Quality education is critical to social mobility and economic growth

Global Issues By Elizabeth Roscoe February 25, 2019

The world is getting richer and the world is getting poorer. September 2018 marked a global tipping point, when for the first time in history more than half of the world’s population could count themselves as middle class – or wealthier.

Yet even as market expansion and technological innovation lift millions up, they also threaten to leave many behind. Today, two billion people do not have access to the global economy. And emerging technologies like robotics and AI are expected to further displace as many as 800 million workers in the coming decades.

In this age of interactive social and commercial platforms, these pockets of declining fortunes will not occur in a vacuum. World markets are inextricably linked, as people connect from across the farthest reaches of the globe one business at a time and one family member at a time. Thus, the exclusion of even a minority hampers everyone’s path to prosperity.

Like most Western Union employees, I am proud to be part of a truly global company, one that helps consumers send remittances back home across the 200 countries and territories they serve. The Company’s work gives us a personal view into the sacrifices families make every day to fight for a better future. That’s why The Western Union Foundation’s mission — a mission that 84% of our employees support with contributions — is to make the path for those who are striving for a better tomorrow a little easier.

Education and workforce training are the surest pathways to financial inclusion, so that is where we focus our efforts. I am a particularly ardent supporter of teaching next-generation technology because it is so effective in meeting our two paramount goals: paving the way for entry into the global marketplace and allowing upward economic mobility.

Since 2015, the Foundation has been working to transform the lives of 50,000 of the most underserved youth by teaching them market-ready skills under our ‘Education for Better’ commitment. I’m proud to say that we have nearly completed this goal with the help of Western Union’s employees, agents and customers.

So, whether it is partnering with Boy with a Ball, a Costa Rican nonprofit, which helps educate Nicaraguan squatters, or mentoring youth outside our backdoor in Denver, you will find the Foundation working to fulfill our pledge — connecting the most vulnerable to a more prosperous future.


Workforce Training: Arming the Most Vulnerable with Skills for Success

More than 145 million youth work, yet still live in poverty. For them, vocational training in technology and micro-business skills are ways of securing safer and more rewarding jobs as well as an opportunity for social mobility. Using an invitation-based process, the Foundation funds a wide range of nonprofits to teach these demand-driven competencies.

Propelled by conflict, natural disasters and economic opportunities, 250 million people now live outside of their birth country – that’s up from 170 million in the year 2000. Since migrants and refugees in particular struggle to secure employment in their new host countries, we’ve put extra focus on programs that will ease their assimilation.

Re:Coded, for example, runs Android app boot camps for refugees in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen that teaches coding skills.  Rethink Relief, a collaboration between M.I.T. and a Greek nonprofit, provides a design-thinking workshop to youths arriving at refugee settlements in Greece without a family. These young people are encouraged to apply the skills they learn to solving problems in their own community.

I am particularly excited about programs that empower refugees to rise to leadership in their own communities. The Foundation’s long-term collaboration with the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), a nonprofit founded by Forest Whitaker, in the Kiryandongo settlement of Uganda trains refugees to promote peace and entrepreneurship to others in the refugee settlement and has developed impressive young leaders, reaching 10,000 to date.


Education: Money and Mentorship

It is no secret that the lack of more traditional educational opportunities also reinforces a cycle of poverty.

The Western Union Foundation funds nonprofits that actively work with at-risk populations and provide technology schooling and effective learning supports.

One Foundation grant recipient, Make a Difference, reaches children in homeless shelters and orphanages in 23 cities across India. Youth participating in Make a Difference programming have a university attendance rate of 80% compared with the standard 20% expected for youth in these communities.

We understand that advancing education into a successful career requires more than just financial support – it requires adequate resources. 68% of low-income students even in the developed world just aren’t getting the job skills they need for tomorrow.

That’s why we support solutions-oriented programs in our own backyard, such as the Denver Public Schools’ CareerConnect Launch Internship Program, which places students in a professional internship aligned with their field of study.

For those exceptional secondary students who are ready to take the next step and study for a career in the thriving fields of science and technology, the Foundation has provided 336 science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and entrepreneurship college scholarships through WU Scholars.


Good Things Happen When Corporations Engage the Global Workforce to Create Social Change

The Western Union Foundation could not be as ambitious or effective if Western Union’s global workforce didn’t wholeheartedly share our passion.  More than 84% of the Company’s employees contributed to the Foundation last year. The Foundation has responded by offering $2.1 million in gift matching to nonprofits in recent years. Moreover, 15% of Western Union employees volunteered their time in their communities, totaling more than 15,000 volunteer hours in communities around the world.

We also rely on our global workforce to amplify our message of inclusion through advocacy. To truly strive for inclusion in a new era of prosperity means that we need to help change the public perception around refugees. To continue advocating that refugees are not burdens to society but rather are people with tremendous untapped potential, two years ago we launched #IAmMore, our World Refugee Day social media campaign. The campaign celebrates the individuality and humanity of refugee and migrant populations – and inspired more than 35,000 people last year to share these stories on social media.


The immense challenges I’ve outlined give a glimpse into the urgency of our work. To learn more, view our impact report.