Education Brings Me Back To Finland: Stephen Opuni Reflects on the 2019 HundrED Summit


This is a personal reflection blog from Stephen Caleb Opuni, Country Director for IDP Foundation Inc. in Ghana. IDP Foundation Inc. are a private non-profit foundation headquartered in Chicago with a branch in Ghana. They are dedicated to encouraging and supporting the development of innovative and sustainable solutions to complex global issues of which Education remains our primary focus. Their keystone initiative is the IDP Rising Schools Program, a groundbreaking education finance and training initiative created to empower existing low-fee private schools across Ghana. As a funder selected as one of Hundred’s Education Funders Collection this year, they participated in the Funders panel discussion, and shared their thoughts in relation to funding Education Innovations alongside other Funders. 

Arriving back in Helsinki after eights (8) years brought back a lot of memories to me. More specifically, it was quite significant to return during the cold and gray mood of the city around “Education” – that very issue that had first brought me to Finland in 2008. I am a proud alumnus of Helsingin Yliopisto. I studied Forest Economics and Policy in the University of Helsinki – Vikki campus. My educational experience in Helsinki is one that I hold dear and cherish not only because Helsinki University is a great academic institution, but also because the learning and living experiences in Helsinki remains in my top dinner table tales to share with my friends and family.

So, fast forward, eight (8) years after my studies and return to Ghana, I returned back to the familiar spaces of Kamppi, Espoo and Tennispalatsi was a great emotional experience burgeoning with a lot of memories, again not only because it was a returning pilgrimage to a city that was once called home, but rather because I was back in Helsinki to contribute to a Summit that was celebrating Education and innovation in Education – something that this great city gave willingly to me.

If I should attempt to describe the HundrED Innovation Summit in a few words – I would call it “a cafeteria specialized in serving fruit salads of diverse education innovations with the goal to spread and scale these great ideas”. The summit was a great learning experience in the sense that every one of the Hundred (100) innovations carefully selected based on its impact and scalability, had its unique relevance to contribute to addressing the myriad challenges in global K12 education. Beyond this, the summit also gives a glimpse of hope and opportunity in that, despite the overwhelming challenge and evident gap we face in meeting the sustainable development goal – four (4), we do not lack ideas and passionate entrepreneurs ready to contribute to meeting this goal. 

The idea of bringing education funders into the space created by HundrED for education innovators is a very relevant one. The spread and scale of education innovations is very dependent on funding and availability of the right education funders that are ready to commit to education innovations. That said, HundrED’s call to bridge the gap between education innovators and funders through the Summit and the HundrEDConnect is a noble initiative that would contribute to bridging the funding gap in education innovations globally

As I reflect on some of the key issues that remain relevant to funders within the education space, the issue of how we assess the impact of potential and current investments in education innovations is quite important. To what level do funders need to be assured about the impact of an investment before committing to fund? On the other hand, how do we measure impact? These are pertinent questions that have often meant different things to different funders.

I believe that education funders should increase their commitment and preparedness to embrace risk and also understand that some innovations might take a rather long time to scale and create that impact we seek. In addition, I believe that smart philanthropy often requires patience; how willing are we as funders to wait and come along with innovators on that journey towards impact and scale?

To innovators recognized in the HundrED Collection of Education Innovations, I would like to congratulate you ALL for daring to do what you do. You could have chosen any other field in which to invest your innovative minds but you choose Education. 

I believe that we collectively recognize the importance of education innovation in the varied contexts of the world in which we find ourselves; whether it is in Finland, USA or Ghana, in responding to the varied needs in these contexts. My call to education innovators is that: as you innovate, think about nurturing effective alliances, partnerships, and collaborations. Funders are as interested in broad and system wide change as they are about local and context specific change. 

Within those spaces of collaboration and alliance building, lies the potential of co-creating broader change critically needed if we would ever have a chance at meeting the SDG Goal 4 of ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The HundrED Education Funders Collection is a selection of inspiring education funders who share our passion to help prepare children to flourish in life, no matter what happens. Explore the Funders Collection Here.