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Andrew McCusker reflects on Opportunity EduFinance winning WISE Award

By Catherine O'Shea

Opportunity EduFinance wins WISE Award

The WISE Awards aim to highlight projects that have demonstrated impact in their communities and have the potential to set international standards and best practices worldwide. Since the creation of the program in 2009, WISE has received over 4,900 applications from more than 150 countries. 

On September 15, 2022 Opportunity EduFinance was announced as one of six WISE Award winners this year. 

The 2022 WISE Awards winners, hailing from India, Qatar, Mexico, the USA and Kenya, come as models of excellence that serve as an inspiration for innovation and creative action for education. They tackle access to quality education in disadvantaged areas, early childhood development, collaborative learning networks, climate-action youth development, and social-emotional learning and wellbeing at school. 

‘The Awards highlight initiatives found to be the most creative and effective in finding solutions to education challenges at any level and in all environments.’ - WISE

We interviewed Andrew McCusker, Head of EduFinance, about the significance of this win and what it means for Opportunity EduFinance.

Why are the WISE Awards important for global education?

Andrew: The WISE award recognizes organizations that are doing something innovative to reduce the global education deficit.

Over the last few decades, we as an industry have been doing a better job in getting more kids into school. There are now fewer kids out of school and not learning than there were in the year 2000. However, just doing the status quo means it will take a really long time for us as an industry to fully close the education deficit and to get all kids into school and learning. We need to be doing something different. Whether that’s differences in implementation models such as with self-guided learning through EdTech, or through different financing models such as the one that we work on to close the financing gap. We and WISE are effectively trying to find innovative ways to close the global education deficit.

Why do you think EduFinance was chosen as a WISE Award winner?

One of the key barriers to global education for all, in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), is the lack of financing for global education. Right now, for us to achieve this by 2030 we need an investment of $200 billion per year to be invested into global education and primarily into underfunded education systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The Education Finance program was designed to be innovative and effective in order to close the education gaps in some of the hardest markets in the world. The loan products themselves were initially designed in central Ghana in low-income communities and from this base, the programs have been designed and taken to other markets where there are large education gaps for good reasons: low income, low quality of schooling, and untrained teaching staff.

I think the reason WISE has recognized our model is the high leverage that we are able to achieve on donor funding in order to attract more private investment capital from sources to support funding these underfunded education systems in the 30 countries we work in. My hope is that through the recognition of EduFinance in these awards that there will be other actors in these markets who are able to adopt this model and get more funding to reduce this deficit in the education systems in the countries in which we work.

What is innovative about Opportunity EduFinance? How does it demonstrate expertise in the field of education?

The core component of the Education Finance program and model is to effectively 'crowd in' private investment to reduce underfunding of the education systems in the countries we work in. This is innovative, as prior to us entering a country there is typically very little private investment being invested into education.

What we are doing is using local financial institutions that are already operating in the country and often have capital and distribution channels. We are then directing that capital to the underfunded education systems by proving the economic model that they may be able to lend to schools and parents and households to effectively increase the supply of schooling and improve the demand on schooling – overall we are getting more kids into better schools.

I think the reason that WISE has recognized this is that there are very few who are out there doing this and certainly not at the scale that we are in very high-need markets and communities.

In terms of the expertise in EduFinance, the program has been operating since 2007 when the first [school loans] were launched in Ghana. Since then, the loan products have advanced to better meet the needs of schools and parents as we’ve learned more about the markets we are looking to address. As of now we have 123 financial institution partners who have cumulatively disbursed over US$525 million into the education sector. My sense is the reason that WISE has recognized the EduFinance program is effectively our ability to scale to so many schools across so many markets with this innovative financing model. 

2022 WISE Award Winners

What do you hope this award will change for EduFinance and the other award winners?

While we’re honored to be recognized in this way, ultimately our goal through winning this award is to get more kids into better schools through raising awareness of our model and the models of other finalists. This means that these models can be supported further through financing, through workforce development, or other means to scale what is already working.

The other thing that may happen is that hopefully, we will see other organizations adopting these successful models that have been proven and recognized by WISE through these awards and that we can get more actors into the space, therefore, closing the education gap faster.

In terms of what the WISE Awards mean for us, it is hopefully more widespread knowledge of the innovative financing model we use and the way we tie financing, school improvement and education quality together. If we have more actors in our industry understanding the model, then it’s my hope that we will have more players adopting it. There are also potential benefits from new financial institutions being interested in closing the education gaps in their markets, partnerships with impact investors who are looking to work with financial institutions, grant funders who can help us to scale the program as well as individuals who may want to join our team.

Read more about Opportunity EduFinance's recognition as a 2022 WISE Award Winner here.

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