Around the world, we face a crisis in education. Situations ranging from wartime destruction to the COVID-19 pandemic interrupt children’s learning, which can lead to higher levels of illiteracy and economic deterioration.
To address acute global education needs, empower educators to deliver results and improve learning outcomes for children around the world, the Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) moved to operate as an independent trust fund hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The innovative partnership would provide an ambitious new mechanism for large-scale social financing focused on children’s education.
To advise them on the design of EOF’s independent hosted partnership at UNICEF, the team needed legal counsel with deep knowledge and specialized experience in the impact finance space. At the recommendation of other United Nations agencies, they turned to McDermott’s Ranajoy Basu and Priya Taneja.
Because this education outcomes fund followed a joint hosting model—with EOF becoming part of UNICEF when the deal closed—the McDermott legal team needed to draft an agreement that clearly and simply separated the role of UNICEF, as the fund trustee, from the role of EOF, as the fund administrator.
Despite anticipating a variety of complexities in crafting a deal that was clear without being too rigid, the team also aimed to create a fund structure that could easily be replicated by any organization for other impact finance applications in the future. They tackled three major issues in structuring this unique partnership.
First, the team had to address the complex nature of the deal: To champion the cause of educating children around the world, UNICEF and EOF hoped to aggregate social impact investments not just from traditional governmental sources, but also from sponsors in the private sector. This blending of public and private finances raised thorny regulatory questions.
Second, expecting that cash would flow between the fund and sponsors around the world, the team sought multi-jurisdictional solutions for regulatory, tax and charity law issues as they scaled the structure for a global outcome fund.
Finally, the team took into consideration the need for children’s education in the remotest corners of the world, which meant their global structure also needed to be able to empower grassroots movements in hyperlocal areas where funding is required.
The McDermott legal team worked for a year and a half to create a finely balanced structure and close the deal. As a result, EOF is now part of UNICEF and has an effective tool it can use to take action and achieve its goals. Within months of the education outcome fund’s launch, its $26.5 million program in Sierra Leone and $30 million program in Ghana had been fully financed.
Peter Mason, general counsel for UNICEF, praised McDermott’s “wise counsel to the team [to help] keep things focused on practical solutions, [which] added a lot of value.”
Jared Lee, co-founder and director of programs at EOF, said, “We are deeply committed to improving the effectiveness of aid, philanthropy and government spending by developing large-scale outcomes funds for education and employment. Our hosting at UNICEF is a critical step towards being able to do that, and we’re very grateful for the support from McDermott in helping navigate the legal complexities of the arrangement.”
UNICEF and EOF’s focus, drive and desire to have a positive impact on children’s education brought their objectives directly in line with the McDermott team’s passion for applying their legal skills toward the greater good.
As is typical in impact finance, the success of the UNICEF and EOF partnership from this point forward will be measured in steps, as they use the tool developed by their legal team to progress against their objectives. After projects are financed and funding is deployed to bring about change on the ground, measuring the real social impact of the program can take years.
The legal team will also monitor how the market reacts to the transaction, including whether other organizations use their fund structure as a model. Those indicators will help determine whether it will be a successful means for deploying much-needed funding in the social development sector.