Business, Education and Building a Better World

This post first appeared on 
One of the most significant recent trends in foreign affairs is the rise of non-state actors. Civil society organizations, businesses and loose bands of compatriots united by their passion and Twitter feeds are changing the course of global history at an unprecedented scale.
Engagement in global issues has forced business to reconsider its place in world affairs and its priorities. Today it is expected to make a positive difference beyond the factory fence, to contribute to the betterment of society.
In global health, corporations invest billions of dollars every year to collaborate with governments and NGOs in the world’s most vulnerable regions. The health outcomes of these programs have been impressive and have contributed to fast gains in productivity and budget savings at work (taken together, strong HIV testing, prevention, and treatment programs for those who need it are less expensive for companies than the absenteeism associated with an illness like HIV disease or recruiting and training new employees to replace those too ill to work.) Donations from US companies alone toward global health currently total $12 billion dollars a year. Big business has helped make the world a healthier place.
Now the lessons learned in health are being applied to the next great civil rights issue of the modern era, which affects hundreds of millions of the world’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens, those who are also its greatest untapped source of talent. It is a basic right to go to school, yet there are currently 57 million children in the world who receive no teaching of any kind. There is, to put it bluntly, an emergency in education.
The forces mobilizing to get the world’s out-of-school children into the classroom are using lessons learned from the successes of health campaigners like Global Business Coalition for Health (GBCHealth). Since 2001, GBCHealth has served as a hub for private-sector engagement on the world’s most pressing health issues, working with hundreds of member companies to tackle HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diabetes and many other diseases.
GBCHealth has been instrumental in pushing that figure for corporate investment in health to $12 billion. The figure for corporate investment in education, however, remains much lower, at about $2 billion. A new organization aims to apply the techniques of GBCHealth to the crisis of 57 million children out of school, and boost private-sector support for an educated world.
The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) was launched last year by founding members Carlos Slim of Mexico, Ratan Tata of India and Aliko Dangote of Nigeria – business leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa respectively. Expanding rapidly, with offices in New York and London, GBC-Education has already been joined by strong multinational brands such as Accenture, McKinsey & Co, Western Union, Gucci, Pearson PLC, Intel, Chevron and Discovery Communications.
GBC-Education believes that an educated population is one that benefits everyone: individuals, families, nations – and businesses too. Education is the key to expanded opportunity, and a source of prosperity, employment and social cohesion.
But what of the value proposition? Why have blue chip companies signed up?
GBC-Education engages and supports its members by giving them a way to join like-minded businesses around the world in fostering meaningful public-private sector dialogues and partnerships. It helps them develop intelligent programs to support education on the ground, create opportunities for employees to engage in their communities, and enables the companies’ leaders to advocate for effective and just education policies.
There is no question that the impact of business on global education is potentially so profound that it could be transformative – and something we should champion. And business investment in education isn’t simply charity; the returns to businesses of their investments in primary education are real and direct, as Discovery Communications chief John Hendricks argues in his new book A Curious Discovery. True, these returns will take longer to reap than the quick returns from investing in employee and community health, simply because it takes 15 or 20 years before today’s children master skills and knowledge for the most basic career. But productivity, innovation, shareholder value and competitiveness all depend on an educated workforce.
It’s only been a year since GBC-Education began its work but we’ve been heartened to see businesses engaging more powerfully alongside their partners in government and civil society. In September 2012 Western Union launched a $1.5 billion investment in education; Gucci launched its Chime for Change initiative along with Beyoncé Knowles-Carter who serves as the program’s spokesperson; INTEL has invested in the 10×10 Girl Rising film project that is telling girls’ stories on television and at event screenings around the world. John Wood, a former senior executive at Microsoft, established his own NGO Room to Read and has since opened 15,000 libraries in developing nations.
Of the 57 million out of school, more than half live in just seven countries, and so it is in Nigeria, Ethiopia, China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan that GBC-Education focuses its efforts. The last of these has produced an unlikely extraordinary leader in the campaign for the right to go to school, a Pakistani girl of 15 who has come to symbolize the struggle of young people in countries where there is no guarantee of a place in a classroom and the hope that comes with it.
On Friday July 12 – her 16th birthday – Malala Yousafzai, who miraculously survived being shot in the head by the Taliban as she took the bus to school, gave her first public speech, at the United Nations in New York. Malala Day was an occasion to celebrate her personal courage and commitment to the cause of universal education. But with six hundred delegates under the age of 25 from more than 80 countries gathering to hear her, it will also send out a powerful signal to the world: its young people are mobilizing for universal education. And among the leading minds of the corporate arena they are supported by a powerful and expanding team of allies.
To find out more about GBC-Education or become a member, go to
For more on Malala Day and to get involved in the campaign to get every child into school, go to
Sarah Brown is the executive chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education and is a founder of the digital mobilization initiative A World at School. She is the author of Behind the Black Door, about her years at 10 Downing Street as the wife of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
John Tedstrom is Chairman of Vostok Group of Companies. Earlier he served as Executive Director and CEO of GBCHealth and CEO of Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS. He served as Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia of the National Security Council under President Clinton. He serves on the Advisory Boards of GBCHealth and GBC-Education as well as Scouts for Equality.