We believe offering unrestricted funding is one of the effective ways to make a difference. It’s a central practice of trust-based philanthropy.

Unrestricted funding gives us scope to uncover the most innovative ideas

While we focus on education as the greatest driver of social progress, we don’t tie our prize to a particular theme or practice in that space. When our independent judging committee reviews nominations, they’re looking for proof of impact and ability to scale—not a particular type of intervention.

That means our laureates have a broad spectrum of expertise and work all over the world. Among them are neuroscientists and statisticians, economists, and educators. They’re tackling many different pieces of the education puzzle and bringing different ideas to the table.

To be truly ‘trust-based’, we must focus on rigor and equity

Some discussions around unrestricted funding raise understandable concerns that without clear guidelines, decisions could be subjective. That’s why we work closely with our laureates and their teams to understand their progress and map the impact as they go along.

We are also responsible for ensuring fair access to our prize. To do so, our judging panels represent a wide range of views and experiences. We welcome new judges, inviting fresh perspectives and encouraging robust deliberations.

We actively seek out nominations from as many different people and places as we can. That means reaching out to organizations all over the world to promote the prize and translating our nomination guides into different languages.

Flexibility means greater adaptability in an unpredictable world

Covid proved we can pivot fast—even in the slow-moving world of education systems. By trusting laureates to allocate funds to where they’re most needed, we can help them accelerate lasting transformation.

Take the team at BRAC, for example. As they were firming up project plans with us, the pandemic hit—and priorities shifted. With children unable to go to Play Labs, they swiftly developed the Pashe Achhi program: putting psychosocial support and learning through play into regular 20-minute phone calls to mothers of children aged 0-5. So the children still got to enjoy play-based learning, and their mothers developed the skills they needed to facilitate learning for child development.

And it can make teams more efficient as well as more effective

When an organization has the option to direct funds to where they see the biggest pressure points, they often use some to shore up their wider capabilities at the same time as pressing ahead with projects.

Pratham and Dr Rukmini Banerji, told us they did exactly that. While portions of funding went to programmatic tracks, the organization was also able to strengthen its central leadership and support teams. This may be less directly measurable, but it’s critically important.

Fundación Escuela Nueva founder Vicky Colbert chose to split prize funding across various streams—including expanding an online teacher training campus and engaging government stakeholders by offering matched funding opportunities.

Just as bakeries need good bakers, non-profit organizations need trained staff with the right skills to build rigorous and resilient programs that could make a difference.

Local problems need local solutions—and shared resources can expand opportunity

The work of our laureates, their teams, and partners shows us that the people closest to the issues are best placed to develop effective solutions and catalyze lasting change. And they can better navigate obstacles that might not be obvious from the outside.

For instance, AVPN talks about the ‘hidden costs’ of working in areas with marked inequalities. Unrestricted funding means those with the deepest understanding of local pressures can respond to them—offering interventions and services that might be complex to track, and so might deter funders with a more specific goal in mind.

In certain settings, some children face difficulty expressing their challenges directly to their teachers and become “invisible”. Take CAMFED’s flagship Learner Guide program as an example—where peer support from graduate volunteers work tirelessly to address the needs of these "invisible" children, going beyond the limitations of time and resources to keep vulnerable young women in school in areas where inequality is rife—and puts African women and girls in charge of their own destinies.

Partnerships can also help build capacity. Eric Hanushek is investing his project funds in a fellowship program to improve education decision-making across Africa. The project is run by the Global Education Analytics Institute, led by Executive Director Ramaele Moshoeshoe. It’s also supported by the Partnership for Economic Policy, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. Here, unrestricted funding opens up avenues for knowledge sharing.

Trust-based approaches are key to collaboration

When you bring so many diverse experts together, unrestricted funding is a show of good faith in their expertise. And because this approach attracts different kinds of expertise, it can unlock or accelerate unexpected collaborations.

Crucially, there’s mounting evidence that unrestricted funding works

Take this five-year study on unrestricted grants to non-profits. Over time, we’re seeing an impressive evidence base building up in favor of approaches like ours. Just like education systems, it’s important that we evolve, innovate, and debate the best ways to meet our goals. All the while evaluating progress and always asking: what’s the best way we can help?

Photo credit: BRAC

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