September 19, 2019

REACT to the rescue for refugee and crisis-hit children deprived of education

REACT helps businesses work with UN agencies, countries and charities to provide education for children in emergency situations

Photo credit: Global Business Coalition for Education

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

An innovative platform matches the skills and resources of businesses to the needs of young people caught up in humanitarian crises.

For children whose lives are turned upside down by conflicts and disasters, education can be a lifeline.

Being in a classroom helps them to learn, mix with other children and deal with trauma in a safe and caring environment. Without education, they can fall prey to child labour, early marriage, trafficking and all kinds of discrimination.

United Nations agencies, governments and NGOs are doing their best to help the 75 million children and youth who have had their education disrupted by humanitarian crises. But businesses can also play a crucial role.

That's where an innovation called REACT comes in. It stands for Rapid Education Action and is based on a simple idea - that businesses can supply tools, resources and knowledge that will help vulnerable children access education.

The brainchild of the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), the REACT website has been revamped to make it even better and more efficient at matching what businesses can offer to the needs of those helping children in crises.

Jake Taesang Cho, Project Manager for GBC-Education, went to the Greek islands of Kos and Lesvos earlier this month to show potential partners how REACT works and to see conditions in the reception camps. Of nearly 6,000 refugee children and youth who have fled there from countries like Afghanistan, Syri and Iraq, fewer than 15% are getting any form of education.

"What struck me the most was the contrast between the non-formal education centres and the Reception and Identification Centres (RICs)," said Cho.

Jake with boys at a non-formal education centre in the Greek islands

Photo credit: Jake Taesang Cho

"Not just the physical conditions but more strikingly the influence those conditions seem to be exerting on the people. This was evident in the expressions I saw on people’s faces in the two settings. In the RIC it was despair, frustration, anger, hopelessness and boredom - but in the education centre it was smiles, curiosity, and eagerness to learn and interact."

"In a learning centre for unaccompanied minors run by Metadrasi in Lesvos, I sat in a classroom full of 11 to 18-year-olds, thoroughly impressed with their level of enthusiasm and participation in the day’s lesson on Greek grammar.

"Students come on buses provided by the centre from and to the camps every day to learn an hour of Greek, English and math each. According to the teacher, some have not missed a single day of class in the past four months."

Language and integration in their host communities are key to helping these young refugees move on with their lives. 

"Providing these kinds of tangible pathways can lift them out of the hopelessness and the squalor that otherwise could so easily drown them into abject despair," said Cho. 

That's where REACT can come in to match those needs to the skills and expertise which businesses can bring to the table. Here's a quick guide to the REACT platform:

Emergencies such as conflicts and disasters mean children are displaced from their homes and often miss out on school

Photo credit: Global Business Coalition for Education

What is REACT?

REACT (Rapid Education Action) is the brainchild of the Global Business Coalition for Education, which is part of the Theirworld family and brings together the business community to accelerate progress in delivering education for every child and youth in the world.

It is based on a simple idea that involves three groups of people: 

  • CHILDREN AND YOUTH in countries whose education is disrupted by emergencies such as conflicts, natural disasters or being displaced from their homes.
  • ORGANISATIONS that are working to deliver education to these children - including Education Cannot Wait, United Nations agencies, charities and national governments. REACT calls them implementation partners.
  • BUSINESSES that want to help and can contribute in various ways. REACT calls them business partners.

What is Education Cannot Wait?

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is a global fund to support education in emergencies that was established at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. The fund brings together public and private organisations to generate greater commitment toward ensuring education for every child caught in a crisis - ranging from conflicts to natural disasters and famine.

In its first two years of operation, ECW mobilised $460 million to help more than 1.4 million children and youth in 29 countries. Theirworld's #WriteTheWrong campaign is calling for ECW to receive the $1.8 billion of funding it needs by 2021 to reach nine million children and youth living in crises and displacement in 25 priority countries.

75 million children and youth living in crisis worldwide are in need of immediate educational support.

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

How does REACT work?

REACT gives the private sector and foundations the opportunity to contribute various assets in direct support for the challenges and needs identified by Education Cannot Wait or other implementation partners.

REACT carefully carries out due diligence on all business and implementation partners before approving them. 

ECW and implementation partners use the REACT website to tell of the challenges and needs they face in the areas where they operate. These requests are displayed as “unmet needs” on the website.

The business partners choose one of those unmet challenges or needs that they believe they can help to meet. Businesses can indicate their interest in offering assets, tools and resources – such as financial assets, in-kind goods and services, technical expertise, training and employee volunteers. REACT then matches the business offers of support to requests for resources.

"It's like an online dating app. They've just agreed to go on a date - it's doesn't automatically mean they're going to get married," said Cho. "This stage just means they have agreed there is mutual interest in initiating the conversations to go into a partnership."

Extensive discussions and checks then take place before a partnership is formed and deployed.

A refreshed version of the REACT website went live last week with new functionality that will streamline the whole process.

Information technology can be vital in helping young people in areas where access to education and learning materials is limited

Photo credit: Global Business Coalition for Education

"This is a crucial foundation that readies REACT to accommodate a larger volume of requests and contributions from users and reach a critical mass of users," said Cho.

The REACT database is supported by the Arconic Foundation and Dubai Cares. The new website was developed with the generous support of LexisNexis Risk Solutions – the data and analytics business unit of UK- based RELX Group.

What has REACT done so far?

“More than 60 companies have signed on to provide tangible offers of support for REACT,” said Cho. “We are also looking to expand our reach to local organisations working to deliver education in four priority countries - Uganda, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Greece.”

One example of REACT in action is in Uganda, which hosts 1.3 million refugees - half of them children. Many live in areas where access to safe, reliable education, learning materials and qualified teachers is a challenge.

REACT helped to broker a partnership between information technology company HP, Education Cannot Wait, Learning Equality (which has an e-learning platform) and the UN agencies UNHCR and UNICEF.

HP and Learning Equality worked together earlier this year to deploy the learning management system HP School Cloud and the Kolibri learning platform in schools to deliver education to children from refugee and host communities.

“Technology partnerships like this mean a brighter future for the 1.3 million refugees in Uganda - and the 75 million children and youth living in crisis worldwide that are in need of immediate educational support,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. 

See how the HP and Learning Quality project in Uganda is working

Nate Hurst, HP's Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer, said: "We believe a quality education is a fundamental human right and must be afforded to all people - including those affected by emergencies.

"Through GBC-Education’s REACT platform, we are partnering with Education Cannot Wait and others to help enable better learning outcomes for refugees and host-country children in Uganda."

Joel Mucyom is a student at Old Kampala School and a refugee from Rwanda who is benefiting from the arrangement. He said: "Being a refugee doesn't stop you from achieving your dreams. You just need to keep up, look forward and fight for what is best for you."

Another example from Uganda is a partnership fostered by REACT between Avanti Communications and the country’s Social Innovation Academy (SINA) to deliver free high-speed internet connectivity for displaced students. 

It allows SINA to deliver online self-learning curriculum to students who visit SINA’s Mpigi campus. SINA aims to expand this digital connectivity and curriculum to Bidi Bidi – one of the world’s largest refugee settlements.

SINA founder Etienne Salborne said: "We are tackling to offset the failures in the education system and resulting unemployment in refugee camps by empowering refugees with self-organised, "freesponsible" learning programmes. We are grateful to be part of REACT.”

Providing e-learning and digital literacy to a dispersed migrant community comes with its many challenges. We are, however, determined to collaborate with other partners to find scalable, affordable and context appropriate solutions that can be replicated across wide geographies. REACT’s efforts to corral the best of the private and social impact sectors is a model example of how to maximise impact to address today’s most pressing challenges.

Rudayna Abdo, Founder of Thaki
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