Why Education Is the Most Powerful Tool We Have


In Liberia, child victims of war aged 10–18 undergo counselling and learn useful skills (Photograph: ICRC, VII, Christopher Morris)

Michael Alberg-Seberich and Felicitas Von Peter are managing partners and founders of Active Philanthropy, a Berlin-based philanthropy platform. Here they discuss why education provides the greatest charitable return on investment.

Why do 59 million children worldwide (equivalent to nearly the population of France) lack access to primary education? Why are children from the wealthiest 20 percent of the population still four times more likely to be in school than the poorest 20 percent? And why does the social background of parents still determine a child’s educational success? It comes as no surprise that education is one of the most important targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is also, after religion, in many countries, the number-one cause people donate money to.

And often with amazing impact: Bridge International Academies shows how private schools in Kenya can provide high-class, affordable education for all. The colourful premises of Sport dans la Ville in Paris illustrate how sport ignites successful education for disadvantaged youth. And school for unaccompanied minor refugees in Munich helps a shepherd from Ethiopia who cannot read or write obtain his exams (in German!) within two years — and continue his education in an apprenticeship with a local craftsman.

These learning innovations would not exist without the support of private, philanthropic investors. Even though education is a public good, philanthropy is an important enabler in this field. The fact that this is often done in collaboration with the state is an expression of a growing culture of collaboration in philanthropy.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela wrote. Supporting education — especially for children in need — is one of the most challenging, but gratifying, causes. No matter how much is currently being spent on education, it will always need more committed and dedicated philanthropists: those who are willing to fight for the future of children in need, whether in Paris, Munich, Kenya or elsewhere in the world.

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