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By Anne Millar-Durrant and Jane Fiona Cumming

Young people are a collective voice for global action. The strength of this voice is wholly reliant on a key ingredient – education. Whilst progress to educate children worldwide has been made, there’s still a way to go. This blog examines the role for business in enabling all young people to get access to education.

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

The official definition of the social threshold for education is Adult population (aged 15+) who are illiterate and children aged 12-15 out of school¹.

Targets for the social threshold of education are not set at the scale required to make a difference in the world. We found that just 2.5% of the 240 companies we reviewed had set targets at a scale to ensure everyone meets our basic social thresholds.

As awareness of the financial impacts of human capital grows in 2020, and investors become more focused on the topic, we expect and want to see more companies prioritising their investment in human capital – especially in the way of education. Access to education is key, not just to fuel businesses growth, but to achieve the basic social thresholds needed for humanity to survive.

Although education throughout the world has been increasing over the last century, 14% of the world’s population are unable to read or write. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected region with 202.2 million adults (3% of the world’s population) suffering with illiteracy².

Literacy rates around the world in 2018 (World Bank)³. This map highlights the areas of highest literacy (dark blue) to lowest literacy (light blue). The countries in white are not reported.

A lack of education makes it incredibly difficult to break the cycle of poverty. Children from low income families are more likely to have a decreased school readiness⁴ and are more likely to drop out of school. In a USA study, students from families with the lowest 20% of income were five times more likely to leave high school than students who came from high-income families⁵. Lack of an education is a key factor in lifelong poverty, and consequently these people will continue to be left behind.

An education impacts every aspect of life, from health and sex education to language and religion. Consequently, people who have less education are more likely to suffer from a variety of adverse health outcomes as well as being less likely find a job and earn a living wage⁶.


So, what is the implication for businesses? In a macro sense, how can an economy expect its productivity to rise without skilled workers, and how are countries supposed to develop sustainably if the people are not empowered with the skills to do so?

Businesses report that they struggle to recruit school and college leavers with the essential skills needed for work⁷. If companies are unable to hire and retain enough employees with the skills to meet current demand, they might need to redeploy existing personnel, increase reliance on subcontractors or increase employee compensation levels. The knowledge and skills of workers available in the labour supply is a key factor for both business and economic growth⁸.

What can businesses do?

  • Create schemes to help, for example coding courses, CV writing and interview skills

  • Support women and girls, for example in STEM areas

  • Donate to charities with specific literacy programmes such as Save the Children

  • Leave no-one behind – create time bound targets that can impact the global population beyond your company.

Are you on board for providing education to your employees and the wider society?

If you are interested in assessing the impact you could, or do, make on social thresholds please contact us (

Further reading:












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