PALF has been investing now for almost five years. Each year we pull back another layer of complexity in our markets and leap forward. This past year was no different. In 2016, our markets continued to grow rapidly and, with them, our portfolio companies have also significantly expanded. We are impacting more learners at a deeper level than ever before.
Let me share one story with you that illustrates the depth and growth of our portfolio in 2016. In September I visited SPARK Schools, our portfolio company who recently closed a a $9M series B. Oliver, SPARK’s Blended Learning Lead, gave me a tour of one of SPARK’s new school buildings located in Midrand, just outside of Johannesburg. The school had been converted from a seedy night club into a brightly decorated, vibrant campus. We visited the learning lab – the computer lab where SPARK scholars spend 25% of the school day. There, Oliver introduced me to the Blended Learning Facilitator, Lucky. Last year, Lucky was a SPARK groundskeeper responsible for maintaining the school’s facilities; he was reliable, sharp and willing to learn. So, SPARK promoted him to assistant lab facilitator, and he completed training to prepare him for the new role. This wasn’t unique at SPARK – many people across the organization have been trained and promoted. No one has fixed skills and capabilities. Today, Lucky is able to dedicate his passion toward ensuring that students are able to seamlessly engage with their online materials, which is a critical part of their learning. For any education company to be truly great, the culture of learning has to be deeply embedded into the DNA of the company – everyone has to be learning constantly. One of the greatest signs of a learning organization with a dynamic culture is when board members are taken around the company by a competent and trusted team member with no oversight from senior management.
This story is not the exception across our portfolio companies – it’s a reflection of our carefully selected entrepreneurs who are driven by the belief in the transformative power of learning and financial returns that come from scaling.
Our portfolio companies drove our success in 2016:
- Reached over 450,000 learners in 7 countries
- Demonstrated efficacy through third party executed assessments
- Average revenue growth of 140% in US$ across the portfolio
- Partnered with government education systems in Liberia, South Africa, India, and the Philippines
- Secured follow on investments for further growth – SPARK, APEC, Avanti, and Sudiksha
- Expanded to Indonesia with our investment in HarukaEdu
- Recognized internationally including in Unreasonable’s Project Literacy and in The Economist
Our talented team has supported our portfolio and the sector in 2016:
- Deepened our measurement of learning outcomes and improved reporting
- Co-hosted the first Global Schools Forum – with participation of over 30 organizations
- Expanded to new sectors, business models and geography by closing our investment in HarukaEdu – the online courseware company that helps universities in Indonesia deliver high quality courses flexibly and at an affordable price
- Held a summit in Bangkok where we hosted over 20 companies
- Hosted 10 fellows who drove improvements across our portfolio – including helping to launch an English enrichment program at Omega Schools
- Published over 10+ blogs and knowledge pieces including a guide to affordable private schools for entrepreneurs and investors, examples of how to use teaching resources more effectively, and the investment opportunities currently available in higher education
- Contributed to global education investing gatherings including Lemann Foundation’s Start-Ed in Brazil, Education Innovation Conference in Kenya, IFC Education in Hong Kong, Harvard Business School in Boston, IPADE in Mexico, Kaizen Education Symposium in Dubai, Edtech Asia in Bangkok, Edtech X Asia in Singapore, SXSWedu in Austin among others
Our 2017 big trends
It is clear, now more than ever, that emerging market education is on the verge of transformation. We see several trends for the next year:
- Governments will seek to establish more public private partnership models with school chains and school management organizations like we’ve seen in Liberia, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Students in the Philippines are now attending 11th and 12th grade for the first time. Expanding school for an additional two years has created an educational gap that is being filled by quality affordable private schools; this is only possible due to the partnership with the government to provide students with vouchers to attend the school most appropriate for their situation. Liberia is seeing a similar symbiotic relation between private school operators and governments with the expansion of affordable private schools to fill the tremendous education shortages caused by insufficient public education. These stories are becoming more familiar all around the world as governments begin to experiment with choice and competition models – they are seeking higher learning outcomes for a more affordable cost.
- Demand for quality online higher education will surge and providers who can deliver programs with strong qualifications and a trusted brand will flourish. Across emerging markets young people realize that they need more qualifications and credentials to be successful in the job market. They seek university degrees but are often met with short supply, due to the limited number and incredibly high prices of brick-and-mortar universities.
- English is seen as the key to the global middle class, so schools, higher education options, and standalone products that can demonstrate an ability to rapidly improve students’ English skills are highly prized. English as the medium of teaching is cited as the number one attraction factor for APEC schools. On the other side of the spectrum, Karadi Path’s English language learning pedagogy doesn't just resonate with the hundreds of thousands of students using it, but also with teachers who are interested in speaking English better themselves.
- Technology will drive cost efficiency and enable strong learning models. It is not an end in itself. As we’ve seen with HarukaEdu in Indonesia, using internet enabled courses of existing respected university programs has extended reach and scale of a course without compromising quality.
These are just a few of the macro trends that we see across emerging market education systems. Systems are ripe for change in 2017 and will be led by consumer demand and government openness to innovative solutions.
Our 2017 priorities. We are excited for another year to build and strengthen our portfolio. We are nothing without our entrepreneurs and strong management teams. Our priority is first and foremost to them.
- Support our portfolio companies to flourish by building deep trust-based relationships with our entrepreneurs
- Diversify our investments in asset light business models – increasingly technology enabled solutions and those that capitalize on the big trends we’ve identified
- Further the conversations around efficacy – launch our efficacy website, publish a guide about how we measure efficacy and how it’s important to business growth and financial returns
- Drive potential deals in our pipeline into executed deals
- Strengthen our work with governments to show how our companies can help them jointly solve their challenges
A lot was accomplished in 2016 and we still have a long way to go in our relentless pursuit of growth and quality education. Thank you to our portfolio companies, co-investors, partners, parents and students. We look forward to learning and growing with you in a prosperous 2017!
Pearson Affordable Learning Fund