By Joseph Di Silvio and Liesbet Peeters, Impact Manager and Managing Partner (respectively), LEAP Partnership, Volta Capital

11 September 2019 - 11:40

After putting herself through medical school for the past five years, Mercy is about to drop out of her programme, just shy of graduating, having exhausted all possible options to pay for tuition. 

On the other side of Nairobi, Peter dreams of becoming an engineer, but he is the oldest of six, and would be the first ever in his family to pursue a tertiary degree. The government’s support will reduce his tuition fees greatly, but will not cover his housing off campus or the laptop he needs. At 18, with no income or collateral of his own, he was turned away empty handed when applying for a commercial loan. 

Opening access to higher education

The Lending for Education in Africa Partnership (LEAP) is a social lending fund that provides affordable finance to Peter and Mercy, along with hundreds of other youth from low and middle-income backgrounds in East Africa who are pursuing higher education and cannot access conventional commercial loans nor benefit from bursaries or scholarships.

In addition to its tailor-made loans, LEAP also offers its Fellows career readiness and financial literacy training, and forges partnerships to create pathways to gainful employment for its supported students. 

LEAP is managed by a dedicated team at Volta Capital, in partnership with the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Future First Global, Equity Group Foundation and Lundin Foundation. 

LEAP has been active since 2018 and currently supports more than 550 Fellows, who are enrolled in five Kenyan universities. 

LEAP’s impact to date

To date, 83 per cent of LEAP Fellows come from the bottom three wealth quintiles in Kenya, and nearly 40 per cent from the poorest quintile based on the urban distribution of wealth (1). This has far exceeded LEAP’s initial expectations, as students from the top wealth quintile in Kenya enrol in higher education at a rate 13 times higher than Kenyans from the bottom wealth quintile, and only 27 per cent of Kenyan post-secondary students come from the bottom three wealth quintiles. (2) 

In addition, in LEAP’s recent Annual Survey, 85 per cent of Fellows reported that without their LEAP loan they would not be able to finance their studies and 22 per cent of Fellows reported that they had at some point in the past deferred or discontinued studies due to financial need. LEAP Fellows have made it clear through their feedback that LEAP is vitally needed - 99 per cent of Fellows agree or strongly agree that LEAP is important for students like them, and 98 per cent report that they would recommend LEAP to a friend. 

At present, nearly half of all Fellows are the first in their family to attend university, and 26 per cent are from a household where their parents/guardians did not complete secondary school. This is of particular importance for two key reasons: 

  • First, children whose parents completed at least secondary school are 10 times more likely to attend university than those whose parents did not. (3) 
  • Secondly, the investment in higher education is a powerful lever for upward socio-economic mobility. According to most recent data, the return on investment from each additional year of higher education in Kenya is over 20 per cent.  (4)

LEAP looks forward to continuing to empower young people like Mercy or Peter who otherwise would not have access to higher education to substantially increase the well-being of their families and contribute to building stronger, more resilient economies and societies.

(1) Data collected using the Equity Tool questionnaire. (2) Data pulled from the World Bank's EdStats Database, using data collected during the most recent 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). (3) World Bank. 2017. Darvas, et al. Sharing Higher Education’s Promise beyond the Few in Sub-Saharan Africa. (4) World Bank. 2014. Montenegro, Claudio & Patrinos, Harry. Comparable Estimates of Returns to Schooling Around the World.  Note: private returns to education are typically defined as the estimated proportional increase in an individual’s labour market earnings from each additional year of schooling completed.