Girls' Secondary Education in Developing Countries

Grantmaking supported research, policy, and practical interventions that nurtured learner-centered education models and equipped economically marginalized girls with a core set of 21st century skills.


From 2011 to 2017, we made 73 grants totaling nearly $24.5 million.

Our Girls’ Secondary Education in Developing Countries grantmaking sought to improve the lives of vulnerable adolescent girls in India, Nigeria, and Uganda while laying the groundwork for fundamental improvements in education, policy, and research at the national, regional, and global levels. From 2011 to 2017, we made 73 grants related to girls’ education, totaling nearly $24.5 million. Work we supported yielded advancements in secondary education research, policy, and practice. A concentration on partnership and collaboration resulted in increased donor support, an increased number of organizations supporting policy and practice changes in-country that impact secondary school-aged girls, and contributions to international dialogue and research on the skills adolescents need in order to be successful later in life.

A Five-Year Exploration

In 2011, we began a five-year exploration in grantmaking to support Girls’ Secondary Education (GSE) in the developing world. Our goals were to: design and build a robust structure for donor collaboration, support relevant research to fill evidence gaps, and, with various partners, support innovative models that might be scaled by donors and governments.

Our grantmaking focused on supporting the 680+ million uneducated, undereducated, and unskilled youth in India, Nigeria, and Uganda, who are not prepared to participate in the labor markets of the future. By supporting education initiatives that give youth—particularly girls—relevant skills, the program aimed to better prepare these learners to contribute to economic growth, social development, and stability in their countries.

Why We Support This Work

Our national-level funding sought to improve teacher effectiveness through learner-centered and experiential approaches that enable teachers to act as facilitators of learning, improve adolescents’ learning outcomes through learning opportunities, and provide 21st-century employment-relevant skills training. In addition, we worked at the international level to build the evidence base and improve policy frameworks for relevant, quality learning for girls.

Through our grantmaking and engagement with government and other critical audiences, we worked to identify, test, and develop innovation possibilities at the country and regional levels that had the potential to drive systemic change and improve girls’ learning quality. These programs focused particularly on the issue of equipping learners with skills relevant to livelihood opportunities, including transferable skills like problem solving, financial literacy, and critical thinking, as well as basic functional skills like literacy and numeracy that research demonstrates are correlated with increased income.



In 2012, in order to bring attention and greater resources to important challenges in the often neglected secondary education space, we brought together like-minded donors to establish the Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE). The PSIPSE donor collaborative focuses on increasing secondary education access and improved learning outcomes for marginalized populations. The PSIPSE funds and scales in-country interventions that accelerate innovation; support experiential learning models that relate to young people’s lives; encourage evidence-based policy reforms; and capture and disseminate learnings to education leaders, researchers, and practitioners.

PSIPSE projects seek to:

  • Increase access, demand, and retention at the secondary level, with a focus on students’ transition from primary to secondary school;
  • Improve teacher effectiveness through innovative approaches;
  • Improve adolescents’ learning outcomes; and
  • Promote 21st-century employment-relevant skills.

Between 2012 and 2017, the PSIPSE donor collaborative provided more than $50 million in support of secondary education efforts in East Africa, Nigeria, and India.

Global Activities

Within the defined set of countries where our GSE program worked, impact was often dependent upon collaboration with local organizations, as well as global platforms that drive reporting requirements and education frameworks. We forged key partnerships to maximize the relevance and impact of funded projects, including the following:

  • Brookings Center for Universal Education: Global Compact on Learning—We were an early supporter of the Global Compact on Learning, which championed a new “access plus learning” agenda for the education field. Nearly all recommendations emerging from this initiative were incorporated into the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative launched at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2012.
  • Global Compact on Learning: Learning Metrics Task Force (LMTF)—We supported the LMTF to help bring together scholars and technical advisors from around the world to establish global education indicators focused on learning outcomes. LMTF was endorsed at the 2013 UNGA by the Global Business Coalition for Education and the Global Partnership for Education.
  • MIT’s J-PAL Post Primary Education Initiative (PPEI)—We supported the launch of the PPEI at J-PAL to accelerate the learning curve for the delivery of quality secondary education in developing countries.

Our Work's Contributions

Our seven years of engagement in girls’ secondary education drew to a close at the end of 2017. We leave the field confident in our work’s contributions to the advancement of empirical knowledge and improved interventions that will continue to produce small but significant victories and ultimately lead to a better world for adolescent girls. We have been honored to work with so many effective organizations that continue to drive progress on issues related to adolescent girls’ education.


  • Raoul Davion, Associate Director
  • Kristen Molyneaux, Senior Program Officer
  • Dipa Nag Chowdhury, Deputy Director, India Office
  • Oladayo Olaide, Deputy Director, Nigeria Office
  • Moutushi Sengupta, Director, India Office
  • Kole Shettima, Director, Nigeria Office