Beyond the data: CATALYZE EduFinance school partners across Africa and LAC share impact of CATALYZE technical assistance and education quality support

6 min readJan 18, 2024
Photo: Opportunity International

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Nzibonera’s classrooms were overcrowded. In Zambia, lack of financing options limited Ms. Stella’s plans to invest in her ‘dream school’. In the Dominican Republic, Ms. Claribel struggled to run her own school, and in Guatemala, school leaders were struggling to manage their institutions’ finances.

Despite these challenges, each of these school leaders saw an opportunity to offer learners better access to higher quality education — they just needed to unlock their full potential. USAID CATALYZE EduFinance had the keys.

The USAID CATALYZE EduFinance Activity uses a blended finance approach — the strategic use of USAID funds and private capital — to improve and sustain learning outcomes for children and youth globally, particularly those most vulnerable to accessing quality education. By mobilizing private sector capital, particularly for non-state schools and education enterprises, CATALYZE is addressing a substantial global funding gap in education, estimated to be $148 billion annually by UNESCO in 2020.

Why non-state education?

In 2023, 250 million children were out of school. Governments have long relied on non-state actors, including private schools, independent educational institutions and other entities that are not funded by the government, to provide finances, goods, and services to the education sector. In low- and middle-income countries globally, more than one in four schools is non-state. While demand for education continues to rise, insufficient revenue remains a major barrier for non-state schools to provide quality education.

CATALYZE EduFinance and Opportunity International work with low-fee, non-state schools and low-income families of learners in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Tanzania, Dominican Republic (DR) and Guatemala. Together they mobilize private finance in a financially sustainable manner for the non-state education sector through our tested Technical Assistance & Education Quality model. This model employs a two-pronged approach: Education Quality, which strengthens the quality of affordable non-state primary schools, and Financial Institution Technical Assistance, which supports education financing by developing, launching, and growing sustainable lending portfolios.

CATALYZE EduFinance has successfully partnered with 42 financial institutions across five countries, presenting a compelling business case for investing in the non-state school sector. CATALYZE provides technical assistance to launch loan products that will improve the infrastructure and quality of schools, and help parents pay school fees. To date, non-state schools and families have received more than $4.9 million in private capital investment, leading to tangible benefits for 865 non-state schools.

Success Stories: Financial Institution Investments Improve Infrastructure Quality in the DRC, Tanzania, and Zambia

DRC: In 2021, Mr. Nzibonera, a teacher at Complexe Scolaire La Lune in the DRC, confirmed 161 additional learners enrolled in the school. While increased enrollment rates are a point of pride for the institution, overcrowding in classrooms can reduce the quality of learning — and subsequent learning outcomes — for students. SMICO, a financial institution operating in the same region, partnered with CATALYZE EduFinance DRC to develop a new school improvement loan (SIL) that responded to the needs of low-fee school owners. For example, CATALYZE SIL products allow repayment dates to align with schools’ unique cash flows, offering termly, monthly, and seasonal repayment options. Applicants, who are typically entrepreneurial educators who have started affordable non-state schools in underserved communities, are also able to use alternative forms of collateral such as pledges and endorsements to obtain credit. Mr. Nzibonera applied and was approved for a loan to build six additional classrooms in 2021 using the private capital from SMICO, which opened in August 2023.

Tanzania: Ms. Grace, a school leader at Trifonia Academy faced similar capacity constraint challenges and was approved for a TZS 150,000,000 (US$50,000) school improvement loan to build additional classrooms, including a new ICT computer lab. Since receiving the loan in March 2023, the school has completed most if its construction using the private capital (not USAID funding), which has improved leaners access to appropriate resources and contributed to an improved school environment. Ms. Grace plans to apply for another loan and build administration offices for the school, as well as purchase school buses, improve the school’s infrastructure, and provide higher staff salaries to attract skilled teachers.

Zambia: To expand the capacity and quality of the Little Lulu school in Zambia, School Leader Ms. Stella took out three school improvement loans from CATALYZE EduFinance Zambia partner EFC. She used the first loan as working capital, and then purchased school uniforms and a school bus with the second and third loans.

Thanks to CATALYZE EduFinance, financial institution partners are providing loan products that school owners like Mr. Nzibonera, Ms. Grace, and Ms. Stella need to expand their schools and invest in supportive and conducive learning environments. By leveraging private investment from financial institutions, these and many other schools will continue to have sustained access to school improvement loan products designed by CATALYZE EduFinance by the end of the project.

EduQuality: Improving School Management and Teaching Practices in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic: Ms. Claribel serves as Director of the Albergue Nacional, the National Shelter Foundation for People with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities in the Dominican Republic. As a result of CATALYZE EduFinance EduQuality professional development workshops, she implemented an organizational chart for her school and delegated specific tasks to her staff members, which has allowed her to manage her role more effectively.

She has gained new financial management skills through the EduQuality program enabling her to draft an annual school budget. Ms. Claribel feels equipped to approach her school’s finances in “a peaceful state of mind.” She is also currently hiring an Autism Specialist, which she has budgeted for. She was also able to provide both a five percent raise and annual leave benefits for her teachers.

Guatemala: CECADA — a CATALYZE partner school in Guatemala — is offering primary education for learners with hearing impairments as well as secondary, higher education, and vocational training for adults with hearing impairments on the weekends. The school is currently educating 48 learners. School leader Ms. Sandra highlighted the impact CATALYZE has had on her teachers through EduQuality Teacher Mentor Professional Development trainings. “We can see the progress that is being made in the classrooms every day,” she said. “The teachers are motivated and very committed to putting into practice each of the processes and strategies learned with EduQuality.”

Looking ahead

School leaders and teachers can transform teaching practices when given access to information and practical training. Teacher mentors that attend CATALYZE trainings are able to return to their schools and demonstrate evidence-based teaching practices, classroom observations, and peer coaching, with tailored support from engaged school leaders.

Learning and adaptation will help us to achieve results beyond any individual activity — beyond CATALYZE, and beyond USAID — and help to make the case for continued investment in non-state education. As part of our steadfast commitment to increasing education access and quality, CATALYZE Education will continue to build on and communicate our multi-layered evidence base around finance and non-state education that draws from country- and global-level public and private sector perspectives.

CATALYZE EduFinance is proud to partner and equip these educators to ensure they have access to the financing, resources, and professional development they need to further unlock the potential of their non-state schools, benefiting learners now and in many future classes with inclusive, quality education.

This story was originally published by Opportunity International on January 9th, 2024, and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Read the full version here.


USAID CATALYZE (2019–2027), implemented by Palladium, is a $250 million contract designed to mobilize $2 billion in private capital towards underserved sectors, geographies, and populations across 39 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean (LAC). CATALYZE co-creates with Missions, Bureaus, and Independent Offices (MBIOs) to design multi-year, results-based activities that are managed by Palladium and implemented by a broad network of principally locally led implementing partners.