Where is the Western Union Foundation’s Global Education Support Heading?

The Western Union Foundation recently celebrated $100 million in giving, which seemed to us a great moment to connect with its president, Patrick Gaston, to hear about the foundation's work so far and the direction it’s taking in the future.

One of the biggest areas of focus at Western Union is education. According to Gaston, around 70 percent of the foundation’s giving centers on the issue, and for good reason. The foundation’s giving is really focused on the customers the Western Union Company serves.

At the foundation—and I’ve had really informed and very committed people who came ahead of me—we have realized the importance of that business model and the importance of aligning our philanthropy to the business model. We have also found in our analytics that one-third of the funds we transfer for our customers goes toward and addresses some kind of educational need.

Western Union is a huge conduit of remittances from immigrants living in rich countries to their relatives in poorer countries, so it's no surprise that it has a keen sense of how people spend their money in the developing world. 

When one of the foundation’s flagship programs of recent years, Education for Better, launched in 2012, the foundation and the Western Union Company pledged an average of up to $10,000 per day for more than 1,000 days to non-profit NGOs working in education in underserved communities.

In addition to Education for Better, Western Union committed $1.8 million over three years to the PASS Initiative, which was launched in 2013 in partnership with the UEFA Europa League. The goal of this program is to enable increased access to education for children in poor countries. The foundation is also a big supporter of Teach for All, having committed over $750,000 to the organization’s Global Partnership, and recently pledged an additional $200,000 to the Teach for All Network.

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Across all of its education programs, Western Union has largely focused its education grantmaking in primary and secondary education. While that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, a bit of a pivot is in happening at the foundation:

What we have learned in education is that there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity and, frankly, exposure for women and youth around the globe. There are millions and millions of unemployed and underemployed people around the globe, most of whom are women and youth. So what we’re doing based on what we learned around our investments in education is we’re making a slight pivot, to focus on more workforce training and job skills training in the educational realm, but focused on women and youth... Kids not only need degrees, but they need the job skills. So we’re probably going to do a little bit of both, where we will focus more on job skills and work force training.

That slight change in course has already occurred at some level. In China, the foundation is working to help provide jobs skills training for women working in factory-type jobs in both rural areas and larger cities. One of the goals here, according to Gaston, is “getting people to stay where they are and acquiring the skills where they are in order to develop their communities from an economic perspective.” In India, the foundation has partnered with Pratham to help train workers in the hospitality industry, and in Mexico, it is engaging in cross-border teacher training to help teachers become more effective at their jobs and have an increased impact on their students.

Though Western Union includes job skills training and workforce development in its education-related grantmaking, rest assured that it will continue to stick to its historical funding path of primary and secondary education. 

Related: Spotlight on the Western Union Foundation: A Global Funder in for the Long Haul