Our Strategy

Secondary education grantmaking aims to improve participation by marginalized girls in quality, relevant secondary education, with the expectation that advances will have positive implications for both girls and boys. 


More education for girls brings well demonstrated benefits for them and related benefits for the whole society. Girls with higher levels of education on average marry later, have smaller families, survive childbirth at higher rates, experience reduced incidences of HIV/AIDS, have children more likely to survive to age five, earn more, and contribute to higher rates of economic growth at the national level. Our funding aims to improve participation by marginalized girls in quality, relevant secondary level learning, with the expectation that advances will have positive implications for both girls and boys.


Grantmaking focuses on learning opportunities for adolescent girls in formal lower and upper secondary education and non-formal equivalents of those educational levels. These critical years of schooling are designed to complete the provision of basic education and equip girls with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to transition to work or higher education, and to be healthy and productive citizens.

In recent decades, there has been significant progress toward the goal of universal primary education. More children enrolling in and completing primary education has increased demand for secondary education, but participation rates are much lower at secondary levels, especially in developing countries and particularly for girls. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has a primary school enrollment rate of 77 percent, but secondary level enrollment is only 36 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rates of secondary school participation and the highest rates of gender disparities of any region in the world, and these challenges only become more acute as children move to successive grade levels. In India, enrollment rates at the secondary level are also low, at 57 percent, with girls underrepresented. Governments in developing countries are thinking seriously about how to provide secondary education on a large scale, and there is a surge of donor interest in this area. While we understand much about the barriers to secondary education, less is known about which intervention strategies are best for keeping girls in school and improving learning outcomes than is known about the primary level, offering an opportunity to test innovative models and fund research.

MacArthur’s investment in secondary education builds on different areas of Foundation activity. Education at this level strengthens Foundation initiatives to reduce maternal mortality and promote young people’s reproductive health. It creates possibilities for girls who have suffered human rights violations in conflict-affected zones such as northern Uganda to be reintegrated into society. Secondary education also expands opportunities for female entrants into higher education in places like Nigeria, where MacArthur has worked for over ten years with some of the country’s leading universities.

Our support for secondary education is further informed by the A Global Compact on Learning, an agenda developed by a variety of stakeholders in the field of education and published in 2011 by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, which lays out challenges, priorities, and key strategies in education for the developing world. Key elements of the Compact have been adopted by the UN Secretary General’s special initiative, Global Education First, a five-year commitment to work toward enrolling every child in school, improve the quality of learning, especially for the marginalized, including girls, and foster global citizenship. MacArthur, other donors, and partner organizations are building alliances to advance key elements of this agenda.

Strategic Approach

The Foundation is in an exploratory phase of its investment in girls’ secondary education, the results of which will further define our theory of change and long-term focus areas for grantmaking. We operate with the belief that the scale and complexity of the challenges in secondary education and the range of involved actors (public officials, civil society groups, multilateral organizations, private corporations, and foundations) requires a collaborative approach. MacArthur works in collaboration with other donors through the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education, the Global Compact on Learning, the International Education Funders Group, and the Global Partnership for Education. By pooling knowledge and resources, initially we aim to:

  • Fund pilot projects that offer innovative solutions to girls’ learning and access to education and engage stakeholders in the scaling up of successful models;
  • Support policy-relevant research and the development of a research agenda that address gaps in the knowledge base on secondary education and improves girls’ access to education and quality learning; and
  • Advance evidenced-based advocacy to strengthen national and sub-national secondary education policy development and implementation

By improving the knowledge base through research and applied interventions, and fostering efforts to implement successful models with other partners, the Foundation will channel its resources towards secondary education programs that positively affect girls’ learning and access to education and enhance education outcomes for all.

Geographic and Programmatic Priorities

Both access to and the quality of secondary learning opportunities are emphasized. MacArthur funds projects focused on girls that develop the evidence base for cost-effective, potentially scalable interventions. Substantive areas of interest to the Foundation include:

  • Increasing girls’ demand for secondary education through non-financially-based approaches or incentives
  • Assessing the impact of information and communications technologies on student learning and teacher training. This includes educational technologies and open educational resources that improve access to and quality of learning in the face of growing demand for education and limited resources.
  • Increasing the relevance of secondary level learning to girls’ life and employment skills
  • Improving the effectiveness of secondary level teachers

Geographic Focus

The Foundation works on secondary education in three countries: Nigeria, India, and Uganda where funding complements other MacArthur investments in the areas of maternal and reproductive health, human rights, and conservation. The Foundation also partners with others at the international level.


Improving the evidence base for approaches that improve girls’ access to quality secondary level learning is a core objective of programming. As such, monitoring and evaluation are critical both at the project and program levels. In the latter category, the Foundation’s investment in girls' secondary education will be assessed over time in relation to the following:

  • Impacts on girls’ access to education and quality of learning in Uganda, Nigeria, and India
  • Development of a robust evidence base through research and related activities to inform secondary education interventions
  • The degree to which the Foundation partners with other donors to pursue data driven interventions to advance quality, relevant secondary education


Updated April 1, 2013


Portrait of Barry Lowenkron

Barry Lowenkron

Vice President, International Programs
Portrait of Raoul J. Davion

Raoul J. Davion

Associate Director, Girls' Secondary Education

Renee Munro

Executive Secretary
Portrait of Dipa Nag Chowdhury

Dipa Nag Chowdhury

Deputy Director, India Office
Portrait of Stephanie Platz

Stephanie Platz

Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Planning
Portrait of Kole A. Shettima

Kole A. Shettima

Director, Africa Office

Oladayo (Dayo) Olaide

Deputy Director, Nigeria Office
Portrait of Yvonne Darkwa-Poku

Yvonne Darkwa-Poku

Program Officer
Portrait of Jennifer Humke

Jennifer Humke

Program Officer, Digital Media & Learning
Portrait of Kristen J. Molyneaux

Kristen J. Molyneaux

Program Officer, Development and Education

Erin Sines

Acting Director, Population & Reproductive Health

Michelle Holmes

Special Assistant
Portrait of Gabriela Suarez

Gabriela Suarez

Program Administrator
Portrait of Laura Young

Laura Young

Program Associate