Vikas Pota, Young Global Leader Class 2013, explains why the private sector should invest more in education

The thing I really don’t understand is why no big business figure has stepped forward to take a leadership position on improving education. It seems odd on many levels, particularly as it is the private sector that benefits from an educated, skilled workforce.

Let’s take the evidence: a UNESCO policy paper released just before this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting highlights that the private sector’s contributions to education are less than 0.1% of the profits of some of the world’s biggest companies. Current private contributions to education in developing countries, totalling US$ 683 million a year, are equivalent to only 5% of all aid to education.

The policy paper shows how little education receives compared with other private sector contributions to development; its analysis says that 53% of US foundations’ grants are allocated to health, but only 8% are earmarked for education. Just a handful of corporations make up the majority (60%) of the private sector contributions to education. Surely we can do better.

In these austere times, we know that governments are finding it challenging to increase their financial aid for education. Such circumstances require us all to pull together so that children in some of the world’s most desperate communities have the chance to go to school. The case for investing in children’s increased school attendance and learning well is not difficult to construct. The more contributions devoted to enhancing teaching, the higher the odds of breakthroughs that can demonstrably lift R&D, technological change and, ultimately, business ability to contribute meaningfully to the economic advancement of society. The UNESCO report says that, if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, poverty would fall by 12%. Surely this is good for business?

Bill Gates has made an impact on global healthcare by championing its cause. We need another iconic figure to step up and encourage the private sector to invest alongside governments to ensure every child has an opportunity to receive a good education.

Is that you?

Author: Vikas Pota is the Chief Executive of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, and was named as a 2013 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Image: Students attend a lecture at the University of Warsaw REUTERS/Kacper Pempel