Impact investors are in prime position to put capital behind solutions to the global education crisis. But where are the opportunities for impact in a changing global sector?
Scaling successful models
Impact’s involvement with education has so far been limited, but some success stories have emerged and these can be scaled using further injections of impact finance. One outstanding example is Bridge International Academies, a for-profit whose standardized “academy-in-a-box” model has been highly successful in delivering quality education to poor communities in Kenya.
To date, Bridge has enrolled 95,216 pupils, and counting, with high rates of attainment when compared to traditional forms of schooling. With continued growth in Kenya and plans to extend its reach to other African countries, Bridge shows that it’s possible to come up with scalable models for education delivery.
Bridge represents a new breed of company taking a new approach to education. Cross-sector collaboration has been part of its fabric from the beginning and continues to be central to its development. The company was founded on the partnership between Jay Kimmelman, the entrepreneur behind successful software company Edusoft, and Shannon May, a development specialist. It was established using capital from a wide range of investors including aid agencies like OPIC and DFID, venture capital investors like LearnCapital and Rethink Education and impact investors like Omidyar Network and CDC.
This co-investment approach shows the range of players in the arena and the potential for fruitful collaboration, a theme evident across the whole education investment sector. By using such techniques, it will be possible to generate the capital necessary to bring other promising models to scale, rolling them out across more regions and adapting them to answer local needs.
Exploring the potential of edtech
Impact investors already love cleantech and greentech, but edtech, the new buzzword for education technology, is still largely unexplored ground for the impact sector.
But what is edtech? Edtech involves using information technology—including tablets, smartphones and computers—and working through various media, including social media, to deliver instruction. Its practice involves enhanced learning through computers as well as remote learning and massive online courses, or MOOCs. “Edtechers” in schools, universities and businesses design and produce online classes, tutorials, training programs and exams and then deliver them to students using technology.
Edtech is widely considered to be the new frontier in global education and the momentum behind it is growing. The UK government, long a leader in the development of socially beneficial areas of enterprise, has established an edtech incubator. Meanwhile, mainstream markets and venture capitalists are beginning to get excited about the potential of edtech, with some pundits making bullish predictions about its future The edtech market is projected to grow to $220 billion by 2017, with the US market growing by 47 percent and the EMEA countries (Europe, Middle East and Africa) projected growth standing at around 25 percent.
For impact investors, the rise of edtech, with its potential for delivering returns at both market and below-market rates as well as non-financial benefits, represents another possible entry point into the education marketplace. Education, like clean water, is popularly considered to be a good thing per se and this makes edtech an uncontroversial investment, which in turn should make it attractive to a number of different kinds of socially motivated investors. It’s no coincidence that Bridge founder Jay Kimmelmann was an edtech entrepreneur before he became CEO of Bridge International Academies, a mission-driven education delivery business.