The Islamic world needs innovative financing
It is exciting to see how 57 member countries of the Islamic Development Bank, spread across four continents, are striving to build a future that blends a purposeful embrace of cutting-edge technologies with the rich heritage of Islam, making them a vibrant source of education and culture.
Many IsDB member countries are scaling up investments in education, fully cognizant that a well-educated and adequately skilled workforce is vital to diversifying their economies and fostering peaceful and prosperous societies.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, for example, includes a specific human capital program focused on building basic and advanced skills to better prepare today’s youth for the jobs of the future.
The Gulf states can combine their educational excellence, financial prowess and traditional generosity to invest more in lower-income member countries of the bank, thereby accelerating their development and helping them better cope with future global crises.
This partnership is vitally needed at a time when the lower-income member countries face an intense educational crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated. Before the pandemic, around half of the world’s 10-year-olds struggled to read and comprehend a basic story. Today, it is estimated that this level is closer to 70 percent.
The gap between the skills children need to thrive and what they develop now risks widening dramatically, with dire consequences for global economic growth, human capital development and socio-political stability.
It has been estimated that today’s generation will lose $17 trillion in future lifetime earnings because of interrupted learning during the recent pandemic and compounded crisis. The world simply cannot afford a loss of that magnitude when it should instead do all it can to secure a more stable, safe and prosperous future.
Given the rising interest rates and public debt burdens, lower-income countries need new education financing options, or they risk having to trim education budgets at a time when all countries should be boosting them instead.
In partnership with the IsDB and the Global Partnership for Education, the Gulf member states can draw on their innovation potential and financial resources to help leverage investment in schooling in lower-income countries, blending public and private funding for education where it is most needed.
The IsDB support has targeted improving learning outcomes, skills and education training, especially for women and young people in rural areas.
Moreover, the GPE aims to bring together donors, foundations, businesses and international agencies, focusing their expertise and financial strength on the education needs of lower-income countries. In 2022, its grants benefited 107 million students and helped train 675,000 teachers.
Through innovative approaches like the Multiplier Grant, GPE investments catalyzed another $1 billion in additional financing from development agencies and philanthropic foundations in 2022, crowding in more funding for education globally.
Donor countries and institutions across the Gulf can join IsDB and GPE in driving blended financing higher so that the lower-income countries can transform their education systems.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have already shown their willingness to be more actively involved by becoming new GPE donor countries, setting a foundation for future collaboration and investment.
At last week’s IsDB annual meetings in Jeddah, we will celebrate the first financing allocations made by the Arab Coordination Group Smart Education Financing Initiative, also known as ACG SmartEd.
The ACG, which includes IsDB as a member, provides $400 million in total financial investments alongside $100 million from the GPE Multiplier — a fund that leverages grants to attract financing from other donors.
SmartEd funding is available to 37 eligible IsDB member countries, home to nearly 28 million out-of-school children.
We are pleased to announce that Cameroon, Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan will be the first countries to access this initiative, accessing $280 million between them.
The world now needs more partnerships like the one between the ACG members and GPE to ensure that any nation seeking to invest more in education will receive the amount and type of funding it needs. The partnership also enables more girls and boys to access and develop their learning opportunities.
Gulf countries have used education to help transform their societies into prosperous and generous nations and to place them now in a position to step up their support for schooling at a critical moment.
We hope that others in the IsDB’s joint constituency with GPE will follow some of the prominent countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council region in investing more in education and giving children everywhere the skills to match the demands of a rapidly changing and ever more complex future.
• Dr. Mohammad Sulaiman Al-Jasser is president of the Islamic Development Bank.
• Dr. Laura Frigenti is CEO of the Global Partnership for Education.