Gates Foundation taps Benjamin Piper to head global education program

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has appointed Benjamin Piper as its new director of global education. He will be based in the foundation’s Ethiopia office.

Piper was previously the senior director for Africa education at the nonprofit research institute RTI International, where he “provided support to large-scale education projects across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia,” according to a biography posted on the Gates Foundation’s website.

The Gates Foundation made no formal announcement that Piper had been hired, and foundation spokesperson Andrew Estrada did not provide details beyond Piper’s biography page. Piper’s LinkedIn profile says that he assumed the role in December.

The director position had been open since Girindre Beeharry, who helped launch the foundation’s global education program in 2018, stepped down early last year and transitioned to an adviser role. Beeharry died in September after a long illness.

During his tenure, Beeharry defended the foundation’s decision to make more limited investments in global education, in comparison to some of its other priority issues. The foundation launched its global education strategy with a four-year, $68 million budget.

While the foundation has determined it has a role to play in education, that does not necessarily mean it will be making a more significant financial investment in the sector, Beeharry told Devex last year.

It is unclear if that approach will change under Piper, who the foundation said will work with grantees to “improve foundational literacy and numeracy in low- and middle-income countries.” That is the focus of the foundation’s education strategy, which also emphasizes data and evidence to measure progress and improve education outcomes.

Piper has advocated for data-driven educational methods. He also previously worked as the chief of party for Kenyan national literacy program Tusome — meaning “let’s read” in Swahili — as well as for the Kenya Primary Math and Reading Initiative and the country’s National Tablets Programme.

He was the principal investigator for Science of Teaching, a Gates Foundation-funded effort to make large-scale improvements to pedagogy.

Piper is listed as a nonresident fellow studying effective large-scale education programs at the Center for Global Development, which receives funding from the Gates Foundation. He also is part of the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel formed by the World Bank, the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti.