On September 26 during U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week, the Luminos Fund hosted “Dynamic Philanthropy: A Remedy for the Global Learning Crisis,” an intimate conversation featuring Phyllis Kurlander Costanza, Head, UBS Philanthropy and CEO, UBS Optimus Foundation; Pascale de la Frégonnière, Executive Director, Cartier Philanthropy; His Excellency Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Cares; and Alan McCormick, Managing Director, Legatum Group. Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, moderated.

In the last fifteen years, enormous progress has been made in global education, such as a 40% decrease in the number of children out of school, a doubling of the school system in Africa, and the emergence of near parity in girls’ and boys’ education in the primary phase. However, much work remains. Globally, three-quarters of children and adolescents are still not learning at minimum levels.

Now in its third year, the Luminos UNGA week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, and implementors around the subjects of education and international development. This year, we were delighted to have a packed room of participants all focused on real solutions for the 260 million children around the world who still fail to learn the basics.

Caitlin Baron moderated the discussion

Innovative Approaches to Solve the Global Learning Crisis

At Luminos, we believe in philanthropy’s power to fuel breakthrough innovations that will tackle the global learning crisis. We feel extremely fortunate to work with these four leaders and their respective organizations, and were eager to hear their timely, energizing insights about the power of philanthropy in education development.

Cartier Philanthropy, Dubai Cares, Legatum Group, and UBS Philanthropy/UBS Optimus Foundation have funded an array of innovations that are moving the needle in educational opportunity around the globe. During the event, each speaker discussed his or her organization’s approach to philanthropy, innovation, and international education.

“The power of UBS Philanthropy is bringing clients to the doorstep of the world’s greatest problems,” Phyllis explained, noting that up to 80% of UBS clients are interested in investing in education. “UBS Optimus is a foundation of our clients: we route money from clients towards solving many social challenges. With education, we are trying to move clients from building schools to focusing on the quality of learning happening in the classrooms.”

One key area of innovation for UBS Optimus Foundation has been investment in outcomes-based financing. Phyllis described outcomes-based financing as one way to help build capacity in the space and encourage NGOs to focus on results. UBS has achieved strong returns through Development Impact Bonds (DIB) that can then be re-invested to achieve even more impact.

Meanwhile, Cartier Philanthropy seeks to fund scalable, high-impact innovations while moving toward an unrestricted funding model.

“Cartier Philanthropy believes in unrestricted funding,” Pascale noted. “We work for our grantees. They don’t work for us.”

“Cartier Philanthropy is quite independent of Cartier, which has been great to let us be experimental and find organizations working on exciting ideas that scale. Our work isn’t dictated by how we can further the Cartier brand: we were left free to draft our own strategy. Test, try, learn, fail, and try again is a philosophy we believe in,” she continued appreciatively.

Tariq described Dubai Cares’ founding vision to improve children’s access to quality primary education and, more broadly, increase funding for education as this sector receives far less investment than health.

“The Millennium Development Goals were set in 2000 and the 2nd Goal was universal access to primary education. Five years later when the UN met, they said Goal 2 would not be met by the deadline. Dubai Cares was founded in 2007 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. HRH is a strong believer in youth and education. He wanted to convince others to invest more in education, as health always gets more investment compared to education. Dubai today is where it is because of its focus on youth and education. Since 2007, Dubai Cares has worked to provide quality education around the globe.”

“The job of philanthropy is to pilot and test innovations, and do your best to see them to scale,” Tariq continued. “Philanthropists’ job isn’t system strengthening. But, partnership with government is key if you want to influence the mainstream. We have to work within the priorities of governments if we are serious about achieving systems change – or help the government to prioritize an issue if we feel it is important.”

Legatum has a unique relationship with the Luminos Fund. A Legatum Foundation grant launched Luminos as an independent organization in 2016. Alan currently serves as Chairman of the Luminos Fund’s Board of Directors.

Pascale de la Frégonnière, Alan McCormick, and Phyllis Kurlander Costanza

From left: Pascale de la Frégonnière, Alan McCormick, and Phyllis Kurlander Costanza

Alan explained, “We run a purpose-driven investment business at Legatum. The mission at the heart of our business is to generate and allocate capital that helps people prosper – and we’ve funded 2,000 projects across the developing world. Our philosophy is to test ideas and then bring others to invest in proven solutions. The best way to help people succeed is to give them the freedom to innovate.”

Describing the Luminos Fund’s origins, he noted, “When we saw how the program makes children numerate and literate in 10 months we were blown away.”

Words of Encouragement

As the event drew to a close, panelists offered advice based on their experience in philanthropy.

“We can’t do this alone,” Tariq said. “We need more donors to collaborate, like how Co-Impact is bringing funders together.”

Phyllis shared recommendations for prospective grantees: “Learn how to ask for money and go big.” Funders are pitched frequently and potential grantees must stand out from the crowd to succeed.

“Reading the news, it’s easy to focus on problems,” Alan cautioned. “Get out and look for solutions and innovations. The innovations out there today give me such hope. Be hopeful and persevere.”

H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg discusses Dubai Cares' focus on education

H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg discusses Dubai Cares’ focus on education

Images by Hannah Cohen Photography

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