Our story so far

ESSA has developed quickly since we were formally established in 2016.

Where did the idea come from to found ESSA?

From our founder’s experience on the ground in helping to build Warwick in Africa, a highly successful charity which teaches children and supports and trains teachers in slums and rural areas of deep poverty. The spark for ESSA’s start up is described in more detail in a blog From sick bag to take off .

A series of workshops with young learners and teachers in schools across the region as well as the views of major players in the space then informed what ESSA might do and led to the first formal concept for ESSA which was to focus on four things:

  • “Joining up”

  • Creating a “Go to” Knowledge hub

  • Helping to build Capacity and Capability and;

  • Finding out useful information that people really needed and want to know

As you can see from Our work these first ideas are now a reality, ESSA is already making a difference and Africans truly are at the heart of making things happen at ESSA.  

How did ESSA get established?

There have been three clear phases so far:

  • “Seed funding and validating the model”

  • “Raising significant start-up capital” and;

  • “With an initial focus on Higher education, forming partnerships, raising project funding and getting on with the work to prove the value that ESSA could bring”.

A set of principles to guide our work has driven progress and helped us to build the capabilities and relationships necessary to start to establish ESSA for the long term.

In addition to providing significant start up investment the Robert Bosch Foundation also provided a range of in-kind support including, most significantly, the secondment of Olaf Hahn as our Founding Director.


Why was the early emphasis been on Higher education

One of our most important principles has been to have a “step-by-step mentality”. We are setting out eventually to contribute to work across the entire spectrum of education across a wide geography in sub-Saharan countries with many different characteristics and cultures. We needed to start somewhere and avoid trying to spread ourselves to thin. 

Higher education was a natural place to start. HE institutions are focal points for education in regions, they usually train the teachers, are close to the labour market, conduct research on education and influence national and regional policy. They are also a natural gateway to other parts of the sector.

Why has the focus broadened to Tertiary Education?

The swift progress made with our first three projects has provided the confidence, platform, insights and relationships to take this logical and natural next step. In doing so we believe that we can leverage what we have learnt to date, our resources and relationships to create significant impact.

ESSA sees the Tertiary sector as including all post-secondary education, including both public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools. Across the sector there are some common opportunities and challenges in terms of surging demand, faculty development, links with labour markets, technology, the strategic priorities of their countries, research, scholarships and so on.

So what’s next?

Our current priorities are to:

  • Continue delivering high impact from our current work extending it into the broader Tertiary Education space.

  • Increase our capacity and capabilities as well as build additional partnerships in the broader Tertiary space.

  • Build and deliver OpenESSA, our digital resource platform, with our partner the Hasso Plattner Institute to maximise the value of the content we are creating.

  • Formally establish our pan-African youth panel and for its Chair to join the ESSA Board of trustees. 

  • Move some of our high potential seed projects to pilot phase (e.g. developing programmes for educational leaders.).


We have a huge amount more to do and we recognise that, like many of the young Africans we are trying to help, we are a long way from fulfilling our potential. Hopefully you will be inspired by what we are doing, would like to get involved and help us all to get there more quickly.