In 2015, United Nation members and global leaders from 193 countries came together and committed to 17 sustainable development goals aimed at addressing extreme poverty, inequality, injustice, and destruction to our planet. One of the foundational elements recognized as critical to successfully achieving each of those sustainable development goals is education.
A healthy, knowledgeable population will support economic growth and quality of life. Economic instability and deterioration within a society will lead to lack of access to the elements to sustain life like food, shelter and safety. In that type of environment, the population will eventually revert to basic human instincts of survival with increasing crime, reduced confidence in government, and lack of respect for formal authority.
Basic economic principles tell us that natural resources (agriculture and mining) and entrepreneurship need to form the foundation for a stable economy, and to build consumer confidence. So why are some resource rich countries still struggling with positive economic development?
Global funding programs attempt to foster sustainable development and jump-start economic activity. Unfortunately, many global funding programs aimed at supporting the promotion of critical economic principles, inevitably facilitate reliance on foreign aid, creating a culture within the developing country of dependence rather than independence.
In addition to that complication, when external oversight of spending accountability is relaxed to provide opportunities for local authorities to exercise control, build systems and a sense of dignity… the issue of corruption becomes a serious threat to sustainability.
Recently I encountered a situation working with a developing college system receiving foreign aid, where the development of a critical college resource required the contribution of local industry experts. Typically, this type of resource within an educational system is not financially compensated to avoid significant conflicts of interest. An industry attitude of giving back, supporting community development, and being a part of building a qualified workforce from which industry would benefit is essential for a successful college-industry relationship.
When local industry representatives were approached by the college to participate, almost without exception, each individual expected to be compensated for their time and expertise. Moving forward with that proviso inevitably creates a situation that will not be sustainable and opens the door to destructive corruption and conflicts of interest. This expectation of compensation most likely evolved from a precedent having been set by external funding agencies using money to motivate people to participate in elements of development projects. Once given, it is hard to take it away, especially within cultures where even a little bit of money has provided a significant increase in quality of life.
Because education is one of the foundational elements for virtually all the sustainable development goals as identified by the United Nations, building quality educational infrastructures supported by both government and industry is critical to economic prosperity and quality of life for developing countries.
Notwithstanding the challenges, education remains a key factor in the progressive economic and social evolution for every population, regardless of their current state of development. As observed by the World Bank in, “Why education matters for economic development”, they identify education as a significant investment and one of the factors that explains economic growth.
Research by CaixaBank suggests a direct correlation between a country’s productivity and investment in education. “Education directly affects economic growth insofar as it is essential to improve human capital.”
And the World Economic Forum observed, “All countries, regardless of their national wealth, stand to gain from more and better education.”
So, what is the answer for developing countries seeking foreign aid for the advancement of their educational systems? Again, a deep understanding of the cultural factors that will play into successful achievement of the desired project outcomes is critical in setting up mutual expectations around the provision of funding. As well, all parties need to understand what needs to happen in post-aid environments and have a reasonable plan when faced with real cultural influences that may not be supportive of project goals. Having unprejudiced insights into the reality of supportive as well as counter-productive cultural factors are essential if there is to be any chance of sustainable educational systems being successfully implemented leading to progressive independent economic growth.