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Stick with this one, it’s worth the ride. I know there isn’t really any oxygen for news outside of the assault on Gaza, but we didn’t want to hold this story any longer, particularly as things in the Middle East look like they might spiral out into a regional war.
Back in March, you might remember, Neha Wadekar and I published an investigation called “A Is for Abuse,” about a slick tech firm that purports to be disrupting education in Africa and turning a profit while doing it. It’s the kind of “doing well by doing good” ethos that has become common in our benevolent oligarch era, and Bridge International Academies quickly became a darling of Silicon Valley and its associated billionaires, like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and our very own Pierre Omidyar (he was the founding donor of The Intercept, but has since stepped back), as well as international financial institutions like the World Bank, all of which kicked in millions to get the operation off the ground.
The play, as Bridge saw it, was to cut costs dramatically by using technology rather than expensive teachers, and to scale rapidly throughout informal settlements in Africa and South Asia. You may already have spotted the risk with that business plan: Who are you putting in the classrooms, and how are you making sure the kids are safe at that scale?
Our March investigation zeroed in on a case of serial child sex abuse that had, to put it gently, not been handled well by the company or by its main investor, the World Bank. The Bank’s internal investigation unit uncovered the abuse, yet, years later, it had yet to be revealed publicly, until our article.
Neha and I thought we had produced a hell of a piece of journalism — but we didn’t know the half of it. Since then, we learned that top executives at the World Bank joined a conference call with the founders of the company. On the call, they discussed a plan to bury the sex abuse allegations until they had finished a new round of financing, and along the way to “neutralize Adler”: a reference to the World Bank investigator leading the probe into the company. And they took notes while on the call — notes we obtained, along with a cache of other documents. The story’s almost too much to believe.
You can find it here. As always, thanks for reading.