In January 2014, World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested $10 million in Bridge International Academies, a Kenyan-based firms that run hundreds of low-cost private schools in developed nations.
IFC investment was followed up by other high profile investees including Bill Gates — the world richest man –, Mark Zuckerberg (who invested another $10 million in Bridge in march this year) and other social enterprise investors.
World Bank’s involvement in funding school-models like Bridge International has come into question from aid agencies and civil right groups including ActionAid, Education for All (EFA) movement and Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida Kenya).
According to a Business Daily report, A total of 116 local and international civil society groups have ganged up to push the Bretton Woods institution to relinquish its investment in Bridge International Academies, saying it should instead fund public education.
Bridge International, which runs more than 400 private schools with about 100,000 pupils in Kenya, has been on an expansion spree into Uganda, Nigeria and India where it has replicated the Kenyan model.
Founded in 2007 by Jay Kimmelman, Shannon May and Phil Frei, Bridge International operates a franchise-like network of low-cost primary school in urban slums and rural areas that charge as little as $6 per month to poor parents.
Its target is to operate over 3,300 schools in Kenya by 2018, serving close to 2.5 million students with its break-even point at about 1 million pupils.
Bridge plans to reach 10 million pupils in over a dozen countries by 2025, both through attending their academies and working with partners to use their model beyond the schools, May told The Star in a recent interview.
“We call on the World Bank Group to stop promoting the model used by Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private schools, and publicly re-commit the World Bank to universal, free and compulsory basic education,” reads the groups’ protest letter addressed to the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim.
“If the World Bank is serious about improving education in Kenya and Uganda, it should support our government to expand and improve our public education systems, provide quality education to all children free-of-charge, and address other financial barriers to access,” the letter said.
Bridge International Academies put its expansion plans in Kenya on ice in September, after the government ordered all informal learning institutions not to set up new centers until a new law is in place.
World Bank’s president, Kim, came under fire for a speech he gave in April at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in which he singled out Bridge International as the only example of why it is important to invest in private education to end extreme poverty in developing nations.