sub-Saharan Africa (8).

Conflict and state fragility are major reasons children fail to ever enter school, with two-thirds of countries with the most exclusion affected; more than 40% of children never enter school in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger (3, p. 23). Inequalities also exist between students living in urban and rural locations, with rural students typically more disadvantaged (3, p. 29).


Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

Investments aligned with this Strategic Goal can contribute to solving global issues including: 

  • Economic Equality: More equitable educational opportunities for all could help drive inclusive growth. On average, for each additional year of education among young adults, poverty rates are 9% lower (2).
  • Education and Literacy: Improving education access and learning supports equitable attainment and learning outcomes. In Pakistan, improving the availability of post-primary schooling was correlated with an increase in girls’ retention in primary school (8). In another example, the introduction of mother-tongue instruction in Ethiopia increased educational attainment by about half a year and improved reading outcomes by 40%. (9).
  • Social Development and Health: Education has a wide-ranging impact on girls’ development and growth by decreasing the likelihood of child marriage and supporting healthy family planning and health practices. Educated girls are better able to protect their families from trauma and participate in society. A child whose mother is literate is 50% more likely to live past the age of five and two times as likely to attend school (1, p. 99). In Ethiopia, educational attainment levels improved alongside a 20% fall in the prevalence of early marriage between 2005 and 2011 (8).
  • Policy and Politics: Data on disadvantaged and marginalized groups in education raise public awareness of inequality, draw the attention of policymakers, and are essential for determining the extent of discrimination and building an evidence base for more inclusive policies (9). Low- and middle-income countries have built national capacity to use data, including drafting national reports, analyzing results, and assessing a wider range of skills, by participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey (8).
  • Peacebuilding: Education supports stability and reduces the risk of youth participation in extremist activities, especially when coupled with high-quality curricula and opportunities for employment. For example, an adolescent boy’s risk of being involved in conflict is reduced by 20% for each year of schooling (1, p. 36).

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Addressing inequities in education would improve access to education for the estimated 63 million girls and more than 30 million children with disabilities in developing countries and of primary and lower-secondary school age who are out of school (7). Investments in this strategy would also support the 250 million children who are in school but not learning—because of teaching approaches that do not address their needs as learners, lack of supportive resources, or other reasons—especially those from marginalized and vulnerable groups (1).

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Each additional year of schooling for girls leads to an average 10% increase in earnings, 4.2% reduction in under-five mortality, and 3.7% reduction in mortality for women and men in low-income countries. When women earn, they invest 90% of their income into their families, compared to 30–40% of men’s earnings. Increasing the proportion of female teachers improves girls’ participation in education in countries where they face a disadvantage in participation (8, p. 174). Regarding students with disabilities and impairments that hinder access to education, many are preventable with access to adequate nutrition and simple medical care (1, p. 94). Additionally, identifying and addressing the needs of children with disabilities early in their education can maximize their opportunities to participate and learn (4).

Examples of impact from projects and investments associated with this strategy include the following:

  • In Niger, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage, the cost savings from lower population growth after the elimination of child marriage and the benefits of increased education would likely exceed USD 25 billion between 2014 and 2030 (1, p. 96).
  • Educating girls averted more than 30 million deaths of children under five years old and 100 million deaths in adults aged 15 to 60 (1, p. 34).
  • Each additional year of schooling typically raises an individual’s earnings by 10%, with larger increases for women (8, p. 39).


Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

Stakeholder Participation Risk: Inappropriate tailoring of products to address needs across types of equity and local norms, misunderstanding of the objectives and experiences of those affected by educational inequity, or stakeholder mistrust in education service providers can greatly reduce positive impact. Mitigating this risk requires that programs to increase educational inclusion adapt to local contexts and social norms.

External Risk: The lack of a supportive local regulatory framework—or inappropriate government intervention—could impede the development of inclusive education. Additionally, investors should consider regulatory risks to scale or operations. Investors can mitigate this risk by developing alliances with local government to influence local regulatory frameworks and advise how they may be conducive to scaling products and services for targeted or affected stakeholders.

Execution Risk: Some families cannot afford to have all their children attend school due to financial constraints; in such cases, they therefore prioritize attendance based on gender or perceived ability. Teachers managing disproportionately large classes will have limited resources to properly integrate inclusive, learner-centered approaches that recognize individual student differences. Some solutions could benefit an unintended demographic in a given country or context, perhaps benefiting upper-middle classes or private schools and thereby deepening inequalities. To mitigate these risks, investors can:

  • Collect data and indicators to verify the demographic served by the investee or fund. This data collection can help investors and enterprises to ensure that products/services/business models are targeting and empowering access to education for children that may not otherwise have the means to attain an education in physical infrastructures.
  • Invest in cross-sector innovations that mitigate educational cost burden on lower-income families. For example, investments that incorporate job creation opportunities for parents to increase income or scholarship models for children can amplify potential impact.

Unexpected Impact Risk: In some cases, when traditionally marginalized populations—women or disabled people—receive educational services, traditionally more privileged populations may feel threatened or resentful of their educational empowerment. This may embolden privileged populations to take action against educational service delivery, which sometimes escalates to minority- or gender-based violence. To mitigate this risk, investors can collaborate with capacity builders and gender lens experts to advocate for equitable laws through engagements with local governments. 

What are likely consequences of these impact risk factors?

These risks could prevent learners from effectively using provided products and services. Further, products and services could negatively impact those learners who face opportunity costs from the use of products and services that are do not meet their needs. Cases resulting in harmful social practices, such as gender-based violence, could have considerable negative effects on target stakeholders.

Illustrative Investment

Voice4Girls enables marginalized adolescent girls in India to take charge of their futures, imparting critical knowledge, spoken English, and life skills in activity-based camps, as well as developing problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities. Critical knowledge includes basic health, safety, rights, self-awareness, and future planning, while life skills include interpersonal and leadership skills. Voice4Girls received impact investments from Gray Matters Capital, since their solution aligned with Gray Matters’ mission to provide a meaningful life to 100 million women and girls through education and 21st-century skills. Voice4Girls reaches an average of 5,500 girls each year.

Anudip Foundation creates new-economy livelihood opportunities for impoverished youth, women, and minorities in rural and semi-urban areas of India, providing IT-based skills training, job placement, and entrepreneur development services. The customized curriculum creates an immersive professional development program. The company received impact investments from Omidyar Network and other investors. Anudip has 100 skills training centers in India, where it has trained more than 85,000 individuals with a 75% job-placement rate, leading to a 300% increase in family income.

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

Building Support for Gender Equality Among Young Adolescents in School: Findings from Mumbai, India.

Achyut, P., Bhatla, N., Singh, A. K., Verma, R. K., Khandekar, S., Pallav, P., Kamble, N., Jadhav, S., Wagh, V., Sonavane, R., Gaikward, R., Maitra, S., Kamble, S. and Nikalje, D. 2011. Building Support for Gender Equality Among Young Adolescents in School: Findings from Mumbai, India. New Delhi, International Center for Research on Women

Gender Equity Movement in Schools, a project in Mumbai, India, developed an add-on curriculum including content on gender roles, violence, and sexual and reproductive health for standard 6 and 7 children. Graduates demonstrated greater problem-solving skills and self-confidence, alongside improved attitudes and gender awareness.
Targeted, multidimensional approaches to overcome inequalities in secondary education: Case study of Camfed in Tanzania

Research for Equitable Access and Learning Centre (REAL), University of Cambridge. 2016. “Targeted, multidimensional approaches to overcome inequalities in secondary education: Case study of Camfed in Tanzania.” Background Paper for the Education Commission

Camfed’s programs in Sub-Saharan Africa combine cash transfers, a range of measures to improve the quality of teaching, and programs to boost girls’ aspirations and self-esteem. Marginalized girls who received Camfed support almost triple their scores on learning assessments compared to those who did not.
Effects of household and district-level factors on primary school enrollment in 30 developing countries

Huisman, J. and Smits, J. 2009. Effects of household and district-level factors on primary school enrollment in 30 developing countries. World Development, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 179-93.

A study in 30 developing countries found that increasing the proportion of female teachers in a district increased girls’ access and retention in education, particularly in rural areas.
Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All: Findings from the Global Initiative on Out-of-School Children

UNICEF. 2015. “Fixing the Broken Promise of Education for All.” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Paris.

Innovations in delivery can be particularly effective in helping to include and integrate children with disabilities into mainstream education through adaptations in the classroom, to materials and in teaching.
Do Conditional Cash Transfers Lead to Medium Impacts? Evidence from a Female School Stipend Program in Pakistan

Independent Evaluation Group, 2011a. Do Conditional Cash Transfers Lead to Medium Impacts? Evidence from a Female School Stipend Program in Pakistan. Washington, DC, World Bank

In Punjab province in Pakistan, the Female School Stipend Programme was established in 2003, targeting girls in grades 6 to 8 in government schools in districts with the lowest literacy rates. This led to increased enrollment rates ranging from 11% to 32% for all cohorts during the first four years of the program.
Getting girls into school: evidence from a scholarship program in Cambodia

Filmer, D. and Schady, N. 2008. Getting girls into school: evidence from a scholarship program in Cambodia. Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 56, No. 3, pp. 581-617

In Cambodia, scholarships for girls to make the transition from primary to secondary, conditional on regular attendance and grade progression, helped increase girls’ enrollment by between 22 and 32 percentage points.
The transition from non-formal to formal education: The case of BRAC, Bangladesh

Nath, Samir R. (2002). “The transition from non-formal to formal education: The case of BRAC, Bangladesh”. International Review of Education, 48(6): 517-524.

In Bangladesh, BRAC primary schools use a learner-centered approach employing and training all female teachers recruited from local communities. Schools include and provide services to students with disabilities, including builds ramps to improve the accessibility of its schools. BRAC students can sit for the government examination that marks the end of primary school, and their results show that they can often compete with, if not perform better than, students from government schools.
Leaving no one behind: a critical path for the first 1,000 days of the Sustainable Development Goals

Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 2016. “Leaving no one behind: A critical path for the first 1,000 days of the SDGs.” ODI: London

In a study of Ghana, UNICEF found that building kindergartens specifically for poor children in poor districts had a four-fold greater impact on primary completion than providing kindergartens to the population generally.
Education’s Missing Millions: Including Disabled Children in Education through EFA FTI Processes and National Sector Plans

Tirussew,T. and Teklemariam,A. (2007) A Study on Integrating Disability into the FTI Process and National Education Plan in Ethiopia, Case study undertaken for World Vision UK, Milton Keynes:World Vision UK

Post-qualification training, such as that offered at Ethiopia’s Sebeta Teacher Training Institute, can improve provision and – ultimately – the rate of enrollment of students with disabilities. As a result of Sebeta’s training program, there has been an expansion in the numbers of special classes and disabled children attending school. But using Ministry of Education statistics, it is estimated that only 6000 identified disabled children have access to education of a primary school population of nearly 15 million.
Because I Am a Girl: State of the World’s Girls 2012 - Learning for Life

Plan International. 2012. Because I am a Girl: State of the World’s Girls 2012: Learning for Life. Woking, UK, Plan International.

In the United Republic of Tanzania, the Gender Budgeting Initiative has helped recognize and reduce girls’ household labour time by providing better community water facilities.
Early marriage and the campaign against it in Ethiopia

Mekonnen, B. and Aspen, H. 2009. Early marriage and the campaign against it in Ethiopia. Ege, S., Aspen, H., Teferra, B. and Bekele, S. (eds), Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies Vol. 3. Trondheim, Norway, Department of Social Anthropology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

In Ethiopia, where education attainment levels also improved, it is estimated that the prevalence of early marriage fell by over 20% between 2005 and 2011. This was achieved through a comprehensive framework of legislative change, advocacy and community mobilization campaigns.
New Lessons: the Power of Educating Adolescent Girls - A Girls Count report on Adolescent Girls.

Lloyd, C. B. and Young, J. 2009. New Lessons: the Power of Educating Adolescent Girls – A Girls Count report on Adolescent Girls. New York, Population Council

A longitudinal study in Pakistan found a strong positive relationship between the availability of post-primary schooling and girls’ retention in primary school.
PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries

Bloem, S. 2013. PISA in Low and Middle Income Countries. Paris, OECD. (OECD Education Working Paper, 93.)

In low- and middle-income countries, PISA participation has helped build national capacity for using data through the drafting of national reports, analysis of results and assessment of a wider range of skills.
Equipping Mayan Girls to Improve their Lives New York

Catino, J., Colom, A. and Ruiz, M. J. 2013. Equipping Mayan Girls to Improve their Lives New York, Population Council. (Transitions to Adulthood Brief, 5.)

The Abriendo Oportunidades project for indigenous girls in Guatemala had reached 3,500 girls by 2011 and had a positive impact. A 2010 evaluation found that all participants had completed sixth grade, compared with less than 82% of their peers nationally, and that 97% remained childless during the program, compared with 78% of non-participants.
Interventions to Enhance Girls’ Education and Gender Equality: Education Rigorous Literature Review

Unterhalter, E., North, A., Arnot, M., Lloyd, C. B., Molestane, L., Murphy-Graham, E., Parkes, J. and Saito, M. 2014. Interventions to Enhance Girls’ Education and Gender Equality: Education Rigorous Literature Review. London, UK Department for International Development.

Research suggests that investing adequate resources throughout the education system for gender mainstreaming strategies helps ensure gender equality in educational institutions.
Selected examples: Best practices at the international, regional, subregional and national levels for including persons with disabilities in development efforts (Hope for Life - Ghana)

United Nations (2011). “Selected examples: Best practices at the international, regional, subregional and national levels for including persons with disabilities in development efforts.” New York: United Nations.

The practice documented here is direct child assistance, an approach within PSS that is tailor-made for children and young adults with disabilities. Challenges achieved: capacity building, resource allocation.
Bringing the School to the Children : Shortening the Path to EFA

Lehman, D. 2003. Bringing the School to the Children: Shortening the Path to EFA. Washington, DC, World Bank

In Chad, a study of 179 villages in 2002–2003 found that children’s enrollment dropped dramatically when schools were in a village other than their own, and that as distances increased, girls’ enrollment fell more quickly than boys’.
Raising Domestic Resources for Equitable Education

Research for Equitable Access and Learning Centre (REAL), University of Cambridge. 2016. “Raising Domestic Resources for Equitable Education.” Background Paper for the Education Commission

This paper explores the allocation of domestic resources for education and how how these resources are distributed within the education sector. The findings show that addressing inequality in education requires attention not only to the mobilization of additional domestic resources, but also to how domestic resources are mobilized as well as how they are spent.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.

Additional Metrics

While the above core metrics provide a starter set of measurements that can show outcomes of a portfolio targeted toward this goal, the additional metrics below — or others from the IRIS catalog — can provide more nuance and depth to understanding your impact.