ESSA Appoints New CEO Lucy Heady

01 Jun, 2020

Lucy Heady, ESSA CEO

ESSA is delighted to announce the appointment of Lucy Heady as our new CEO. 

Lucy has been ESSA's Knowledge and Programmes Director since 2019, driving forward our strategic vision.  

Lucy brings nearly fifteen years of experience in generating and using evidence to improve education, both in the UK and internationally. Most recently she has worked at Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, as the Impact Director and at the Children's Investment Fund Foundation leading on assessment of evidence and managing evaluations for the education portfolio. 

She holds an MSc in Economics from Birkbeck College and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge. 

Lucy Heady, said: 

“Tertiary education in sub-Saharan Africa is facing one of the biggest challenges it will ever face: preparing a skyrocketing youth population for a rapidly changing and uncertain world of work. It is a privilege to help lead ESSA in supporting the sector as it adapts to this challenge.  

As the new CEO I am excited to be leading an organisation that fosters collaboration across a fragmented sector and uses data and evidence to support effective decision-making. With our African partners at the heart we aim for long-term, systemic change that will see more young people in fulfilling and productive work.” 

Patrick Dunne, ESSA Chair of Trustees, comments on the leadership transition:  

"Lucy has a strong track record in social impact, has already made a significant contribution to ESSA and is the natural successor to Olaf, whose secondment from the Robert Bosch Foundation ends shortly.  

As our first CEO, Olaf has done a tremendous job in establishing ESSA and leading our growth since start-up. He has built a strong team and mobilised a powerful group of partners to help ESSA in joining up, informing, inspiring, and increasing impact for those investing in transforming education outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. " 

Olaf was appointed Founding Director of ESSA in 2016 and CEO in 2019, on secondment from his position as Senior Vice President and Head of the Education, Society and Culture department at the Robert Bosch Foundation. 

He also as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Development with the Robert Bosch Foundation, is responsible for developing strategy to support Education in Africa and brining valuable insight to ESSA.   

Olaf has led ESSA’s transition from start-up to an organisation led by a dedicated team of staff based in several countries around the world. 

This work has included the launch of ESSA’s African Education Research Database hosting over 3,600 pieces of research by African scholars, the Demographics of Faculty study which informed the Ghanaian government with an analysis of faculty needed to meet the growing student population, and insights on the accessibility of scholarships for students in sub-Saharan Africa which will feature in UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring report (GEM) launching in June 2020.

Olaf Hahn, said: 

“It has been a fantastic experience to co-create this organisation. When I started in 2016, all we had was a concept. Now, ESSA is a recognised brand with a great team and an exciting initial track record, working in partnership with organisations across the continent. The foundations are laid for ESSA to truly contribute to its vision to 'Transform tertiary education: increasing employment for young people in sub-Saharan Africa.'

The time has come for me to move on to my next venture. I could not imagine a better successor than Lucy Heady who is a wonderful person and a great leader. I am very glad that I will still support the organisation in the next months as a Director & Senior Advisor.” 

Dr. Anthony Egeru, Program Manager, Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), said: 

"On behalf of the RUFORUM Secretariat, we would like to sincerely thank Olaf for building the partnership between RUFORUM and ESSA. We appreciate Lucy's appointment as the new CEO and remain committed to advancing the partnership between the two institutions.” 

Nicola Dean, Program Manager, Dubai Cares, said: 

"I am excited to see what Dubai cares and ESSA will achieve together. I have no doubt that Lucy will provide the partnership excitement and leadership." 

For media inquiries or to request an interview please contact Gemma Munday on +44 7551742384 or