ESSA Education Sub Saharan Africa

ESSA Education Sub Saharan Africa

At a glance


  • Education

Other details

Geographical remit: 


Education Sub Saharan Africa - ESSA, a Company limited by guarantee, was registered as a Charity in May 2016 (Registration no.1166958). Working internationally, its ambition is to contribute significantly to make education in Africa better by connecting, supporting and mobilizing the most effective people, data and insight; by initiating independent research to inform, enhance and challenge relevant policy; and to enable increased impact from investment decisions, with the aim to boost the good work of others: governments, aid agencies, corporates, foundations and philanthropists.

ESSA is structured as a Company with a Board of Directors who are also Trustees of the Charity. The Chairman is Patrick Dunne, a London-based businessman and philanthropist. He has successfully developed three other social enterprises (,, one of which has helped more than 300,000 African children to better education experience.

Initial Board membership also includes the CEO of the Robert Bosch Foundation - from which the Charity has received initial substantial funding - and another British businessman & philanthropist. Other Board members will be appointed in due course.

Given the alignment of ESSA’s objectives with the Foundation’s own strategy, the Robert Bosch Foundation has also asked one of its senior team-members, Dr Olaf Hahn, to take on the role of ESSA’s founding executive director. The Board approved this appointment in June 2016. Olaf, who is German, has extensive experience in philanthropy and pursued his career both in Germany and abroad. He is based in Stuttgart/ Germany, and travels frequently to the UK, Africa and other countries relevant to ESSA.

ESSA is designed to be a ‘distributed’ organization with team-members employed in the areas where it is active. We anticipate having some physical presence in Africa later on, possibly as early as next year.


Millions of young Africans don’t get the education they need to gain the knowledge and skills required to participate in their societies and the wider world. Many are crammed into over-crowded classrooms as a result of chronic shortages of teachers and resources. Worse, millions receive no schooling at all. At the same time employers face striking skill shortages, finding it hard to recruit the talent they need to create prosperity and improve lives, despite high youth unemployment. A demographic explosion will see the continents population double to 2 billion in the next generation. The quality of education in the region will be a key factor in making these demographics an extraordinary opportunity or a terrible threat.

Many Sub-Saharan governments invest 5 % or more of GNP in education. This is supported by major investment from others including corporate, aid agencies and NGOs. Yet sadly, these investments are often not joined up. The quality of education data is often inadequate; research and impact evaluation are often hard to access, and often incomplete. In many cases, the governance of education is in rather bad shape, and corruption spreads, visible e.g. in the “ghost-teacher” phenomena, that costs countries between 10-25% of their investments in education.

What needs to be done

In each of the 46 countries in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) there is an urging need for access to education for all children, for quality schooling with regards to their enormous learning deficits, for a sufficient amount of well qualified teachers, for good curricula and sector planning, and for a governance of education at all levels, capable and willing to provide an adequate framework for development.

Given the size of these challenges, enormous efforts must be made in the near future to enhance the quality of education in SSA. SSA Governments carry the most significant responsibility to do so. The efforts of all other actors in this space - aid agencies, NGO’s and corporates – need to be joined up in order to best possibly support these governments, which need to be the owners of these efforts. Investments must to be aligned, in a long-term perspective, and to be strategically invested into what has actually proven to work. The effectiveness of these measures relies on the availability of trustful data. Given the poorness of the available data, huge efforts must be made to gather, order, analyze and communicate relevant data and research findings with focus on what works, seeking out best global practice.

Even though an huge amount of actors is active in this field, there is currently no institution which serves as a global hub to connect investments in education in SSA with most promising investment opportunities. Such a hub, if accepted by the various partners and competent to act accordingly, would contribute massively to achieve significant change, especially if it could contribute to enhancing the quality of government of education in SSA.

It is precisely this role of a global hub for knowledge and connection that ESSA aims to take up.


ESSA intends to act through four dimensions:

  • as a connector to bring together investment opportunities and investment decisions;
  • as a knowledge hub for education data/ information to gather, order, analyze and communicate relevant data and research findings with focus on what works
  • as a support to drive knowledge into action, in order to capitalize from the knowledge gathered and to identify scalable solutions and enable rapid piloting
  • as a capacity builder, for example through the promotion and facilitation of professional development programs for teachers, policy-makers, administrators and educational leaders.

ESSA adopts a step-by-step approach.  Its activities will begin with a ‘vanguard’ group of countries and with initial themes. The ambition is to grow progressively our capability and competencies across all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

An example of an initial project is a Global University Network on education in SSA, in partnership with a world-class university in the UK. The purpose is to link a wide range of existing initiatives, all aimed at boosting the capacity, capability and quality of universities in the SSA region, to map the space, to stimulate new collaborations in the process and to encourage more investment into this critically important space.

ESSA is to be characterized by a high impact/cost efficient mindset, intent on building a track record of ‘big bangs per buck’ and it has young Africans at the heart. Shaping ESSA has benefited from the insights of young Africans and we will continue to include this valuable contribution through, for example, the creation of an ESSA Youth Panel.

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