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Learning Series: 4

July 2024

Georgia Brown

Learning & Impact Officer

This year marks 15 years since IDP Foundation started its journey on supporting non-state education and its role in progress towards SDG 4. Below we share some key learnings from our programs, partnerships and collaboration.

LFPS are a legitimate contribution to education 

LFPS are incredibly resilient

As part of an assessment commissioned by IDP Foundation into the impact of COVID-19 school closures on independent low-fee private schools in Ghana, despite over half of the low-fee private school (LFPS) proprietors battling with low cash flow due to a lack of revenue during the 10 months of closure with 65% considering themselves at risk of closing and 15% already having closed or in the process of closing more than 90% reopened after closures. 

More than 90% of LFPS reopened after COVID-19 closures

Proprietors are dedicated and empathic  

2023 insight trip to an Ongoza school in Kenya

We discovered that while many LFPS proprietors in Kenya struggle financially, they offer an educational lifeline by choosing to reduce or waive fees for refugee students who have no other options

Lending to low-fee private schools isn’t risky

Alongside our partner Sinapi Aba Savings & Loans (SASL) we quickly learnt that lending to LFPS isn’t as risky as many would think.

Rising Schools Program has a 97% current repayment rate.

There is a strong appetite for school and financial management training, and by accompanying loans with training in financial literacy and school management…

“We have seen an increased willingness by LFPS proprietor to take and pay back a loan to improve their schools.”

 IDPF Chair & Co-Founder, Irene Pritzker

Funding and finance 

We can’t solve everything, but we can be catalytic 

The State of Blended Finance 2021, Convergence​

Despite a clear need, private investment is yet to be a key driver in improving global education systems. We have learnt that private philanthropy provides an opportunity to de-risk and drive more impact by attracting new finance into education through blended finance mechanisms that support financial institutions (FIs) to onward lend to low-fee private schools. 

There is $4.9 billion total EduFinance market potential in Sub-Saharan Africa”

Change requires risk 

As a funder looking for sustainable solutions you must be willing to take on risk to explore solutions.

– IDPF Chair & Co-Founder, Irene Pritzker

Over the years, our funding strategies and priorities have become more focused. We have come to recognize the importance of taking a two-fold approach to achieve real impact and sustainability, by creating a model and advocating for the sector.  There is power in sticking around, seeing things through and not giving up.

Private capital investment is key to building resilient education systems

School improvement loans have the power to improve learning outcomes and transform education for learners. Through our partnerships in Ghana and Kenya, we’ve seen the impact loans, alongside complimentary training, can have on supporting low-fee private schools. 

According to Opportunity International, there’s an estimated $10.1 billion market demand for school improvement loans for affordable non-state school proprietors

Globally, private capital investment plays a critical role building resilience in national education systems and unlocking education for all children. 

Partnerships are the power 

Trust-based partnerships are key to success 

IDPF Co-Founder, Irene Pritzker, meeting with SASL’s CEO, Tony Fosu, back in 2009

A healthy partnership built on trust is one of the most important elements of success and impact, but expansion and buy-in require time. We’ve had a committed partnership with Sinapi Aba Savings & Loans for over 15 years

We have created a replicable model, incorporated the local voice, and created long lasting impact, but IDP Foundation couldn’t have achieved this success on our own. It has been the partnerships formed over the years that have led to significant achievements and enduring impact – expansion and buy-in require time . 

Public-private partnerships make real impact 

It’s important to keep the government close to what you’re hoping to achieveShow that you are not in competition with them, but rather complimenting their effortsGovernment buy-in and support is crucial for sustainability.

– IDPF Chair & Co-Founder, Irene Pritzker 

Through a partnership with the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) in 2020, our Techniques for Effective Teaching (TFET) program was extended to colleges of education in Ghana, with 45,000 teacher trainees in Ghana reached in less than one year. This demonstrates the value of public-private partnerships to national education goals and our commitment to a collaborative approach to improving learning outcomes.

Sustainable change requires local action 

Irene Pritzker's visiting Ghana in 2009
For a program to be effective you must have local buy-in and support…one of the earliest lessons I learned in Ghana was to listen carefully. 

IDPF Chair & Co-Founder, Irene Pritzker

To achieve sustainable change, we must empower local actors in communities through philanthropic funding that has localization at its core. Investing in a localized agenda creates change from the bottom up and is key to ensuring programs are sustainable. 

At IDP Foundation, we have seen the success and impact of building local skills and knowledge in the education sector through funding local actors.

We have also learnt the importance of having Ghanaian staff based in Ghana, with local expertise, perspective, connections, and insights to guide our decision-making and lead on efforts in the continent. With over two-thirds of all our partnerships deeply rooted in the local communities we serve, local partnerships are central to our Theory of Change, as they empower local actors to deliver sustainable solutions in education

Beyond who we fund, I think I am most proud of how our funding is led by local priorities. Empowering local changemakers who are striving to make a difference in their communities is at the heart of what drives the IDP Foundation…nothing we do has a top-down approach. Where possible, we support market-based solutions driven by local community demand, not by our ideas. We might not always get it right, but we are always willing to listen and learn.

– IDPF CEO, Corina Gardner

Learning & advocating 

Performance tracking

Tracking too many key performance metrics will likely lead to information overload, it will make it difficult to determine what KPIs are driving performance measurement and decision making, and likely means your goals and outcomes are too general.

A youth voice in education is lacking

IDPRSP student alumni speaking at IDPF's 15th anniversary event in February

While education-related challenges are best understood by the youth, a youth voice is lacking when it comes to education-related conversations, both globally and in Africa.  

Through conversations with student alumni of the IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRSP) we learnt that culture has impacted the prevalence of youth voices in Ghana, where historically culture has dictated that elders speak and the youth listen. However, the youth believe this should change and there should be space for them to contribute to systems change.

IDPRSP student alumni, Latifa, taking part in an IDPF impact film

There is great pride from the young in gaining an education, especially if they have been afforded the opportunity to reach tertiary level. However, they recognize there are many barriers to achieving this and are motivated to help break down some of these barriers for other disadvantaged youth  

Creating awareness is key to achieving a sustainable approach  

Creating awareness of the LFPS sector over the years was one of the first building blocks of our programsWe learned the importance of adding an advocacy pillar alongside our programmatic pillars for a holistic and longer lasting approach with sustainability in mind. Bringing school proprietors together for training created a special bond between school owners that in many cases never existed beforeThey learned from one another, created advocacy groups, and created a stronger collective voice for the needs for their inclusion.   

Collaboration makes us stronger 

When partners and stakeholders share their experiences it can motivate others to replicate and scale. During an insights trip to Ghana our Kenyan FI partner, Premier Credit, attended a proprietor training session facilitated by our partner Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans (SASL). During this trip, our Kenya partners were inspired by how the training was delivered alongside loans and were inspired to begin exploring how to deliver this training themselves. 

IDPF and our Ongoza partners visiting Ghana for an insights trip

It isn’t easy but we need to listen 

Context matters: resilient education systems require context-specific approaches

To effectively scale, you must understand and be ready to respond to the changing needs and conditions on the ground. When expanding our work into Kenya, differences in country context significantly impacted how the Ongoza program was designed.  

Things we learnt about the Kenyan LFPS context compared to Ghana, which help inform design of the Ongoza Program:

  • High appetite for loans in Kenya has meant higher demand for capital – bigger investment capital for scale. 
  • Loan size is lower in Kenya, making it easy for acquisition of working capital loan. 
  • Land ownership/acquisition is a major challenge for Kenyans due to the huge financial investment, discouraging loan acquisition for land purchase. 
  • Hard currency debt is not preferred due to weak local currency. 

  • Increased instability in Kenya’s political landscape means school operations are sometimes impacted due to political demonstrations, election campaigns and the aftermath. 
  • In Kenya, when facilitating organized trainings and workshops with school leaders, teachers, and parents, culturally there is less motivation to participate unless offerings such as refreshments, stipends, etc. are provided. 

The role of LFPS is still not understood by education policy makers 

Based on insights from our stakeholder survey, while many affordable non-state (ANS) stakeholders believe LFPS are a significant part of a mixed economy of education and have a role to play in achieving SDG4, there is general concern that the role of LFPS is still not understood by education policy makers and  LFPS need more support.  

Addressing learning outcomes is not easy 

Sesame Square filming content for TFET

Our partnership with Sesame was our first attempt to create a long-lasting initiative to address improvements in the classroom, however varying cultural and social factors, such as poor student attrition and dropout, poor teacher retention and capacity, malnutrition, lack of teaching and learning materials, poor infrastructure, etc., create a challenging environment for learning and understanding the programs impact.

Innovation & collaboration  

The sum of all education is greater than its parts


If we can collaborate on progress toward SDG4, we will get further than if we work in silos. However, it is not always easy to find alignment straight out of the gate, so committed convenings where all actors are transparent and open to collaboration are crucial.  

Over the last 15 years, we have found that when we work in collaboration the output and influence is greater. For example, we recently worked in partnership with Global Schools Forum on the All Hands On Deck For SDG 4 initiative, which aims to resolve the challenges of a lack of recognition, integration and support, by creating resources and practical tools to foster better collaboration between the ANS and government. 

As part of our journey, we are also talking to micro finance institutions (MFIs) to explore how microfinance can be used to support LFPS and help improve learning outcomes through incentive-based loans. Last year, alongside Global Schools Forum, Varthana, and Kaizenvest, we were awarded an SDG Impact Finance Initiative impact grant to explore ways in which we can improve learning outcomes through incentive-based loans. 

As part of the design phase, we were lucky enough to co-host a workshop last summer with several stakeholders and interested financial institutions. With majority of the stakeholders joining us in-person during the workshop, the importance of having all parties in the room collaboratively working toward a shared goal was very evident.  

However, the biggest challenge when working collaboratively is finding alignment. We often have our heads down, focused on our own goals and objectives which can make collaboration challenging, but if you can push through this and work together to find common ground then the results will be greater.  


The ANS is a hub for innovation 

To achieve real impact, we need to know what interventions work and what don’t, which means being innovative and experimenting as we work together to find the most effective solutions. The non-state sector can provide the agility that is required to be outcome rather than input focused, so that if an approach isn’t delivering the outcome, then the input must change. This highlights a distinct need to attract more funding to gather the evidence required to clearly understand the types of interventions that deliver measurable impact on learning outcomes.   

There are other nexuses to explore such as nutrition and education 


To improve learning outcomes, we must further explore the intersections between investing in quality nutrition programs and education systems. Addressing malnutrition can hugely improve students learning, so school feeding programs can be cost effective at improving school enrolment and keeping children in the classroom.  

School meals are cost effective with a 4x return on investment

Food programs also contribute to improved learning through enhancing children’s ability to concentrate. If we collectively align our resources now, we can ensure we reach all children faster.   

IDP Foundation strongly believes in the crucial role of the affordable non-state sector in improving access to, and quality of, all education for all children, now. We also believe that if education systems recognize, support and integrate all actors and forms of provision, the sum will be greater than its parts. We remain committed to shining a spotlight on low-fee private schools and working with governments to encourage the implementation of supportive regulatory frameworks, while catalyzing private sector investment in education. With all hands-on deck, education systems can become more resilient and intergenerational poverty can be broken. 

A big thank you to all our partners and stakeholders who have been on this journey with us. 



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