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“It is for the children that we make these improvements” – School Leader reflections on USAID CATALYZE EduFinance impact

By CATALYZE EduFinance

Mr. Nzibonera had overcrowded classrooms at his school in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Ms. Claribel was trying to do all the work herself to run her school in the Dominican Republic. Leaders of a school in Guatemala that educates learners with hearing impairments were struggling with the school’s financial management. In Zambia, a lack of financing options limited Ms. Stella’s plans to invest in her dream school.

Each of these low-fee private schools faced challenges. But, these same school leaders saw an opportunity to offer learners better access to quality education if they could simply unlock the full potential of their schools.

USAID CATALYZE EduFinance sees this same potential. For over two years, CATALYZE and Opportunity International have worked with low-fee, non-state schools and low-income families with learners in the DRC, Zambia, Tanzania, Dominican Republic (DR), and Guatemala to mobilize private finance in a financially sustainable manner for the non-state education sector, and achieve a measurable increase in equitable access and quality that ultimately drives improvement in learning outcomes.


Despite best efforts by many low and middle-income countries to invest in education, many public education systems are increasingly constrained by limited revenue. Non-state schools — many targeting low-income families — already exist across most countries and are often started by entrepreneurs to increase access to education in their communities. In low- and middle-income countries globally, more than one in four schools is non-state

CATALYZE EduFinance aims to redress a number of challenges facing non-state schools, financial institutions, and families in these regions. For example, cultural constraints in the DRC have systematically denied girls and women equal access to educational, social, and economic opportunities. While female participation has grown significantly, low transition rates into and throughout secondary grade levels have resulted in reduced education attainment for girls.

In Zambia, only 55 percent of learners complete the last grade of primary school, and only 64 percent of those that complete primary transition to lower secondary. While Guatemala reports a positive increase in primary net enrollment rates (88.5 percent in 2021), more than half are still struggling to access secondary education (with net enrollment at just 40 percent). In Tanzania, high fertility rates have increased demand for basic educational services and the ability of the state to finance the capital and operating costs of a quality education system has not kept pace with demand. In the DR, increased and customized financing options for low-fee non-state schools is desperately needed.


The CATALYZE EduFinance Activity was designed around a theory of change. While the theory of change is uniquely tailored to each country, there are linkages across each of the CATALYZE EduFinance country activities.

  • IF financial institutions develop appropriate products and services for non-state schools and vulnerable households with school-age children; and
  • IF non-state schools improve their management and teaching practices, and facilitate access to education for low and low-middle income children;
  • THEN learning outcomes for children, particularly from underserved communities, will improve.

To date, CATALYZE EduFinance has successfully engaged 42 financial institution partners across five countries by presenting the business case for investing in the non-state school sector, and offering technical assistance to launch loan products to improve the infrastructure and quality of schools, and to help parents pay school fees. Over $4.9 million private capital investment in non-state schools and families has been verified to date.

Through CATALYZE EduFinance, 865 low-fee, non-state schools and 314,000 learners have benefitted from access to tailored school fee loans, school investments that have contributed to an enabling learning environment, and professional development to school leaders and teachers through CATALYZE EduFinance’s EduQuality program.

But data alone does not demonstrate CATALYZE EduFinance’s widespread impact on the non-state education sector. Below, we hear from school partners’ continued commitment to improving education access and quality for learners through the Activity.


Complexe Scolaire La Lune – DRC

In 2021, Mr. Nzibonera, a teacher at Complexe Scolaire La Lune in the DRC, confirmed the enrollment of 161 additional learners at his school for the upcoming school year. While increased enrollment rates are a point of pride for the institution, overcrowding in classrooms can reduce the quality of learning — and subsequent learning outcomes— for students.

At the same time that Mr. Nzibonera was considering the capacity constraints of his school, SMICO, a financial institution operating in the same region, partnered with CATALYZE EduFinance DRC to develop a new school improvement loan that responded to the needs of low-fee school owners. Mr. Nzibonera applied and was approved for a loan to build six additional classrooms in 2021. By August 2023, he had successfully opened the classrooms.

Trifonia Academy  - Tanzania

Ms. Grace, school leader at Trifonia Academy, Tanzania, faced similar capacity constraint challenges. She was approved for a TZS 150,000,000 (USD 50,000) school improvement loan to be repaid over seven years. Since receiving the loan in March 2023, the school has already completed most of the classroom construction. Ms. Grace notes that this has changed the school environment: The loan allowed learners to access appropriate resources for their education, namely the new ICT computer lab room.

Ms. Grace plans to apply for another loan and build administration offices for the school, as well as purchase school buses and improve more of the school’s infrastructure, such as washroom maintenance. Additionally, Ms. Grace recognizes the importance of quality education for learners and wishes to attract skilled teachers by providing higher salaries.

Little Lulu School – Zambia

The opening of Little Lulu School in Zambia fulfilled school leader Ms. Stella Mubanga Kanswe’s childhood dream. From an early age, she wanted to pursue a career in teaching and was able to gain experience in one of the strongest school systems in Zambia at the time. She recalls a ‘smooth’ transition to opening her own school and turning her passion into a business. By the end of the first term, the school quickly grew to 65 learners. Today, Little Lulu has 180 learners enrolled and employs 16 teaching staff.

To expand the capacity and quality of the school, Ms. Stella has taken out three school improvement loans from CATALYZE EduFinance Zambia partner financial instituion Entrepreneurs Financial Institution (EFC). She used the first loan as working capital, and then purchased school uniforms and a school bus with the second and third loans.

Thanks to CATALYZE EduFinance, financial institution partners are providing the right loan products that school owners like Mr. Nzibonera, Ms. Grace, and Ms. Stella needed to expand their schools and invest in a supportive and conducive learning environment. By leveraging private investment from financial institutions, these and many other schools will continue to have sustained access to school improvement loan products designed by CATALYZE beyond the Activity end.


Albergue Nacional, the National Shelter Foundation for People with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities – Dominican Republic

Ms. Claribel is the Director and owner of the Albergue Nacional, the National Shelter Foundation for People with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities in the Dominican Republic. She first became aware of EduQuality program offered through CATALYZE EduFinance through the school’s financial institution, ASPIRE. Eager for additional support to continue improving her school, she agreed to join.


Ms. Claribel shared that she particularly values the School Leadership Professional Development workshop (SLPD) on ‘Leadership.’ As a result, she has implemented an organizational chart for her school and delegated specific tasks to her staff members, which allows her to manage her through her role more effectively. Most importantly, Ms. Claribel now understands she does not have to manage the school all on her own.

After learning new financial management skills through CATALYZE EduFinance workshops, Ms. Claribel has drafted an annual school budget, and feels she has been able to acquire skills to approach her school’s finances in “a peaceful state of mind.” She is also currently hiring an Autism Specialist Teacher which she has budgeted for.

Ms. Claribel has also set aside a budget to celebrate National Teacher’s Day, staff birthdays, and award a monthly award to her employees. She was able to provide a five percent raise for her teachers, as well as annual leave. She took all these steps after learning from CATALYZE EduFinance about monetary and non-monetary ways leaders can improve teacher retention and engagement.

Little Lulu School - Zambia

Little Lulu School, a partner in the Zambia EduQuality program, focused its second annual School Development Plan (SDP) on ‘Parent and Community Engagement’ after learning more about the important role of positive parent engagement through CATALYZE. Ms. Stella noticed that over the years, the level of commitment from parents was dwindling. Pulling from resources and training provided, she set up a new Parent Teacher Association (PTA), comprising of young and vibrant parents that were elected by the overall school community. The school now organizes regular activities that involve both the learners and their parents, such as open house days, sport days, and career days to continue increasing positive parent engagement with the school. 

Ms. Claribel and Ms. Stella both had ambitious dreams for the future of their schools. CATALYZE is providing practical school management professional development training that is critical for school leaders to run a sustainable, quality school.


Complexe Scolaire La Lune - DRC

Mr. Nzibonera learned that a priority of the Congolese government is to ensure that education is provided in both national and international languages. The school is now focused on providing training to all students in their national language, as well as continuing to provide a firm grounding in international languages, namely French and English. CATALYZE EduFinance supports this priority by offering in-depth teacher mentor professional development in phonics, utilizing both French and regional languages.

The school leader, Mr. Célestin, also explains that because of CATALYZE EduFinance training, he now recognizes it is crucial to increase the frequency of his class visits and observations. This is a new approach for the school, but critical to supporting teachers and improving quality.

Little Lulu School – Zambia

Although the two teacher mentors originally selected to participate in the EduQuality program have left the school, Ms. Stella was quick to find suitable strong replacements and continue the cascading mentor training programs in her school to ensure that all teachers benefit from professional development received through CATALYZE EduFinance. She notes strong positive changes in the classrooms, as teachers are using more best practice techniques and integrated teaching methods to benefit all learners. 

CECADA - Guatemala

CECADA — a CATALYZE partner school in Guatemala — is offering primary education for learners with hearing impairments as well as secondary, higher education and vocational training for adults with hearing impairments on the weekends. The school is currently educating 48 learners in primary school.  

The school leader, Ms. Sandra, shared the impact that CATALYZE EduFinance is having on her teachers through the Teacher Mentor Professional Development trainings. “We can see the progress that is being made in the classrooms every day,” she said. “The teachers are motivated and very committed to putting into practice each of the processes and strategies learned with EduQuality.”

These examples of partner school leader feedback from the DRC, Zambia and Guatemala demonstrate the many ways school leaders and teachers can transform teaching practices when given access to information and practical training. Teacher mentors that attend CATALYZE EduFinance trainings are able to return to their schools and demonstrate evidence-based teaching practices as well as classroom observations and peer coaching, while being supported by engaged school leaders.


Many low-fee non-state schools were started by passionate school leaders that wanted to offer more educational options to underserved communities. By partnering with these schools and reinforcing the many reasons schools should offer an inclusive approach to education, CATALYZE EduFinance is better able to impact low-income families and underserved communities.

  • At Little Lulu school in Zambia, Ms. Stella has a strong personal commitment to ensure girls learning is encouraged. The school regularly conducts self-awareness classes that help all learners, but are specifically focused on girls, to boost their self-confidence by teaching culture-appropriate courtesy, confident posture, speaking in public and a general appreciation of school and the value of education for their lives. Ms. Stella’s passion for girl’s learning was making an impact before CATALYZE EduFinance; however, with gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) content integrated in the EduQuality training content, Ms. Stella can now benefit from additional resources and guidance through CATALYZE EduFinance to continue increasing equity and inclusion at Little Lulu.
  • Albergue Nacional, which supports children with disabilities in the Dominican Republic was opened in 1992, and set in a vulnerable area of Sabana Pedida, a swamp just outside Santo Domingo. In 2003, Ms. Claribel joined the school to conduct a clinical internship as a psychologist. She was deeply troubled to find that chains were sometimes used to tie up children, untrained staff neglected children, and the school had accumulated debt and misappropriated funds. She committed her life to improving the community and transforming it into a school that functions as a safe space for all children in the community. CATALYZE EduFinance is proud to partner with school leaders like Ms. Claribel, who are already change agents in their schools, to ensure she has access to the best practices, skills and resources that unlock her school’s potential to expand quality education access to vulnerable children.  
  • In an effort to work towards greater inclusion, in 2019 CECADA in Guatemala opened its doors to students with hearing-impaired parents or relatives. CECADA is a pioneer in sign language courses for students and the public, and also offers sign language courses for parents and family members. Ms. Sandra shared that she sees the future of her enrollment in the EduQuality program as something that her school will greatly benefit and improve from, and that her teachers constantly aim to improve the quality of education tailored to the special need of hearing impairments. “It is for the children that we make these improvements. We not only see it as a job, but we wish to benefit our children who often have a very unfortunate future. We aim to be trained to change the future of children with hearing impairment.”

CATALYZE EduFinance and Opportunity International are proud to partner and equip these educators to ensure they have access to the financing, resources and professional development they need to further unlock the potential of their non-state schools, benefiting learners now and in many future classes with inclusive, quality education.


Read our blog about an educational entrepreneur's journey in Zambia.

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