Our story so far

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

Where did the ideas come from to found ESSA?

The ideas which led to our formation were the product of a healthy cocktail of feeling frustrated and seeing opportunity. The frustration came from our founder’s experience on the ground in helping to build Warwick in Africa, a highly successful charity which teaches children and trains teachers in slums and in rural areas of deep poverty. 

The opportunities he saw, came from exactly the same place in him seeing ways to work with others to help solve some of the more complex systemic issues, and to mobilise the many people who knew what needed to be done but didn’t have the resources or connections to change things with those that did. 

His strong conviction was that Africans should be at the heart of everything that ESSA would do. This started with a series of workshops with learners and teachers in schools across the region to inform what ESSA might do.


The first formal concept for ESSA was for it to focus on four things:

  • “Joining up”

  • Creating a “Go to” Knowledge hub

  • Helping to build Capacity and Capability and;

  • Finding out information that people really need and want to know

As you can see, just two years on from formation, these first ideas are now becoming a reality. Africans truly are at the heart of making things happen at ESSA and ESSA is starting to make a difference. 


How did ESSA get established?

There have been three clear phases so far:

“Seed funding and validating the model”

“Raising significant start-up capital from the Bosch Foundation” and then

“Forming the partnerships, raising project funding and getting on with the work to prove the value that ESSA can bring”.

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

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

As you can see from Our work our first projects and partnerships have built strong momentum and in some cases, such as our work on the demographics of faculty and on transforming the visibility and accessibility of research carried out by African researchers, are starting to raise awareness and change the discourse already. 

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 to help them and us get there more quickly.


Why has 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 to contribute to work across the entire spectrum of education across a wide geography in countries with many different characteristics and cultures. We needed to start somewhere and avoid trying to spread ourselves to thin. 

Higher education is 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.


So what’s next?

Our current priorities are to:

  • Deliver high impact from our current work.

  • Build and deliver OpenESSA our digital resource platform with our partner Hasso Plattner Institute.

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

  • Complete the work and raise the money to take our embryonic Knowledge Hub to the next stage.

  • Move our work on the state of educational data and data science capacity and capability in the region from seed to pilot stage. 

  • With our partners establish our first development programmes for educational leaders.