USAID’s Model for driving Social Impact in the Education and Training Sector

Innovation is important everywhere, including and especially when it comes to social impact. In fact, innovation IS social impact. The literature and debates on development are increasingly agreed on one thing; that traditional forms and models of development assistance do not work as well as they should. That is why old models are being reinvented and new ones developed and experimented with.

USAID is one of the world’s biggest aid organizations. What is a long-standing organization is seen to be innovative in its approach to development work, and this is best represented in its Development Innovation Ventures (DIV). DIV is an open innovation grant fund to invest in breakthrough solutions to some of the world’s most intractable development challenges. Open means a lot of things; including the fact that applications are open throughout the year and are accepted by innovators, entrepreneurs, and researchers from all over the world. USAID says that by funding innovation and focusing on rigorous evidence, DIV impacts millions of lives at a fraction of the usual cost.

DIV’s grant model is based on three principles;

  • Rigorous evidence: evidence of clear and measurable outcomes to show what works as well as the market demand for innovations
  • Cost-effectiveness: solutions with the greatest impact for every dollar spent
  • Pathways to scale: solutions that will scale to improve the lives of at least a million people while being financially sustained via the market or public sector.

Its funding model is three-tiered, with small investments going to unproven ideas and larger investments that demonstrate its three key principles.

DIV’s Three-tiered funding model

In its end of 2021 report, DIV reported investing $172 million, in 252 awards across 57 countries, with over 99 million lives impacted and a 17:1 return on investment in the last decade.

While the organization funds projects in various sectors like agriculture, disaster relief, governance, and energy, this article focuses on projects in the education and training sector, with briefs on each project, as documented on DIV’s portal.

Edu Cartoons for Learning STEM in Tanzania, and Africa as a Whole

Ubongo Kids is Africa’s leading edutainment channel, and it is also the name of the nonprofit that produces the channel. Ubongo Kids uses cartoons to teach young children about STEM-related topics, using fun visuals and educational dialogue to cover areas like mathematics, health, science, and even good manners. The videos are done in English, and also in indigenous languages like Swahili.

DIV gave a Stage 1 grant to the organization with a grant ceiling of $149,944, for the project to be implemented in Tanzania. This funding enabled Ubongo kids to ;

  • Reach rural areas with its content
  • Work with off-grid rural communities in Morogoro, Tanzania to “test the combination of three different screening methods and three funding methods and identify the most effective distribution model.”
  • Piloted Ubongo Kids Clubs, which used community centers to bring children together to learn from the educational materials and participate in other educational activities.

Further Reading: Ubongo embraces open licensing to make its learning materials even more accessible to African children

Getting Students to High School in Mexico

Foundation Escalera discovered from a survey it conducted that 53% of Mexico’s ninth-graders view high school as unreachable. This lined up with country data that already showed an increasing number of students were failing to make it to high school, despite opportunities like scholarships to do so. Spurred by its findings, the foundation started its “High School Within Reach” program. The program’s main tool is a curriculum designed for ninth grade teachers to implement, and it includes information on local returns, exposes students to local role models leveraging video success stories, and provides practical information on how to apply for financial aid.

According to DIV, a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 2,600 students in Chiapas, Mexico, showed that the program increased high school enrollment by up to thirteen percent. It received a DIV Stage 2 grant with an award ceiling of $ 603,266. It chose Chiapas because it is the country’s poorest state, and it believes in the ability of adequate and right schooling to transform the lives of people. This funding enabled it to expand its program to 16,782 students.

The foundation also has school building, scholarship, and entrepreneurship training programs, some of which are carried out with partners like Ford Motor companies.

Personalized Learning Using EdTech for Indian Students

Different factors create and intensify gaps in learning amongst Indian students, especially those in public schools where teaching has been unable to meet the disparity in learners’ needs. Educational Initiatives (EI), created Mindspark, a software that is designed to teach students according to their unique educational needs. The personalized software allows children to learn at their own pace, and by delivering over 2 million questions daily, the data being collected is used to enhance the child’s learning pathway. It covers maths, English, and science for classes 1–10, and the software is available for multiple device types and in 9 languages.

“With support from Development Innovation Ventures (DIV), Ei will make Mindspark accessible to students in public schools, reaching 40,000 students and 1,000 teachers across 200 government day schools over three years. Ei will also undertake A/B testing of different implementation strategies to identify best practices. The project will build upon investments by state governments and better position Ei to scale Mindspark across at least 5,000 government schools in India” — DIV.

Kernels of Practice for Children Living in Conflict in North-East Nigeria

School-based social-emotional learning (SEL), has been proven to help children living in conflict areas by helping them cope with trauma and improving educational outcomes for them. In Northeast Nigeria, where insurgency has ravaged the region, the International Rescue Committee has been implementing a SEL programme which it calls Kernels of Practice. Kernels are defined by educational psychologists as short curriculum modules used to help students effectively and positively manage daily responsibilities and challenges.

Girls practicing mindfulness techniques like deep breathing.

DIV’s stage 2 grant to the IRC is intended for implementing and scaling these kernels in Borno and Yobe state. The organization is to work with teachers in the areas to adapt and refine the curriculum to the context, ie, the realities of children living in these areas. According to the IRC, most beneficiaries will either be children from host communities or internally displaced children.

Jobs to End Poverty in Bangladesh

BRAC is an international development organization located in Bangladesh. It runs Promoting Skills and Productivity Enhancement for Resilience (PROSPER), a skills development program that offers on-the-job, theoretical, and soft skills training for trainees from the age of 18. They are matched with a MasterCraft person, a micro or small business owner who has a good reputation within the community.

In 2020, DIV awarded a Stage 3 grant to the London School of Economics to run a Randomized Control Trial. Results from the RCT will guide BRAC in scaling up the program to 500,000 youth. It will also be of use to organizations like USAID, which have skill training programs.

“During the trial, BRAC is offering PROSPER at different price points, including a deferred payment option in some cases, to young workers across 30 locations. The RCT will generate evidence on how credit constraints affect demand for skills training, including differences for young wives and mothers; how skills training affects employment, earnings, and aspirations; the cost-effectiveness of workforce development programs; and how the spillover effects of training workers affect current businesses and workers.” — BRAC

Improving Early Childhood Care and Education in Ghana

Early childhood care and education are important deciding factors in the quality of life that children have, and Lively Minds is working to raise the quality of care available to children, in countries like Ghana. It refers to parents as the sleeping giant, and they are the main actors in its program. It trains mothers on how to organize specialized playgroups for children in communities. Each mother takes her turn to host the playgroup, where children learn from homemade educational games. Parents are trained in a course designed by Lively Minds, and the training enables them to “change mindsets, build confidence and teach simple ways to use cost-free resources to improve their parenting and provide better care and education at home”, according to the organization. It describes its solution as deceptively simple, especially because no additional workforce or expensive infrastructure is needed

“With support from Development Innovation Ventures, Lively Minds will work with the Government of Ghana to scale the program from six to 36 districts and catalyze funding to reach 60 districts — including 1.2 million children — across the Northern Region by the end of 2028. As the Lively Minds program transitions to scale, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Yale University, and other partners will conduct an RCT through a parallel DIV award that explores whether the model’s impact holds through at-scale public delivery and examines the key contributors to effectiveness.” — DIV

It was awarded a Stage 3 Grant, with an award ceiling of $ 3,500,000

If you have an idea for social impact or even an organization that is already doing great work, you should find out how to apply for DIV’s grants. Applications are open throughout the year.



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