Business Backs Education Campaign: London Summit Calls on Companies to Step Up

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova joined the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and business leaders in urging companies to commit 20 percent of their global corporate social responsibility spending for education by 2020, at the “Business Backs Education” London summit on 13 October 2014.

The Business Backs Education campaign, launched in March 2014 at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, is co-led by the Varkey Gems Foundation, Dubai Cares and UNESCO.

Mayor Johnson stated that "we are failing to prepare kids psychologically and intellectually to face the reality of job market demands," calling for more placements and apprenticeship schemes. "The business of education is good business."

Deputy Mayor of London for Education and Culture Munira Mirza said that "we have to raise the status of education to ensure that it has the same role in the public debate on health care or climate change." 

Vikas Pota, CEO of Varkey Gems Foundation, set the scene: "The private sector spends 16 times more on global public health than education. Our aim is to have a body of business coming together behind‎ education initiatives."

"I see private-public partnerships as a form of soft power, as platforms for mobilizing resources, as wellsprings for innovation," said Director-General Irina Bokova. 

The Director-General stressed the quantum impact of education on poverty eradication, better health, lower infant and maternal mortality - all central to the post-2015 development agenda. 

"Education is a political responsibility of governments and a social responsibility. It is critical to reach sustainability, to make societies more inclusive, to foster social mobility, to respond to climate change and to become responsible citizens. Business is a vital partner and we must act now to ensure that youth everywhere benefit from a quality education."

She drew attention to the global learning crisis and the mismatch between education and the workplace that prevails in many countries as major reasons for more robust business engagement.

In the face of the learning crisis and the numbers still excluded from education, she described the tremendous opportunities ushered in by new technologies to expand learning. 

“The private sector is not simply a donor – it is a partner, and a key one that can play an important role across a range of areas, from policy formulation and advocacy to anticipating what skills are needed to drive growth in today’s economies.”

“We need to make the case together – this is the smartest investment any company, any society, can make."

Mr Majid Jafar, a co-chair of the Campaign, affirmed that "this crisis is a business imperative -- the biggest challenge for CEO‎s face in terms of a long term threat to business sustainability is about talent." 

A local head teacher emphasized that her school "faced many challenges, including social mobility. Too many young people are insufficiently prepared for employment. Support from business has helped young people with career advice and enhanced curriculum provision. It is mutually advantageous for this relationship to be harnessed."

The Campaign is leading research on baseline global corporate spending to education that will be published during the World Economic Forum in Davos, in January 2015.

Early research results released at the London Summit found that global CSR spending for 26 UK companies amounted to USD3.2 billion per year, of which 12 had education-related expenditure. If UK companies committed 20 percent of their CSR budgets towards education initiatives, spending would amount to USD650 million, carrying significant impact.

The Campaign encourages companies to use the “Framework for Business Engagement in Education,” developed by UNESCO, UNICEF, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and the UN Global Compact. The Framework sets out a three-part process for engagement: helping businesses make the case internally about why they should engage in education; selecting appropriate activities; and acting in a responsible manner.

According to UNESCO’s EFA Global Monitoring Report, there is an annual funding gap of $26 billion to achieve basic education for all children in low-income countries. At the same time, current global business annual CSR spending on education in developing countries is estimated at only $548 million.The campaign is designed to bring business in line with recommended Government education spending targets.