For two decades we’ve been innovating, campaigning and working to give children and young people the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future.
Who we are, what we do, and how we got here, in two minutes.
PiggyBankKids was founded in 2002 with the initial aim of supporting scientific and community research to help the most vulnerable children get the best start in life
Jennifer Brown Research Fund created
Theirworld created the Jennifer Brown Research Fund to invest in the best medical research for safe pregnancy and premature birth. The fund, and the laboratory it would support, was named by Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown and her husband Gordon in memory of their first child Jennifer.
Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory established
The Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory was established at the University of Edinburgh in 2004. It launched with a small team of scientists and clinical experts from the New Royal Infirmary Edinburgh and four Research Fellows – all women – to lead the way in bringing obstetric and neonatal work together in one lab.
Small Grants Programme launched
Theirworld’s Small Grants Programme was created in 2004, focusing on unlocking community action breakthroughs in health and education. Early successes included Granny School (a refresher course for first-time grandparents), Learning Care Pathways for Disabled and Vulnerable Mums and Playaway Bus (a mobile centre for health visitors to talk to mums while children played onboard).
Fundraising to support our mission
In our first decade, we began building a strong network of fundraisers, many of whom continue to support us today. Volunteers started to take part in fun runs and marathons, and we linked up with prominent partners to host events like football tournaments at Glasgow’s Hampden Park and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.
To this day volunteers push themselves to the limit to support our work to end the global education crisis. Each year Theirworld supporters can be seen taking part in events including the Edinburgh and London Marathons, the Great North Run and the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 cycling event.
10-year anniversary and Global Business Coalition for Education founded
We celebrated our 10th anniversary with a rooftop festival in London hosted by Sarah Brown, Jim O’Neill, Nick Jones and Kim Cattrall.
The Global Business Coalition for Education was founded as an initiative of Theirworld to boost the campaign for global education by collaborating with the global business community. It would go on to build a membership of more than 100 influential private sector companies, all of whom recognise the importance of supporting quality education and learning for children and young adults.
A World At School
A global movement was born when Theirworld started A World At School with the aim of galvanising support for education financing and especially for children caught up in emergencies. This led to the first-ever Youth Takeover of the United Nations where Malala Yousafzai made the famous speech in which she stated: “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” This was also the creation of our Global Youth Ambassador programme which provides the skills, knowledge and a community to young people who are passionate about ending the education crisis at a local and global level.
Education without borders
Later that year the idea of double-shift schools for Syrian refugees in Lebanon was born when A World at School published the influential report, ‘Education Without Borders’. The report’s recommendations, which were backed by UN agencies and taken forward by the Lebanese Ministry of Education, led to more than 300,000 displaced children receiving an education in Lebanon.
Safe Schools Initiative Nigeria
In the wake of the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls and other attacks on education, Theirworld launched the first Safe Schools Initiative reaching more than 500 schools in northern Nigeria. Theirworld later launched other Safe Schools Initiatives for Syrian refugees, children affected by the Ebola crisis, students in Latin America and in Pakistan.
#UpForSchool campaign launched
2014 also saw the launch of #UpForSchool, a global movement demanding world leaders keep to their promise of a primary school education for every child by the end of 2015. Powered by the passion of Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors, #UpForSchool youth rallies were held in Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Norway, India and the United Kingdom. A petition was launched with the aim of gathering the signatures of millions of people around the world who backed the campaign to deliver education for all
#UpForSchool campaign success
In 2015 the #UpForSchool campaign created the biggest education petition in history: by September of that year, more than 10 million signatures had been gathered from over 200 countries. More than 1,000 young people, campaigners, celebrities and leaders gathered in New York to deliver the petition, and musician Shakira handed it to the United Nations with a plea for education to be placed at the top of the global agenda.
Safe Schools initiative
In 2015 Theirworld also launched the Pakistan Safe Schools initiative and a collection of reports on the state of the education crisis for refugee children in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon warning about the risks from lack of donor funding.
Edinburgh Birth Cohort launched
We rounded out the year with the launch of the Edinburgh Birth Cohort in conjunction with the University of Edinburgh. In this groundbreaking study, researchers from the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory follow 400 newborns from birth to adulthood, with the aim of finding new ways to prevent and treat brain injuries in newborns, and deepen understanding of how being born too soon affects health in later life.
Education Cannot Wait Fund
Theirworld’s campaigning led to the creation of the Education Cannot Wait Fund at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. The first fund aimed at transforming how education is delivered in humanitarian crises, it aims to help 75 million children by 2030.
We also released our first major campaign on early childhood education and development: #5for5 creatively made the case for early years investment through a range of videos made with well-known comedians from the UK, US and Africa.
Following on from our work in Lebanon, 2016 saw Theirworld start working with several partners on projects aimed at helping Syrian refugee children in Turkey. And in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria we supported new Code Clubs which helped girls develop their digital literacy.
At the start of the year, we hosted our first International Women’s Day breakfast, at which we honoured the heroic Syrian women of the White Helmets.
As part of the United Nations Common Ground initiative’s commitment to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Omnicom communications group selected Theirworld for dedicated pro-bono support. The partnership saw Omnicom join together with Theirworld to focus on Sustainable Development Goal 4: inclusive and equitable quality education for all.
As part of the #YouPromised campaign, which called for world leaders to meet their promise of an education for every Syrian refugee child, Theirworld worked with magician Dynamo. He joined us in visiting a refugee camp in Lebanon and then in addressing European Commissioners in Brussels. An EU aid package including 100m euros for access to schooling was announced three months later.
Launch of the new International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd)
Our campaigning for funding that year also saw us playing a central role in the launch of the new International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd). The programme aims to address the persistent education funding gap by enabling partnerships between developing countries, international financial institutions and private donors.
Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassadors spearheaded an advocacy campaign to back IFFEd, which resulted in 1.5 million people signing a petition which they then took to the halls of the United Nations. Countries subsequently committed to set up the Facility, which aims to raise $10 billion by 2030.
New leadership and partnerships strengthen our work
In 2019 Justin van Fleet took up the role of President of Theirworld and founder Sarah Brown became the Chair of Trustees. Major partnerships were announced with Reed Smith law firm as well as Omnicom. National Postcode Loterij announced grants totalling nearly 8.5 million euros to support our continuing work on education in emergencies including support for refugee children’s education in the Greek Islands.
With the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Open Society Foundations we published our hard-hitting early years report, ‘Leaving the Youngest Behind‘, in conjunction with Cambridge University expert Dr Pauline Rose.
The Key launched in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic
Theirworld launched ‘The Key‘, an information toolkit designed to help campaigners make a clear and robust case for education funding in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The resource contains messages, statistics, talking points and infographics about dozens of subjects where education plays a key role, allowing users to ‘Copy, Paste and Advocate’.
Making up lost ground due to the pandemic
Theirworld launched The Education Finance Playbook, mapping out the plan to dramatically expand funding education for every child by 2030 and make up ground lost due to the pandemic,
Greek government adopts Theirworld blueprint for providing refugee education
Theirworld succeeded in our mission of unlocking big change when the Greek government committed to partnering with the United Nations to provide all 26,000 school-age refugee children in the country with an education. This was in direct response to a blueprint for reform set out by Theirworld in our report ‘Finding Solutions to Greece’s Refugee Education Crisis’.
Groundbreaking research released
A new report by experts Maysa Jalbout and Katy Bullard put forward big ideas to transform the landscape of early childhood education in refugee settings. We also released another landmark report on the chronic underfunding of pre-primary education.
20 years of unlocking big change
Theirworld marked two decades of working to end the global education crisis – celebrating our anniversary throughout the year with special events, films and podcasts.
Ahead of the historic Transforming Education Summit in New York, our ground-breaking survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries let us share their views through the campaign. #LetMeLearn was backed by the UN and other high-profile organisations. The summit saw the launch of the International Finance Facility for Education and a commitment by the UN that youth voices are vital in transforming global education.
Education Innovation Awards
During 2022, we worked with five non-profits who had been named as winners of the first Theirworld Education Innovation Awards. Each received £50,000 grants, masterclasses and mentoring to help them scale up their learning programmes. They’re on track to reach a total of six million children by the end of 2024.
Support for Ukrainian refugee students
Theirworld supported the Stay With Ukraine programme, which allowed refugees to continue their Ukrainian studies and talk to peers and educators in their homeland. It was delivered in 33 countries during 2022 and 2023 in partnership with the organisation Smart Osvita.
Act For Early Years campaign
We launched a major campaign calling for a global revolution in the education and care of the world’s youngest children. Act For Early Years – backed by an extensive report and childcare survey – urged governments and international donors to urgently prioritise spending on childcare and pre-primary education.
The campaign included a series of Global Tantrum videos, in which celebrities from various countries acted like frustrated toddlers to protest at the lack of action by world leaders.