Board of Directors Spotlight: A Q&A With Chair Philip Vassiliou

Board of Directors Spotlight: A Q&A With Chair Philip Vassiliou

The Luminos Fund is delighted to introduce our new Board of Directors Chair, Philip Vassiliou, Chief Investment Officer and Partner of Legatum. Philip has been a dedicated member of the Luminos Board of Directors for more than four years, bringing with him a strategic perspective and an unwavering commitment to our mission: ensuring all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination.

Continue reading to learn more about Philip, his vision for Luminos, and his new role as Board Chair.

Why is education important to you?

I’m deeply passionate about the role that education can play in unleashing a child’s potential.  At an early age, my father frequently spoke with me about the importance of education, and indeed what a gift it is to receive.  Having grown up in a very poor community in Greece, he was the beneficiary of a scholarship that allowed him to pursue higher education. This ultimately ended up changing the trajectory of his life, and indeed that of our family. Fast forward several decades, now as the father of three children, I’m acutely aware of the impact that a great education can have on a child’s development. So, at its core, the meaning of Luminos is deeply personal for me: to try and bring joy, hope, and life-change to children in some of the most challenging environments of the world.

Philip Vassiliou, Chief Investment Officer and Partner of Legatum

What excites you about the Luminos Fund’s mission to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning?

Giving children a second chance and access to high-quality, joyful learning has the potential to unlock the tremendous potential that lies within every child. This life-change doesn’t just take place within the child, but also impacts their families and communities. The compounding effect of this life-change over generations has the ability to lift millions of people out of poverty and create long-term prosperity in some of the poorest and most challenging areas of the world.

At Legatum, to borrow from the famous business author Jim Collins, we often talk about the “Good” and the “Great.” The “Good” comes from the joy of engaging with each child that Luminos has the privilege of serving. Their smile and love for learning are a wonderful reminder of what is possible, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The “Great” comes from the longer-term potential of lifting entire communities out of poverty working alongside local governments and our partners to help them truly own the solutions and outcomes.

How were you first connected to the Luminos Fund?

My partners at Legatum and I have long cared about education, and seen its importance in children’s lives in terms of both individual and societal prosperity. Back in 2007, we invested in an innovative model for out-of-school children built around a ten-month accelerated learning program in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Having seen the success of the program, in 2011 we decided to move the project to Ethiopia, with the University of Sussex as a long-term evaluation partner, to test if the model was both transportable and scalable – i.e., was it “just” good, or could it actually be great!

With the answer to that question being a resounding “yes,” we decided to create the Luminos Fund in 2016. At Legatum, we believe in the power of collaborative philanthropy working in concert with community-based organizations, and we had seen the impact of this through our founding of the END Fund and the Freedom Fund. It therefore was a natural step to build on the lessons of our past experiences and set up a fund vehicle to partner with other investors to scale a program that we had empirical proof helped to significantly accelerate the learning of children in some of the most marginalized populations in Africa and the Middle East. My fellow partner, Alan McCormick, served as the original chair of Luminos and identified Caitlin Baron to serve as its inaugural CEO.

On a personal level, although my professional background is in investing, I’ve had a long-standing passion for being involved in nonprofit organizations involved in education. I previously served on the Board of The Ubuntu Pathways, a nonprofit organization that provides an integrated support system of health, education, and social support in the townships of Gqeberha, South Africa, previously known as Port Elizabeth.

Luminos has had the privilege of hosting you to see our programs. Can you share more about that experience? What was most memorable for you?

I have had the privilege of being out in the field and seeing the Luminos programs in both Lebanon and Ethiopia. Both visits were amazing and a powerful reminder of the joy that exists in the classrooms where Luminos serves. The Lebanon visit was particularly memorable as I got the chance to visit with my wife who is Lebanese, along with our eldest son.

Can you describe your first memory from your education?

My first memory really comes from my nursery education. I remember a fun, colorful, safe, and stimulating classroom environment where I discovered the joy of learning, making friends, and helped open my mind to the outside world. At its core, Luminos seeks to offer the same experience to children everywhere, no matter how challenging the circumstances or the environment.

What is your vision for the Luminos Board moving forward?

The Board of Luminos has the responsibility to support Caitlin as the CEO, set the long-term vision, mission, and culture of the organization, ensure good governance, wise stewardship over the organization’s resources, and continue to scale the Luminos progams to serve more children and communities.

To learn more about the Luminos boards and read member biographies, click here.

Education is a Humanitarian Imperative for Children in Tigray, Ethiopia

Education is a Humanitarian Imperative for Children in Tigray, Ethiopia

This blog was originally posted on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) website and can be viewed here.

On World Humanitarian Day, we turn our focus to the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where children have endured devastating consequences of conflict and the upheaval caused by COVID-19. A new independent study commissioned by the Luminos Fund reveals profound learning loss and trauma, reinforcing the urgent need to prioritize education as a humanitarian imperative.

By: Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre (Luminos Fund) and Dr. Belay Hagos (Addis Ababa University)

Civil war in northern Ethiopia affected over 20 million peopleclosed over 7,000 schools and shut almost 1.5 million children out of school. The conflict came directly on the heels of earlier school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After three years of being out of school and enduring the traumas of war, children now face a challenging journey to catch up on education. However, Luminos’ accelerated education program shows that every child is capable of learning a remarkable amount in a short period of time, if given the chance. We have seen this to be true across all our country programs, including in Ethiopia where Luminos is successfully reaching more than 189,768 out-of-school children. In one school year, our program teaches children to read, write and do math.

Following the historic peace agreement in Ethiopia, Luminos returned to the Tigray region and faced an alarming reality: over 1 million people are currently displaced, and schools are badly damaged. Both government and civil society shared an urgent call to restart the Luminos program.

Recognizing that the core aspects of the program would need to be customized to the unique needs of children in Tigray, we commissioned an independent study examining the levels of learning loss, trauma and resilience in children, parents and teachers.

Dr. Belay, at Addis Ababa University, led a team of senior researchers from Mekelle University in surveying 600 internally displaced children, 450 parents and 400 teachers. The findings offer the first comprehensive view into the harrowing experiences of children, parents and teachers in Tigray since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings from the Report

Infographic depicting six key findings from the the summary report on learning loss, trauma, and resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia.

The survey revealed that 70% of children thought they would die of hunger, and 72% of children experienced shooting at a very close distance. Teachers were also deeply affected as 4 out of 5 reported experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

We also wanted to understand how the context of conflict may also impact learning and foundational skills in primary-school-aged children, as we were already concerned about losses caused by education disruptions due to COVID-19.

Children who were enrolled in Grades 2 and 3 at the time of school closures in March 2020 were assessed using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to measure potential learning loss. The results were benchmarked against the regional averages for Grade 2 and 3 students from the 2018 national EGRA, which was the last national EGRA before the conflict to include students from Tigray.

Study findings indicated that Grade 2 students’ oral reading fluency had declined by almost 13%.

Oral Reading Fluency of Grade 2 Students in 2018 vs. 2023.

Beyond these alarming findings, the loss incurred by children, not only in terms of losing what they had learned prior to the conflict and pandemic, but also missing out on school is possibly the greatest setback.

As the region rebuilds education must be a humanitarian priority, as it can be a lifeline to communities offering hope, resilience and a path toward a better future.

A Luminos student in Ethiopia sits at his desk during class. (Credit: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund)

A Holistic Strategy for School Re-Opening

Out of almost all children surveyed, 98% expressed their eagerness to return to school.

As Luminos is re-establishing its program in Tigray after 3 years, there are several urgent steps being taken to ensure an effective learning environment that prioritizes trauma healing as an essential component of helping children achieve their full potential.

1. Providing Psychosocial Support Services

At Luminos, we recognize that there is an urgent need for comprehensive psychosocial support services and interventions to address the emotional and psychological needs of children, their families and teachers. These interventions are vital in helping them cope with trauma and creating a conducive learning environment. But we also know that in the context of Tigray, there is a significant shortage of trained professionals capable of delivering such services.

We believe that by equipping community teachers with specialized training and resources, teachers have the potential to serve as a valuable short-term solution in bridging this gap.

2. Mainstreaming Accelerated Learning

Children need and deserve a well-crafted and well-designed accelerated learning program that builds foundational skills within a positive learning environment.

These programs must be customized to the unique needs and context of children to maximize their impact. When we tap into what is culturally relevant for students in a given context and use an activity-based and engaging curriculum, evidence shows that it can boost social-emotional skills.  For example, we are adapting our core approach in Tigray to include traditional music, dance, games, poetry and art, and we will invite parents and community leaders into the classroom to play active roles in children’s learning journeys.

3. Developing Strategic Partnerships

The education crisis in Tigray can be reversed, but only if we act together. As Luminos builds strategic partnerships in Tigray and beyond, our collaboration with educators, parents, community-based organizations, funders and government is essential. Partnerships enable us to shape a program that not only responds to the unique context of each region, but also brings forth strategies for meaningful learning recovery and lasting transformation.

Building Hope and Resilience

Looking ahead, we at the Luminos Fund mark World Humanitarian Day with a commitment to ensuring all children have equal access to joyful foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty or discrimination.

To read the full report summary, including further data on learning loss, trauma and resilience, click here.


The Luminos Fund ( provides transformative education programs to thousands of out-of-school children, helping them to catch up to grade level, reintegrate into government schools, and prepare for lifelong learning. Working in partnership with community-based organizations, Luminos is scaling up its accelerated learning program to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination. To date, Luminos has helped over 218,541 children secure a second chance to learn. A registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Luminos is working in Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Liberia and The Gambia.

Cover Photo: A primary school classroom destroyed during the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. (Credit: Tekalegn Kelemu Abreha)

Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

Yousef: Finding Refuge and Hope in the Classroom | Lebanon 

Joyful, bright-eyed, and brimming with hope for the future. These are just a few words that describe 9-year-old Yousef. 

Despite having to overcome several challenges at a young age, his optimism shines brightly. Yousef was an infant when his family fled their home in Syria and settled in Lebanon. As he grew, his education was postponed because his parents could not afford to enroll him in school. Despite these obstacles, this aspiring pilot continues to dream big.  

In Lebanon, Luminos works closely with two community-based organizations, reaching more than 7,000 children like Yousef to date — providing a safe, welcoming environment where students can catch up on foundational skills and develop their full potential. 

After successfully completing the Luminos catch-up program, Yousef transitioned into public school to continue his education. 

“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society.” 

Yousef, Luminos alum

“Education is important because it helps me in the future to get a job and be an independent and effective member in society,” Yousef says. “I want to reach university level and get a degree in aviation.” 

Yousef with his mother, Watfa. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund) 

But Yousef’s path to lifelong learning — and aviation — is not an easy one. As a result of teacher protests over salaries, public schools in Lebanon have faced significant disruptions and closures. The country has endured a series of ongoing social, economic, political, and health crises in the past few years, which have created a dire situation for children, especially the Syrian refugee children Luminos serves. Due to a nationwide economic crisis, prices of basic goods have skyrocketed, and many families have limited access to electricity, which substantially restricts the delivery of basic services.  

“Life has become hard and complicated,” says Yousef’s mother, Watfa. “The electricity and many other problems made Yousef feel sad. I am worried about everything, especially not being able to afford my children’s basic necessities.”  

Today, through an additional Luminos program, Yousef is receiving homework support for math and English (English is one of the two standard languages of instruction in Lebanon). His motivation for learning grows more and more each day. 

“I love my classmates and my teachers,” says Yousef. “After classes, I usually revise my lessons and then I get ready to go to the public school in the afternoon schedule.”  

Colorful posters and letters of the alphabet decorate classrooms in Lebanon. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)

According to his teacher, Amal, Yousef has shown significant improvements and is thriving as a self-confident, intrinsic learner.  

“Yousef usually interacts with the pictures shown in stories and connects them with his surroundings. He has proved to be an independent learner. He answers and solves the questions individually,” says Amal.  

By providing a safe and nurturing space to learn, Luminos programs help mitigate the devastating impact of compounded crises and school closures.  

Beyond learning, our classrooms offer a sense of stability and hope — not only for our students, but their teachers and parents, too.  

“Hope has motivated us to curb pessimism. This hope is reflected in the students’ faces. When we see the learners’ diligence and interest in discovering knowledge, our confidence in the coming days is boosted.” 

Amal, Luminos teacher

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Lebanon program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Chris Trinh

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

On a bustling government school campus in Liberia, students on their lunch break fill the air with loud and lively conversation.

Tucked away from the midday sun under the cool shade of a corridor, a Luminos alum named Emmanuel shares his story. At 15 years old, Emmanuel has achieved something remarkable: he’s made it to the eighth grade after being out of school for nearly a decade. And he has no plans of stopping.

“I’d like to go and continue my education past high school — go to college, and get a degree in medicine,” he says.

These big dreams and achievements are possible because Emmanuel attended Luminos’ catch-up education program four years ago. Inside a joyful, interactive classroom, Emmanuel learned how to read, write, and do math for the first time.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

Emmanuel, Luminos alum

“I like school because education is a powerful tool and the key to everything,” he explains.

Emmanuel’s mother, Josephine, marveled at the pace at which he was learning.

“They were learning really fast,” she says. “And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Emmanuel and his fellow Luminos alum, Princess, stand with their former Luminos teacher, Varney.

Josephine, who had to drop out of school after first grade, saw the Luminos program as an opportunity to ensure Emmanuel’s future would be different from her own.

When Josephine learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program, she knew it was a second chance to help her son learn, grow, and gain the tools he needed to succeed — and the first step for their family into the world of education.

In the Luminos classroom, Emmanuel discovered his passion for math, which quickly became his favorite subject.

“Everything in math is my favorite — subtraction, percentages, addition,” Emmanuel says.

When Emmanuel completed the Luminos program, he was equipped with strong foundational learning skills and transitioned into fourth grade at his local government school.

One of Emmanuel’s current teachers, Robert, was amazed at the differences between Luminos alumni like Emmanuel and other students. Luminos students were better behaved, able to concentrate for longer periods, could pronounce words correctly, and were much more likely to volunteer — especially to read in front of the class.

“They were learning really fast. And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Josephine, mother of Luminos alum Emmanuel

“Emmanuel is especially good at math,” Robert notes, observing that while other students will count using their fingers, Emmanuel is able to do mental math quickly. Robert says that, even during breaks, Emmanuel can often be found in the classroom running his friends through math problems on the blackboard.

“It helped me,” says Emmanuel of the Luminos program. “Before I didn’t know math, and now I know math and I’m on the Middle School Academic Team!” As a member of his school’s Academic Team, Emmanuel participates in quiz competitions where he excels at answering math questions.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning,” says Emmanuel, “because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

In addition to bringing knowledge home to his family, Emmanuel dreams of improving his community.

“I want to see my community get better. I want to see water pumps and a market every day. I want to be a doctor because a doctor helps other people.”

Meet Emmanuel’s Former Luminos Teacher: Varney

Varney, now a supervisor of Luminos classrooms, was Emmanuel’s teacher in 2019 when Emmanuel attended the Luminos program.

“Emmanuel was very smart,” Varney recalls. Varney is not surprised by Emmanuel’s continued love of math, noting that Emmanuel helped as his teacher’s assistant in mathematics. Varney still comes to check on his former Luminos students on their government school campus.

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Liberia program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya’s first reaction upon entering her Luminos classroom was awe — she thought it was beautiful.

The humble building dedicated to learning was a beautiful sight in Suraiya’s eyes because it represented a long-awaited opportunity to join her peers in an environment that had always been out of reach.

“I had never stepped in one before,” Suraiya says wistfully. At age 12, Suraiya had never been to school. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, where Suraiya and her family live, it is all too common for children to miss out on education. Nearly 23,000 primary-school-aged children in Ashanti are out of school.

In 2022, Luminos officially launched in Ghana to give out-of-school children in the Ashanti region a second chance at education. Suraiya was one of 1,500 children enrolled in Luminos’ classrooms.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can.”

Ramatou, Suraiya’s mother

Suraiya and her mother, Ramatou, used to work together on the family’s charcoal farm to make a living — Ramatou did not have the money to send Suraiya to school. Every day, Suraiya would accompany her mother to a plot of land in the forest, cut down wood, and burn it into charcoal to sell.

During a reading lesson, one of Suraiya’s classmates answers a question.

Through the free Luminos program, Suraiya quickly began learning how to read, write, and do math.

English is her favorite subject, but Suraiya also enjoys learning addition and singing along with her teacher, Adams. Suraiya admires Adams and appreciates the way he helps her learn.

“When he teaches, I understand,” says Suraiya. “He has been telling me that I will do well in the future.” With her teacher’s encouragement, Suraiya feels inspired about her learning progress. “I want to be brilliant!” she declares.

Suraiya’s mother also notices her growth.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can,” says Ramatou.

Ramatou is not able to read or write, but she can see Suraiya’s progress as Suraiya brings home materials to practice reading aloud. Suraiya also shares what she learns in the Luminos program with her siblings and the neighborhood children that come to her for help.

Adams leads his class, including Suraiya (third from the left), in a warm-up activity before class begins.

“She helps them to read,” beams Ramatou.

Suraiya was steadfast in her attendance during the school year, believing education will help her become a better person in the future. After completing the Luminos program among the top three students in her class, Suraiya is advancing into the local government school. She dreams of continuing her education all the way through college and becoming a nurse.

“I will become a nurse and bring pride to my parents,” Suraiya declares. “I will come and take care of the sick here.”

“I want to be brilliant!”

Suraiya, Luminos student

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

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