Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

Dilly Tom

Dilly Tom

 

Tom est Chargé de mission Éducation chez Investisseurs & Partenaires, dans le cadre du programme de Volontariat International de la Coopération du Gouvernement de Monaco.

Tom est en charge de coordonner toutes les activités et les équipes associées à la mise en place du futur fonds d’impact panafricain dédié à l’éducation d’I&P. Il participe aussi à la conduite de l’étude de faisabilité qui sera délivrée aux partenaires de ce projet au cours de l’année 2019. Cette étude fait un état des lieux des enjeux de l’éducation en Afrique avec un focus sur cinq pays et met en avant les opportunités et les freins à l’investissement d’impact dans ce secteur.

Avant rejoindre I&P, Tom a travaillé en tant que junior consultant pour une grande ONG internationale et comme chargé d’affaires junior pour une banque d’affaires française. Il est diplômé de Sciences Po Strasbourg et titulaire d’un Master en Développement Africain de la London School of Economics.

 

Tom works as Education Project Officer at Investisseurs & Partenaires, as part of the International Volunteer Program of the Government of Monaco.

Tom is in charge of coordinating all activities and teams associated with the implementation of the future I&P’s pan-African impact fund dedicated to education. He is also involved in the conduct of the feasibility study that will be delivered to the project partners in 2019. This study provides an overview of the challenges of education in Africa with a focus on five countries and highlights the opportunities and obstacles to impact investment in this sector.

Before joining I&P, Tom worked as a junior consultant for a major international NGO and as a junior account manager for a French investment bank. He is a graduate of Sciences Po Strasbourg and holds a Master’s degree in African Development from the London School of Economics.

African schools: facing the covid-19 crisis

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of…

The management of the Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting global education. The closure of schools and universities across 184 countries have sent home 1.5 billion students, representing more than 90% of the world’s students [1].

Since mid-March, a large proportion of African schools and universities have closed their doors. However, these closures do not mean that teaching activities have come to a complete cessation. Whether public, private or supported by associations, all institutions are trying to do their best to provide transitional solutions so that pupils can continue their schooling and so that the precious learning time is not lost for good.

The group Investisseurs & Partenaires, which supports some fifteen companies in the education sector, can testify the strong resilience and innovative spirit of these actors. From nurseries to high schools and training centers, these companies are showing that they can adapt their business during a crisis that is hitting them hard. This article is largely based on I&P’s portfolio, but also includes some other noteworthy initiatives.

 

E-learning: an obvious choice?

In order to ensure continuity of teaching activities, many institutions rely on e-learning systems. This is for example the case of Enko Education’s network of high schools, whose courses have been taking place since the end of March on a new online platform. Following the creation of a crisis committee, new working methods have also been introduced. Teachers must now ensure that each student has daily access to the resources needed to follow the courses, either in digital format or by printing the booklets sent to the families[2]. In the early childhood sector, where screen time must be limited, it is the relationship between parents and pre-school structures that needs to be reinvented. Thanks to social networks, newsletter, WhatsApp groups and other communication media, specialist companies, such as Ker Imagination in Senegal [3], can support parents to promote good practice at home and strengthen the learning community.

Some educational companies made distance learning the core of their model long before the crisis. The startup Etudesk, based in Abidjan and supported by Comoé Capital, has thus developed valuable expertise in building tailor-made e-learning platforms with various partners. Today, Etudesk supports about ten educational institutions in Ivory Coast and Senegal to adapt and put online their pedagogical content in the best possible time and conditions. African Management Institute builds distance and face-to-face training courses for entrepreneurs and SMEs in East Africa. AMI currently provides a free “survival kit” to entrepreneurs to learn crisis management and make the right decisions in the face of serious risks to their business [4]. Another exciting example is the Mali-based company Kabakoo, which is exploring a new model of engineering training that focuses on “solutions to concrete and immediate problems” in its environment. Kabakoo is now making its international platform available for its learners and experts to design and manufacture objects useful in the fight against Coronavirus, such as artificial respirators and masks [5]. With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, Etudesk, AMI and Kabakoo are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational players as well as to companies and citizens.

With a unique positioning in the technology and education sector, these companies are leveraging their capacities for innovation and resilience to bring rapid and concrete responses to traditional educational player

 

Connectivity, cost and learning conditions: the challenges of home schooling

However, the good practices that are emerging here and there face many difficulties. In West Africa, household connectivity is not provided in large rural or isolated areas [6]. In addition to the challenges of Internet coverage, there is also the issue of the cost involved for consulting these tools online. Other channels are thus necessary and several initiatives are underway to improve the inclusion of education systems in the time of the coronavirus and to limit the risks of school dropout [7]. National radio stations and television channels can be massive solutions for disseminating educational content [8], provided that there is enhanced cooperation between the ministries concerned and the telecom company, as it is the case in Ivory Coast [9].

On the other hand, it will be necessary to ensure that pupils can study under good conditions and with assiduity, which is in fact the major issue on which e-learning offers little information for the moment. A fundamental reflection on the role of teachers and on distance teaching methods must be carried out to accompany the development of educational technologies.

 

Economic impacts are immediate and lasting

Finally, the coronavirus crisis poses a very strong threat to the financial sustainability of companies in this sector. With a complete revenue freeze that could last until September, educational companies must seek to maintain a good relationship with all their stakeholders, especially their employees. Specific measures can be envisaged in the short term, such as adjusting cash flow plans, eliminating non-essential charges, prioritizing creditors, etc. For the most robust institutions, these measures will undoubtedly be sufficient and will probably be in addition to the benevolent support of banking partners. But for a majority of the more vulnerable private players, additional and significant support measures will be absolutely necessary for their survival. Governments, donors, investors and all education financers will have to provide appropriate responses as quickly as possible.

 

The opportunity to transform education

The current experience is unprecedented. The educational enterprises best prepared for the crisis were those that had integrated, even if incompletely, the challenge of digital transformation into their model. Thus, the coronavirus crisis provides the entire education sector with perhaps an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

Broadening access to content, opening up populations, developing new services, individualizing educational pathways, building new learning communities: the potential of digital education is considerable, both for the company and for its beneficiaries. After today’s emergency, it will undoubtedly be time for all those involved in the education sector to re-imagine their model while keeping the issues of accessibility, inclusion and quality at the heart of their principles.

The current crisis provides the entire education sector with an unprecedented opportunity to deploy new models that resonate with the aspirations and practices of new generations of learners.

 

 

Notes

[1] Informations de l’UNESCO au 7 avril 2020 https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-launches-codethecurve-hackathon-develop-digital-solutions-response-covid-19

[2] https://enkoeducation.com/fr_FR/covid-19-and-school-closings-enko-education-implements-distance-learning-in-all-its-schools-across-africa/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/KerImagiNation/

[4] https://www.africanmanagers.org/all/news/keep-thriving-ami-learning-covid-19/

[5] https://www.kabakoo.africa/blog/une-bonne-vieille-machine-a-coudre-et-du-fil-contre-covid-19

[6] Voir par exemple l’indice de connectivité développé par GMSA montrant les déficits d’infrastructure et de connectivité dans la zone Afrique de l’Ouest https://www.mobileconnectivityindex.com/#year=2018

[7] Voir les risques soulignés par Jeune Afrique au Sénégal : https://www.jeuneafrique.com/922593/societe/senegal-les-bons-et-les-mauvais-points-de-lecole-a-distance-au-temps-du-coronavirus/

[8] Voici les différents canaux d’enseignement à distance recensés par le GPE : https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/school-interrupted-4-options-distance-education-continue-teaching-during-covid-19#.XoXPayoKbqI.linkedin

[9] Voir ici l’initiative du gouvernement ivoirien qui a démarré le 6 avril 2020 pour les classes d’examens (CM2, 3ème, Terminal). http://www.gouv.ci/_actualite-article.php?recordID=11002

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Support Education in Africa: Towards a New Partnership Approach

Faced with the many challenges of education in Africa, a boiling entrepreneurial dynamic is emerging and provides innovative solutions. Impact investors, characterized by their intention to generate a positive social…

Faced with the many challenges of education in Africa, a boiling entrepreneurial dynamic is emerging and provides innovative solutions. Impact investors, characterized by their intention to generate a positive social and/or environmental impact, can give decisive support to this dynamic. But it seems necessary to develop specific tools and a real partnership approach with the other stakeholders in the sector in order to bring out a new generation of private schools and education businesses that are responsible and fully oriented towards the continent’s development challenges.

 

From Education to Employment: the numerous challenges of the African continent

Despite tremendous progress since the early 2000s, African education systems are in a critical situation and are struggling to ensure successful learning and employment opportunities for young Africans. Primary school enrolment in Africa is gradually reaching generalization thanks to the massive effort made by African governments and their partners under the framework of Millennium then Sustainable Development Goals. Yet 34 million children are still not in primary school[1], particularly in fragile countries or in conflict situations[2]. In addition, many national and international evaluations have shown that the majority of African students do not acquire basic knowledge and skills after completing primary school education[3]. Schools face many human, material and pedagogical resource deficits and the large size of cohorts of pupils in many public schools produce more frustration than effective learning[4].

While a minority of the population accesses higher education and vocational training, these training courses are often considered too theoretical and disconnected from the needs of local or international employers[5]. While youth unemployment rates in Africa are not higher than in other regions of the world, rates of informal employment and working poverty remain critical and constitute an increasing risk of social and political destabilization[6].

 

The Private Sector is Growing in the African education systems

The private education sector, in all its diversity, is gradually emerging as an important player in addressing these challenges. It is now estimated that about one in five students in Africa is enrolled in a private school[7]. But this figure covers a very diverse sector, made up of religious schools, for-profit institutions, informal structures or schools directly managed by philanthropic organizations. We observe however a common dynamic across African countries: private operators are gaining ground and are increasing the range of training available in most educational cycles.

 This gradual expansion of the private education sector represents both an opportunity and a considerable challenge for all actors in the education chain. States and their partners must strengthen their capacity to regulate these private operators and ensure that no educational institution, whether public or private, can break the needed trust between the school, the learner and society.

A new wave of African entrepreneurs is emerging, bringing promising solutions to educational challenges across the continent. From e-learning solutions to SMS-based course platforms and teacher coaching sessions, entrepreneurs have plenty of ideas to experiment with new pedagogical models and to overcome the material constraints that have long hampered the entire education system. With the boom of promising solutions to build the African school of tomorrow, the role of research and impact evaluation becomes key to select the most relevant and effective models for enhancing learning and inclusion for all. The role of education technology education is also becoming an important element of debate for all stakeholders in the education system (governments, entrepreneurs, teachers, parents and learners).

A new wave of African entrepreneurs is emerging, bringing promising solutions to educational challenges across the continent.

But ed-tech leaders are not alone in demonstrating innovation and dynamism, quite the contrary. Hundreds of creative entrepreneurs overcome complex logistical and institutional challenges to provide schools with textbooks, furniture and equipment that are key inputs for the ecosystem as can be digital tablets. In Niger, for example, Editions Afrique Lecture[8] is the first company to provide high school students with preparatory textbooks for their baccalaureate. For these entrepreneurs, the strategic relationship with governments and other stakeholders in the education system is at least as important as the use of technology to provide services that are truly useful to local schools and students.

 

What role for Impact Investors?

Impact investors must support this entrepreneurial dynamism with appropriate return expectations depending on the maturity and size of the projects. Current research shows that most investors only support schools and universities that are already very well structured, and in many cases designed to provide educational services only to the wealthiest segments of the population. To a lesser extent, these investors have also supported innovative and more affordable educational projects, but these projects had to grow at a disproportionate speed to meet the investors’ profitability objectives. The well-known example of Bridge Academies[9] in East Africa highlighted how difficult it was for a network of low-cost schools to scale up without deteriorating the quality of teaching… and the company’s relations with public authorities. The needs for impact investing initiatives in the education sector is pressing, especially in French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking Africa. Impact funds must find ways to support less advanced projects, for example in the technical and vocational education cycles where public actors are less involved. These investors must therefore develop financial and non-financial instruments (coaching, technical assistance) suited to this specific social sector, with a particular focus on the inclusion of young women and vulnerable populations.

The needs for impact investing initiatives in the education sector is pressing, especially in French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking Africa.

To support the emergence of accessible and quality educational opportunities, impact investors will need to be innovative in building new partnerships with other stakeholders in the sector. Partnerships with foundations and other philanthropic donors will allow impact investors to reach young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Scholarship or student loan schemes funded by these foundations could broaden access to quality private institutions whose social impact commitments will be guaranteed by the presence of an ethical investors as minority shareholder. In addition, partnerships between impact investment teams and philanthropic actors could be designed to support start-ups and other early-stage projects. The pioneering example of the Education Impact Fund in Côte d’Ivoire[10], resulting from a partnership between the Jacobs Foundation and the impact fund Comoé Capital, is a good illustration. This programme has benefited 6 promising start-ups and young companies in the Ivorian education sector, including a hospitality training centre located in the popular district of Yopougon[11] and the start-up Etudesk[12], recently selected as one of the 10 most prominent Ed-Tech companies on the continent[13]. The success of this investment programme relies on the targeted use of risk capital provided by a philanthropic donor and on a particularly committed investment team working alongside entrepreneurs. But there are many other strategies to explore. It would be relevant to partner with research institutions to measure and evaluate the long-term impacts of the education models supported by the investors. Thus, the development of blended finance instruments[14], mixing investments and grant funding support will be key to providing solutions adapted to the emergence of responsible and committed private education businesses.

 

To conclude

To meet the challenges of quality, access and relevance of education in Africa, impact investors will have to design and mobilize innovative strategies and methods, tailored to the needs of a crisis-stricken social sector and a fast-paced entrepreneurial ecosystem. The active support of bilateral and multilateral development organizations will ensure the credibility and sustainability of these new models of mixed funding and innovative partnerships. Through their governance and practices, impact investors should pursue the dialogue with public authorities to ensure that they are well integrated into local educational ecosystems. Associated with expert philanthropic players, these new initiatives will have to support the best models of schools and ancillary activities combining economic sustainability and impact performance. It is only with this attitude of innovation, cooperation and partnership that impact investors will be able to make a relevant contribution to the challenges of education in Africa.

 

References

[1] See the data collected by UNESCO (2018):  http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/fs48-one-five-children-adolescents-youth-out-school-2018-en.pdf

[2] See Page 10 (Fig. 6) of the above-mentioned: most of the countries severely affected by the non-enrolment of children in primary school are located in the Sahel or Central Africa.

[3] The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018 provides an in-depth analysis of this learning crisis: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2018

In French-speaking Africa, the performance of students during primary school is evaluated by PASEC about every 3-5 years. http://www.pasec.confemen.org/

[4] Many reports have highlighted these deficits in school materials and equipment, as well as the size of classes that can reach an average of 50 children in Burkina Faso or Mali and up to 90 in Malawi and the Central African Republic. http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/school-resources-and-learning-environment-in-africa-2016-en/school-resources-and-learning-environment-in-africa-2016-en.pdf

[5] On the issue of the relevance of education and the lack of adequacy between education and employment, see World Bank’s report (2014) : http://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/africa-regional-studies/publication/youth-employment-in-sub-saharan-africa. This phenomenon is also sometimes reflected in a higher unemployment rate for graduate students than for non-graduates in several African countries. Because their training is poorly adapted to the labour market, graduates have difficulty finding employment in skilled positions.

[6] The average youth unemployment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is 6%, the world average 5%. But this figure hides far more precarious realities, with self-employment rates reaching 70% in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Ghana. The rate of working poverty could reach 80%, according to the ILO. https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/may-2013/africa%E2%80%99s-youth-%E2%80%9Cticking-time-bomb%E2%80%9D-or-opportunity

[7] This figure is estimated by the team of the Report “Business of Education in Africa” (2017)  https://edafricareport.caeruscapital.co/thebusinessofeducationinafrica.pdf

[8] http://afriquelecture.com/index.html

[9] See notably RFI’s article (2018): http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20180301-ecole-privees-bas-prix-bridge-international-academies-lettre-fermeture-ong

[10] See the website of the partnership: http://www.edimpactfund.com/ but also the announcement of the first investments in 2018: http://www.ietp.com/fr/content/investissement-editions-vallesse . The complete portfolio of the six investments will be published soon.

[11] https://www.facebook.com/roijuvenal/

[12] https://www.etudesk.com/

[13] See the startups selected at the famous Dubai Global Education Conference (22-24 March 2019) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2019/02/25/meet-the-10-african-startups-competing-for-the-next-billion-edtech-prize-in-dubai/#46d350f03e1b

[14] Also called blended finance. The term refers to the use of catalytic capital from public or philanthropic sources to increase private sector investment in developing countries and sustainable development

https://www.convergence.finance/blended-finance

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