The transformative power of education in the fight against poverty

October 16, 2023

Zubair Junjunia, a Generation17 young leader and the Founder of ZNotes, presents at EdTechX.

Courtesy of Zubair Junjunia

Time and again, research has proven the incredible power of education to break poverty cycles and economically empower individuals from the most marginalized communities with dignified work and upward social mobility. 

Research at UNESCO has shown that world poverty would be more than halved if all adults completed secondary school. And if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills, almost 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. 


With such irrefutable evidence, how do we continue to see education underfunded globally? Funding for education as a share of national income has not changed significantly over the last decade for any developing country. And to exacerbate that, the COVID-19 shock pushed the level of learning poverty to an estimated 70 percent.


I have devoted the past decade of my life to fighting educational inequality, a journey that began during my school years. This commitment led to the creation of ZNotes, an educational platform developed for students, by students. ZNotes was born out of the problem I witnessed first-hand; the inequities in end-of-school examination, which significantly influence access to higher education and career opportunities. It is designed as a platform where students can share their notes and access top-quality educational materials without any limitations. ZNotes fosters collaborative learning through student-created content within a global community and levels the academic playing field with a student-empowered and technology-enabled approach to content creation and peer learning. 

Although I started ZNotes as a solo project, today, it has touched the lives of over 4.5 million students worldwide, receiving an impressive 32 million hits from students across more than 190 countries, especially serving students from emerging economies. We’re proud to say that today, more than 90 percent of students find ZNotes resources useful and feel more confident entering exams, regardless of their socio-economic background. These globally recognized qualifications empower our learners to access tertiary education and enter the world of work.

Sixteen-year-old Zubair set up a blog to share the resources he created for his IGCSE exams. Through word of mouth, his revision notes were discovered by students all over the world and ZNotes was born.

Courtesy of Zubair Junjunia

In rapidly changing job market, young people must cultivate resilience and adaptability. World Economic Forum highlights the importance of future skills, encompassing technical, cognitive, and interpersonal abilities. Unfortunately, many educational systems, especially in under-resourced regions, fall short in equipping youth with these vital skills.

To address this challenge, I see innovative technology as a crucial tool both within and beyond traditional school systems. As the digital divide narrows and access to devices and internet connectivity becomes more affordable, delivering quality education and personalized support is increasingly achievable through technology. At ZNotes, we are reshaping the role of students, transforming them from passive consumers to active creators and proponents of education. Empowering youth through a community-driven approach, students engage in peer learning and generate quality resources on an online platform.

Participation in a global learning community enhances young people's communication and collaboration skills. ZNotes fosters a sense of global citizenship, enabling learners to communicate with a diverse range of individuals across race, gender, and religion. Such spaces also result in redistributing social capital as students share advice for future university, internship and career pathways.

“Studying for 14 IGCSE subjects wasn't easy, but ZNotes helped me provide excellent and relevant revision material for all of them. I ended up with 7 A* 7 A, and ZNotes played a huge role. I am off to Cornell University this fall now. A big thank you to the ZNotes team!"
Aheed Karim

Alongside ensuring our beneficiaries are equipped with the resources and support they need to be at a level playing field for such high stakes exams, we also consider the skills that will set them up for success in life beyond academics. Especially for the hundreds of young people who join our internship and contribution programs, they become part of a global social impact startup and develop both academic skills and also employability skills. After engaging with our internship programs, 77% of interns reported improved candidacy for new jobs and internships. 

ZNotes addresses the uneven playing field of standardized testing with a student-empowered and technology-enabled approach for content creation and peer learning.

Courtesy of Zubair Junjunia

A few years ago, Jess joined our team as a Social Impact Analyst intern having just completed her university degree while she continued to search for a full-time role. She was able to apply her data analytics skills from a theoretical degree into a real-world scenario and was empowered to play an instrumental role in understanding and developing a Theory of Change model for ZNotes. In just 6 months, she had been able to develop the skills and gain experiences that strengthened her profile. At the end of internship, she was offered a full-time role at a major news and media agency that she is continuing to grow in!

Jess’s example applies to almost every one of our interns. As another one of them, Alexa, said “ZNotes offers the rare and wonderful opportunity to be at the center of meaningful change”.

Being part of an organization making a significant impact is profoundly inspiring and empowering for young people, and assuming high-responsibility roles within such organizations accelerates their skills development and sets them apart in the eyes of prospective employers.

On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, it is a critical moment to reflect and enact on the opportunity that we have to achieving two key SDGs, Goal 1 and 4, by effectively funding and enabling access to quality education globally.