It’s not surprising that tech funders believe technology can solve some of the world’s most pressing global health and development challenges, given how they made their fortunes.
One focus of their efforts is education. Access to education in poor countries is often hindered by a lack of teachers and teaching materials. Tech funders are tantalized by the potential of digital devices and platforms to fill these gaps.
A couple of years back, we covered a $100 million investment in Bridge International Academies made by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar and a handful of other partners. Bridge International operates low-cost private schools with a strong tech element, seeking to provide a quality education to over 10 million children around the globe by 2025, beginning in Africa and Asia.
Tech funders have made other moves to back ed tech outfits focused on developing countries. For instance, the Omidyar Network and Mitsui and Company invested $7 million in the company Geekie in 2015. Geekie develops innovative tools using "adaptive intelligence" to help both students and teachers in the learning process. It has a growing presence in Latin America. At the time of the Geekie investment, the Omidyar Network reported that its education initiative supported two dozen organizations "focused on early childhood development, K-12 and work readiness across Africa, India, Latin America, Philippines, and the U.S." Many of these groups are using technology in new ways.
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, is yet another player that is paying attention to this area.
According to Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, who leads Google.org's education work, 130 million students around the world aren’t mastering basic math and reading skills even after four years of primary school. Basically, those 130 million students are in school but they aren’t learning. Among other things, this is due to the lack of quality education materials, and overextended and under-resourced teaching staff. In an effort to shift that learning curve, the foundation has made its largest pledge to a single funding area to date.
Google.org recently announced that it is committing $50 million to education nonprofits over the course of the next two years, focusing on improving education in developing countries. In this first round of funding, nine organizations will receive grants from Google. Here’s a quick look at a few of those grantees and what they are doing with the money:
- Million Sparks Foundation will use its newest Google grant for its digital content platform ChalkLit. Million Sparks has received a total of $1.2 million in grants from Google.org since 2016.
- War Child Holland, which has now received $2.5 million in grants from Google since 2016, is spending its latest grant on its game-based curriculum called Can’t Wait to Learn. This digital learning platform allows children displaced by conflict to continue learning in informal settings.
- Learning Equality will use its latest Google grant to build and scale its content library in order to reach more students. Learning Equality has received a total of $5 million in grant funding from Google.org since 2016.
Other organizations awarded grants in this most recent round of funding include the Clooney Foundation for Justice, Pratham Education Foundation and Khan Academy. In addition to funding, the foundation offers up the services of employee volunteers who are experts in areas such as user experienced design, offline functionality, and data analytics.
Since around 2012, Google.org has awarded more than $110 million in grants in an effort to close the gaps in education. Its latest $50 million commitment aims to award grants to education nonprofits located in 20 countries around the world. The foundation expects to announce additional grantees later on this year.