Philanthropy | 29 January 2024

“Education is the best opportunity” – Maro Itoje and how his Pearl Fund is changing lives in west Africa

Rugby legend Maro Itoje speaks to Coutts about the value of education and how his charity, The Pearl Fund, is championing individual development for disadvantaged children in west Africa.

“Education is the best opportunity we all have to improve our lives,” says Maro Itoje. “Through education you can be whoever you want to be. Whether that’s professional or creative careers, education allows you to live the life you want to live.”

Having won Champions Cups with Saracens and Six Nations titles with England, Maro is one of global rugby’s most imposing and recognisable players – but away from his celebrated success on the pitch he is also the founder of The Pearl Fund, a charity bringing the benefits of education to orphaned and disadvantaged children in west Africa: “Unfortunately, there’s a lack of quality education for a large amount of people in this world, particularly in Nigeria where the Pearl Fund is working. So hopefully education can be a massive step forward for these kids.”  

In describing his motivation to set up the fund he speaks with gravity, detailing his long-held ambition to do something philanthropic for children in Nigeria, the country where his parents were born – “growing up, charity was always something that was important in our household. I’ve always been thinking about ways I can help others; people perhaps less fortunate than myself. Nigeria is a place close to my heart but the need there is great, so to be able to have a positive impact on these children’s lives is very important.” 

By focusing on the long-term the fund hopes to be able to provide support for children from some of the most deprived areas of Lagos, allowing them to benefit right through their childhood and early adulthood – from pre-school to vocational or university training. “I want the fund to have a lasting impact, changing the life trajectory of every child it touches,” says Maro. “We want to give them the opportunity to live the life they want to, as opposed to the life they were going to live if not for the help. Success will be doing just that.”

A winning team

To achieve that success the fund has teamed up with key partners on the ground, working with Community Development Links Initiative in Lagos and giving partner Stewardship to help ensure the best traction for the finance that is applied. “I’m a big believer in working with local partners, especially when working internationally as they’ll know the landscape better than any other person. Even with the best intent in the world, I’m based in the UK, so from my point of view it was crucial to partner with experts who know the space inside and out and who can make sure the money is used productively.”

Maro emphasises that since inception last year, the reaction to the Pearl Fund’s work has been “overwhelmingly positive”. People have given generously, recognising the potential for a real exponential difference and endowing the fund towards its multimillion pound investment goal.

“The Coutts network has been a great way to connect with people who share this passion for making an impact and who may consider supporting or partnering the Pearl Fund,” says Maro.

It's clear education also means a great deal personally. Despite having such an accomplished rugby career, including playing in a world cup final at just 25, Maro has continued to enthusiastically explore new ventures, holding learning as a “constant” in his life. A degree in politics from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies was recently complemented by an MBA from the University of Warwick. He’s also the co-founder of the Akoje Gallery, championing art from the African diaspora.

“I guess I’ve done some formal education and looked to better myself through those means, however I wouldn’t restrict myself to ‘formal’ – you can learn something from the people you interact with, what you read or listen to – there are many avenues in which education can have a positive impact on one’s life. Education has exposed me to different circles, it’s made me think about what else is possible and connected me with some amazing people.”

Maro’s prediction for the 2024 Six Nations: “England grand slam”.


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