How can we deliver impact at scale in the education and skills sector? Insights from global philanthropies

On the eve of World Youth Skills Day, Divya Nambiar and Kritika Singh from our Education team draw on insights to elaborate on key pathways taken by philanthropies to deliver scale in the education and skills sector.


Global philanthropies are key actors in the education sector. They are involved across various levels of the education cycle - starting from Early Childhood Development (ECD) to Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) - and play diverse roles ranging from funder and implementor, to an evaluator, facilitator and a learning partner. At the core of their vision of success is achieving impact and sustainability at ‘scale’.

What kinds of pathways do philanthropies take towards achieving scale, to maximise impact?

We draw on insights from four key philanthropies to answer this question.

There are multiple direct and indirect ways to scale programmes.

Direct pathways of scaling include: partnering with government at different levels; creating and partnering with regional networks; creating innovative programme design; and expanding financial support and coverage of existing programmes.

Indirect pathways of scaling can include: developing an enabling policy environment to facilitate organisations to scale up; monitoring, evaluation and learning support for organisations; and investing in capacity building.

What do the key pathways to scale look like?

Our work with philanthropies in the education sector has shown that there are four broad pathways to scale: partnership, finance, learning and ecosystem management.

  • Finance: This is a key direct pathway to scale and can be leveraged in three ways:
    1. Catalytic funding: allows philanthropies to provide funds to support innovative ideas which can be experimented and tested in the field.
    2. Programme funding: Philanthropies also directly support a big government programme through programme financing.
    3. Targeted funding: Sometimes, philanthropies use partial or targeted funding to contribute to costs in small programmes or funding is targeted to meet a goal. For example, a philanthropy provides financial support to its regional partners to attend workshops and seminars.
  • Partnerships: This is a key direct pathway of scaling. Philanthropies build collaborations in three ways to scale up their programmes i.e. vertically, horizontally, and through networks.
    1. Horizontal collaborations are collaborations with other foundations, NGOs or organisations that work in the same sector.
    2. Vertical collaborations are partnerships between foundations and government to achieve scale.
    3. Networks provide a platform to organisations to come together to share best practices and learning.

Our experience shows that there is a need for clarity in roles and responsibilities when forming partnerships, as lack of clarity in role and alignment in multi-stakeholder partnerships could pose as a risk to scaling.

  • Learning: This can be both a direct and indirect pathway to scale. There are three aspects of learning that are crucial for foundations to achieve scale.
    1. Creation of networks: Philanthropies can form and convene networks which provides organisations a platform to come together for a specific purpose to learn and share good practices.
    2. Embedded and adaptive monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL): This ‘learning’ approach allows programmes to be flexible to adapt, modify, and then scale, according to insights that emerge from the field. Philanthropies recognise the value of learning and are keen to incorporate lessons learned into programme design and implementation.
    3. Knowledge sharing: Our experience shows that philanthropies have a rich trove of knowledge from their programmes. Disseminating and sharing these insights and best practices play a key role in driving scaling. Partners of philanthropies also value this.
  • Ecosystem management: This is a vital indirect pathway to scale and comprises of three key elements:
    1. Consensus on the definition of success: It is crucial to define success of interventions clearly and ensure that partners have a shared definition of success that they are all working towards right from the inception phase of the programme.
    2. Adaptability: Philanthropies often struggle with being flexible and maintaining their targets – embedding adaptability into programme design will enable them to navigate external shocks and continue to drive scale and maximise impact.
    3. Resilience: Our experience shows it is important for philanthropies to think about resilience when designing programmes to scale, this will also enable interventions to become shock responsive and adaptable.

What insights can we offer to philanthropies looking to scale up their work?

The figure below summarises some do’s and don’ts on how philanthropies can work in collaboration with partners to scale up their work.

For more information on these insights, please contact:

Divya Nambiar: [email protected]

Kritika Singh: [email protected]


Divya Nambiar is a Principal Consultant at Oxford Policy Management. She leads our global work in skills development, technical vocational education and training, and livelihoods.

Kritika Singh is a Consultant at Oxford Policy Management.

Areas of expertise