Girls' Secondary Education in Developing Countries Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy. 

As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.

Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.


The Foundation supports efforts to improve girls’ participation in quality, relevant secondary education in four countries:  India, Nigeria, Uganda, and Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where support complements other MacArthur investments in the areas of maternal and reproductive health, human rights, and conservation. MacArthur also supports projects at the international level  that contribute to building the evidence base and improving policy frameworks for expanded access to quality learning opportunities for girls at the national level, particularly in our focus countries.

What MacArthur Funds

Our primary funding mechanism is an annual Call for Proposals issued jointly with donor partners brought together under the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education.
In addition to funding currently awarded through the the Partnership, a small number of grants are made independently of this process. Such grants respond to opportunities to leverage financial or in-kind support from donors, governments, and other actors. Letters of Inquiry (3-5 pages in length) are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year.
All girls’ secondary education grants align with the Foundation’s objectives of improving economically marginalized girls’ demand for, access to, and retention in quality secondary level learning opportunities that provide livelihood relevant skills. We fund four types of projects:

  • Pilot Projects that are developing and testing new models or feasible approaches to identified barriers and challenges.
  • Proof of Concept Projects that are rigorously testing a developed model with a well-defined theory of change that has proven impactful and cost effective.
  • Scale-up Projects that have been piloted and rigorously tested and are ready to scale at a local, regional, or national level.
  • Research to address critical questions or evaluate promising programs and that has the capacity to advance innovation in secondary education. Research projects must have strong likelihood of influencing policy and practice.

We fund the development of, and the evidence base for, education models that focus on either or both of the following thematic issues:

  • Equipping learners with skills relevant to livelihood opportunities: Preparing marginalized girls to enter the labor force and adapt to changing labor market demands by equipping them with core transferrable and basic functional skills (e.g., literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, critical thinking, financial management, and leadership skills) that research demonstrates are correlated with increasing income opportunities. We do not fund technical or vocational training that falls solely within the formal secondary education system and at TVET schools.
  • Increasing girls’ access, demand, and retention within formal and non-formal secondary level learning environments: Improving the delivery of non-formal and government provided education to marginalized girls, particularly through non-financially-based approaches or incentives. 

Funded projects are responsive to local cultural contexts, may make appropriate use of technology, and have clear pathways to institutionalization within or alongside education systems.

Geographic Focus Areas

Applicants may submit projects for consideration pursuant to the above outlined thematic areas of interest in:

  • Nigeria (particularly the states of Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa, Lagos, Rivers, and Cross Rivers)
  • India (particularly the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra)
  • Uganda (particularly the following regions: Northern Uganda, West Nile Sub-region, and Western Uganda)
  • Eastern DRC (particularly North Kivu, South Kivu, Province Orientale, and Maniema)

Operational Guidelines

We encourage applicants to consider the following in project design:


  • Planning and implementing interventions in consort with local actors and educational authorities, such as local education ministries, professional associations, and civil society groups
  • Inclusion of rigorous monitoring in project design to promote and document learning during and at the conclusion of project implementation
  • Identification of specific pathways, actors, and steps necessary for achieving desired outcomes and for scaling up educational interventions in a future project phase


Updated April 2014