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The Smartest Investment: A Framework for Business Engagement in Education

This post originally appeared on the Global Education First Initiative site on 31 October 2013.

By Daria Ng

NEW YORK, 31 October 2013 – Last month, business leaders convened for the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York, where UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and the UN Global Compact launched a new framework for business to engage in education.

The Framework, The Smartest Investment: A Framework for Business Engagement in Education, makes the case for putting education at the centre of business investment. The guide is an essential resource for companies to understand the business benefits of advancing education goals and provides guidance for how to align business with education priorities through a three-part process for engagement:

1. Make a strong business case internally about why the company should engage in education. For example, identifying business ‘drivers’ or benefits such as growth, cost-reduction, or profitability, are all part of making a case for long-term investment in education. Business drivers include:

a) Fostering innovation in education
b) Addressing operational risks
c) Improving brand leadership and enhancing corporate reputation
d) Boosting employee morale and retention
e) Developing capacity of future employees

2. Identify activities that improve education while benefiting business. Activities should address real education challenges in the context of local needs.

3. Apply best practices in order to ensure responsible social engagement. The guide offers best practices and examples of activities that are sustainable, scalable, and aligned with government priorities.

It is evident that addressing education challenges is a critical topic for the private sector. In Pricewaterhouse Cooper’s 14th Annual Global CEO Survey, 66 per cent of CEOs reported that a lack of the right skills is their biggest talent challenge. In Manpower Group’s 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, one-third of the 38,000 employers surveyed revealed that a lack of technical competencies and hard skills was the reason they are unable to fill jobs. And in Global Compact's 2013 Global Corporate Sustainability Report, businesses identified education as a top priority for the private sector to address.


Investing in education is essential to developing a skilled workforce for the future and improving economic growth. As of 2011, more than 57 million primary aged children are still out of school and 130 million children have failed to learn the basics even after four years in school.

The Framework makes the case that investing in education is the smartest choice to build prosperous, healthy, and sustainable societies. For example, getting all students in low-income countries to acquire basic reading skills could lift some 171 million people out of poverty. And for every $1 invested in a child’s education, there is a $53 return to a company at the start of employment. Education can also boost wages. One additional school year can increase a woman’s earning by 10 to 20 per cent.

Up to now, business investments in education have often been small, short-term and uncoordinated, and they have been mostly directed towards children and youth in middle-income societies rather than those who are the most marginalised. The Framework, which was developed through consultations with a broad set of stakeholders including business, the UN, NGOs and other experts, aims to encourage businesses to change this course by investing more, investing for the long-term, and investing smarter.

The Framework is in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative, which aims to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning, and foster global citizenship.

Read the press release that was issued last month.


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