September means back to school !


This is the time of year for us to celebrate all those who work to provide education for the world’s children.

The phrase ‘back to school’ brings out the child in me as all the memories flood back. The smell of exercise book covers, the evening textbook covering session surrounded by the family, the delight at meeting up again with all my friends and (some) of the teachers and the pleasure of learning... The phrase ‘back to school’ also gets me thinking. How many others don’t have these wonderful memories? Those for whom the same term evokes weariness, anxiety, unease, or even fear; for children who have no school to go to - the majority of them girls, for those who go to school alone, and who have no family support when they get home to talk about their day and discuss their work, and for those who don’t make it and leave school by default.

Around the world, at least 750 million young people and adults still cannot read and write, and 250 million children do not have the basics of literacy, according to figures from UNESCO. These numbers seem enormous! But we shouldn’t lose heart, because the number of children receiving no primary education virtually halved between 2020 and 2015, which means that 40 million more children have been able to go to school (source: UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report 2015, based on 2015 data).

This progress has been made possible as a result not only of public policy, but also of the work done by leading NGOs working around the world; organisations such as UNICEF, which also funds education programmes alongside its health promotion initiatives. The issue of education is one that gets people doing things, and many organisations are committed to supporting access to education for children excluded from the mainstream. The non-profit Enfants du Mékong is an excellent example: for the past 60 years, it has been sponsoring school education for children in seven Asian countries, and sends around 60 volunteers into the field every year.

I’m also delighted to see the projects and plans of the people we support through our corporate philanthropy service, who have set themselves the mission to counter inequalities in education. That brings to mind two fantastic stories that have resulted in impactful, practical projects. The first concerns Anne, who came to see us with this question: “I’ve recently received an inheritance from my father, who was an enthusiastic, passionate and famous scientist. As a retired educationalist myself, I wanted to use his legacy to do something that would promote the study of science in secondary schools and high schools.

What should I do? And how can I do it?” One of Anne’s daughters was also keen to be involved. After several months of consideration, discussion and making contacts, dedicated fund was set up in Anne’s father's name within a university foundation. Its purpose is to bring knowledge to knowledge by putting secondary school classes in touch with scientific researchers at the university. And the first of those projects will begin at the start of this academic year.

The story of Bettina and her three sons is equally inspirational. We met Bettina soon after the death of her beloved husband Areski, a committed entrepreneur and visionary. He was born into a poor family in Algeria, and his older brothers and sisters had no opportunity to attend school, because it was too far from their village. He was the first in the family to learn to read, self-educate himself and become successful. In France, he dedicated his life to building a group of companies, at the same time as being an attentive and exemplary father. His life inspired his sons and wife to create a foundation in his name.

“I want my husband’s memory to be honoured and his work to be continued: we would like to support educational projects, and particularly those that give children in underprivileged communities the opportunity to succeed, and thereby reduce the number of children failing at school”, said Bettina flanked by her sons as part of the speech she gave at the evening launch of the foundation they set up under the aegis of Fondation Entreprendre.

The first projects targeting primary school children have just been selected. So now is the time of year for us to celebrate all those who work to provide education for the world’s children. Because we know that education reduces poverty, the world becomes more peaceful, and humanity stands tall.



Claire Douchy Head of philanthropic and SRI offerings Societe Generale Private Banking