May 17, 2017

What is a Sherpa and how can they help to guide the world's children into school?

Senior officials will discuss funding for education in developing countries

United Nations

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

Shakira is urging the G20 leaders to back a bold education funding plan - and the role of so-called Sherpas could be vital in helping to deliver that.

This week the singer and campaigner Shakira has been urging people to send a message to world leaders about education.

She knows that when the most powerful countries meet at the G20 summit in July, it is a golden opportunity to make the case for every child to be in school and learning.

“I’m telling the world about an opportunity to change that - and the future of the world’s children," she said. 

As a member of the influential Education Commission, Shakira wants the G20 nations to back an innovative plan that will help to fund education for every child. More than 120 million children and adolescents are currently out of school.

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Tomorrow there is a crucial meeting in Germany - when the agenda for the G20 summit will be decided. A group of so-called "Sherpas" could hold the key to the proposed International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd) proposal being high on the list.

No, not those Sherpas. Not the skilled and hardy Nepalese mountaineers who guide climbers up Everest.

These Sherpas are advisers to the world's leaders. So why the name?

A Sherpa is a personal representative of the leader of a member country

Simple really, according to Tom Fletcher - British Ambassador to Lebanon from 2011 to 2015 and now Director of Global Strategy for the Global Business Coalition for Education.

"Sherpas are the key advisers who get the leaders up the summit," he explained. To keep the Himalayan analogy going, the Sherpas are supported by officials known as yaks.

"The Sherpas meet regularly to prepare the agenda, key issues and - crucially - the final communique," said Tom.

"These are vital meetings that can get much further into the detail than the leaders can. They explore where the real red lines are and what potential compromises can be found."

Tom, who writes a blog called Naked Diplomat, said Sherpas tend to be experienced senior officials who have the trust of their country's leader.

He added: "They need resilience, patience and the ability to get by without much sleep. At the summit itself, they sit just behind the leader and will often continue negotiations in the margins of the meeting itself."

A Sherpa negotiates ahead of international summits, where discussions are held by national leaders

United Nations

The Sherpas meet monthly in the run-up to international summits and so get to know each other well.

Their role could be vital if the G20 countries - including the United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, Brazil, India and the European Union - and the World Bank are to get on board to make the IFFEd a reality.

The proposed funding mechanism would generate an additional $13 billion each year.

It has been backed by more than 20 charities and campaigning organisations including Theirworld, ONE, Global Citizen, Save the Children, Avaaz, Malala Fund, Islamic Relief, VSO and World Vision.

"I’m proud to stand with them,' said Shakira. 

How the IFFEd could help to get every child into school

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