“I was born in a thatched hut in Kisii, Kenya, with prospectuses of Oxford and Cambridge on our bookshelf, those being vestiges of my father's dreams that were never realised”.
That was the beginning of Lydiah Kemunto Bosire’s journey that took her to the halls of University of Oxford and through the United Nations to her dream of establishing 8B Education Investments. Her journey is testament to the power of perseverance and the unyielding pursuit of education.
Now, as the Founder of 8B, Lydiah has embarked on a mission to ensure that African students can access global education ecosystems with her pioneering finance solution. Her vision is to propel Africa forward as an intellectual equal, dismantling the harmful narratives that overshadow and dim the abundance of brilliance across the continent.
Lydiah is the fifth founder to be featured in our series on Africa’s Hidden Gems. This series amplifies the voices of African entrepreneurs who are leading the charge in tackling some of the continent’s most pressing sustainability challenges.
The Personal Motivation: Dream of a father fulfilled in a daughter.
Lydiah's path to founding 8B can be traced back to three significant events.
It begins in 1977 when her father graduated, at the age of 35, from the University of Nairobi. Lydiah tells the struggle he faced along that journey, dropping out of high school and eventually taking correspondence classes to earn his degree as a mature student.
As a talented artist, Lydiah’s father was determined to pursue an advanced degree in fine art abroad. He applied to Oxford and Cambridge, but had no money. He spent two years looking for money for his tuition fees. Sadly, to no avail. His dream of studying abroad was over but not dead. Those prospectuses that Lydiah read through as a child, fuelled her own education dreams.
The second event unfolded years later when Lydiah went through a funding experience she describes as akin to “winning a lottery ticket”: Lydiah first secured a full scholarship to the United World Colleges in the UK, followed by another scholarship to Cornell University in America.
However, Lydiah’s “luck” – as she would put it – ran out after she gained a place at the Harvard School of Public Health. This time, however, without any financial support. She goes on to tell me how, “that was the first time that I realised my scholarship winning streak was truly a streak, that can come to an end. You're not any more capable from one day to another. It's simply that the pool of money you're applying for has run out.”
Lydiah would eventually go on to do a Master’s in African Studies and later complete a Doctorate in Politics at Oxford University. Her academic triumphs came to fruition on her graduation day in the famous Sheldonian Theatre. With her parents by her side, Lydiah not only achieved her own dreams that day but also fulfilled her father's long-held aspirations.
Despite these remarkable achievements, Lydiah does not see herself as an exception. Instead, she recognises that across Africa there are countless equally intelligent and capable individuals who could have been recipients of the scholarships she received. In her eyes, the selection process is a mere lottery, with chance determining who among equally smart aspirants gets the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Lydiah profoundly and passionately tells me that, “Africa is full of brilliance, every corner you look, but when I'm abroad, people look at me like I'm an exception”.
The third experience that persuaded Lydiah that something must be done to ensure more African students reach global universities occurred during her time working in “a corner of the UN Secretariat that truly gets things done”. She was lucky to be working on issues she cared deeply about. But even then, she often found herself the “sole representative of my lived experience”, the only one advocating for the inclusion of African scholars and perspectives in critical discussions and consultations. She became increasingly determined to ensure that she was not “the last person of my lived experience in that room”. And so, in 2017, Lydiah left the UN to start setting up a solution, something that would take a few years to take off.
The Daunting Demand: The Financial Hurdles Faced by African Students
Despite the abundance of brilliant and talented young Africans, for most the road to higher education remains wrought with challenges – and even more so when it comes to studying in countries outside the continent.
Currently, there are around 430,000 students from Sub-Saharan Africa studying abroad – the majority in Europe and the United States. In the United Kingdom, without a scholarship international students can expect to pay an average of £22,200 per year for undergraduate tuition fees and £17,100 for postgraduate fees. In the United States, those figures rise to an average of $30,000 for undergraduates and $28,000 for a Masters degree. Adding living expenses to these figures only compounds the challenge. For most, striving to fulfil their academic aspirations on the global stage, the only option available to them is scholarships.
Lydiah explains “if you're a smart African student, it is assumed that you will get a scholarship. What we forget is that scholarship dollars are not designed to meet demand”. The Ford Foundation’s International Fellowship Programme, which supported over 4,300 students from 22 countries before closing in 2013, and the MasterCard Programme, which continues to provide scholarships today, are examples of generous efforts which are nonetheless finite in their support.
Compounding this challenge is Africa's status as the youngest continent in the world. By 2030 it is projected to be home to 40% of the global population under 18. That makes Africa the world's fastest-growing workforce. Within this young demographic lies an abundance of untapped potential and transformative ideas.
Lydiah firmly believes that a market-based solution is the answer – “the kind of brilliance we have on the continent completely eclipses any philanthropic solution that there is out there.”
Yet the perceived credit risk of Africans, which is often much higher than the reality, has long prevented students on the continent from accessing loans to pay for higher education.
Lydiah estimates an investment of $8 billion (hence one of the reasons the name 8B) in student financing is needed to provide opportunities for 300,000 individuals, to make the number of African students equal to those of students from China. This will grant African students the same choices and opportunities as their global peers, rewrite the narrative on African brilliance, and enable Africa to be in rooms where the future is built.
The Outcome: The Birth of 8B
Lydiah's tenacity birthed 8B. It is a pioneering lending programme that exclusively focuses on supporting African students pursuing education at global universities.
When Lydiah and I spoke three weeks ago, 8B, working in a funding partnership with an American bank and other funding sources, had already approved around $4 million in loans. Today, less than a month later, they have over S100 million in loan demand and have approved $10 million.
The process is straightforward yet transformative. Students learn about 8B either through universities that have offered them a place or where they are already study, through word of mouth or via social media. They then apply directly on the 8B platform. The initial focus is on students heading into or studying in programmes designated as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at one of the 420 universities in the United States that 8B has partnered with.
For successful applicants, the money is transferred directly to the university. The students make interest-only payments on their loan while they are still at university, and then start repaying the principal loan 6 months after graduation for a total of 8 years. Lydiah explains that the reason students are asked to start some payments whilst they are studying is to help build their credit history. “Nobody tells you when you are graduating from university that your “A” is not going to enable you to get a mortgage for your house. It’s your credit history.”
8B focuses on mobilising guarantee capital to address the perceived risk premium that has hindered African students’ access to affordable loans for decades. Without data on student loan repayment behaviour, lenders worry about the risk, and ask for co-signers or collateral at levels that lock out all but the wealthiest. By taking bank concerns seriously and using innovative guarantees to remove their risk, 8B addresses the challenge for future generations of Africans. As Lydiah puts it, “this capital will help unlock a lending market for African students. Once we put your capital here for X number of years, we will never need to hold anymore capital in that position again, because banks will know how African students behave when they have debt”.
In addition to providing financing, the organisation supports students with their university application process and advises on employment pathways after graduation.
The Impact: Supporting a Generation of Global Leaders
8B Education Investments is not merely a lending program, it is a transformative force that aims to ensure Africa’s brightest minds participate in global decision-making.
At present, there is a notable absence of African representation at global tables. This limits the continent's influence and perpetuates outdated perceptions. Lydiah envisions an Africa acknowledged as an intellectual equal, actively contributing to the global knowledge economy and to creating solutions for the collective good.
Amidst concerns about “brain-drain” and prevailing notions of aid, Lydiah has faced challenges convincing people of the importance of her mission. She candidly shared her arduous investment journey, recounting how she pitched to 243 investors and partners before securing her initial funding. The question often posed to her: “Is it better to spend money on sending students to universities in the Global North or invest in quality education in Africa?”
Lydiah firmly believes that both are essential, and they do not substitute each other: 8B mobilizes investment capital which is not available for philanthropic education initiatives on the continent. The company does not compete for the philanthropic capital at the bottom of the pyramid. 8B’s lane is focused on enabling what Lydiah described as “brain circulation” - a means of ensuring Africa’s place in and contribution to the world.
In addition, Lydiah reminds me, it is in these global classrooms that lifetime relationships are formed which play significant roles far beyond those university days.
“We need to be getting closer and closer to where the capital is. And we do that by being in the classrooms and creating connections. And then that circulates. We identify problems here that are connected to problems at home now we have the money to solve them. We go home, we create these companies. We employ people and Africa becomes part of the world”.
The bigger picture.
Lydiah’s ambition is clear:
to build “more bridges between the brilliance of the African continent and the opportunities that start within universities in the Global North”.
African brilliance to be in all the spaces where it can and should be.
Africans “leading global tech giants like Google” just as we have seen of the Indian diaspora.
“[This] is so important in shifting power over time, upsetting the place that Africa currently occupies in the global imagination and having Africa be seen as an equal instead of the recipient of charity and goodwill”.
Her North Star: “[When] an African student can walk into Kenya Commercial Bank or Eco Bank and receive a loan to study at SOAS, Oxford, NYU. Students in India can do that today, students on the African continent cannot”.
I had an hour-long conversation with Lydiah, filled with gems! I shared a snippet of it in our teaser video last week and in a few days will have you hear more of that conversation from Lydiah herself.
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You can also follow 8B Education Investment or Lydiah Kemunto Bosire, DPhil on LinkedIn for more information on 8B Education Investments.