Theirworld honours education heroes with Unlocking Big Change Awards

Global Youth Ambassador Gabriel Monteiro presents an Unlocking Big Change Award to former Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

Let me learn, Theirworld

Former Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and New York University’s John Sexton have helped huge numbers of refugees to access learning.

Theirworld has marked the inspirational achievements of two people whose passion and innovation have expanded access to education, particularly for refugees. 

At an event in New York, our Global Youth Ambassadors presented Unlocking Big Change Awards to Elias Bou Saab, former Education Minister of Lebanon, and John Sexton, President Emeritus of New York University. 

Using a Theirworld blueprint, Elias Bou Saab worked with global organisations to ensure that hundreds of thousands of children who fled the Syrian conflict were able to go to school in Lebanon. 

John Sexton was President of New York University for 13 years and the pioneering force behind the Global Network University, which has centres on five continents. The award recognised his lifelong dedication to global education and his ability to inspire those around him. 

“They have embraced the notion of partnership and creating opportunity,” said June Sarpong, Director of Creative Diversity at the BCC and an Advisory Board member at Theirworld. She hosted our event to mark the outcomes of the Transforming Education Summit held during the United Nations General Assembly last week.  

John Sexton at the Theirworld event with his granddaughters Natalie and Ava (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

The Theirworld event was attended by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio and leaders from international organisations and major companies. 

Announcing the award to Bou Saab, Sarpong told how the then education minister faced the dilemma of how to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugee children in Lebanon’s school system. 

At the time, he said: “I can show you all of the political will for education possible – but I need the international community to do its part and deliver for me.”    

His call ensured everyone worked together. Theirworld produced a report which recommended a “double-shift” system at Lebanese schools, where local and refugee children would learn in the same classrooms at different times of the day. 

We had a good experience working together with Theirworld in Lebanon. We put over 350,000 students in school. Many of them became engineers and doctors.

Elias Bou Saab at the Theirworld event

The plan was backed heavily, with various partners stepping up – including UNICEF and other UN agencies, the World Bank and the international development departments of the United States and United Kingdom. 

Sarpong told the Theirworld event: “Hundreds of thousands of children entered the double-shift schools, sending an inspiration to the world about what could be achieved through relentless focus and partnership.” 

The award to Bou Saab, now Deputy Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, was presented by Gabriel Monteiro, a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador from Brazil. 

Before John Sexton received his award, a video message from Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, was played.  

Former Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bou Saab with Global Youth Ambassadors Gabriel Monteiro and Ahmednoor Bashir Hajiis (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

He said: “The Global Network University sees education delivered on a global scale as the one gateway that can guarantee millions of young people – and particularly refugees and displaced people – the chance to fully develop their talents. It carries the hallmark and all the hopes of the visionary leader who founded it. 

“John is an innovator – but first and foremost he is a teacher. Devoted to every student, interested in their personal development, protective of the needs far beyond the school … as a result he has made a difference to countless lives.” 

Many of the leading figures and companies at the event said they were keen to take the messages of Theirworld’s #LetMeLearn campaign back to their organisations, to see how they can best support learning around the world. 

We know how to educate every child in the world. All we need is the will - and the summit has begun to galvanise the will.

John Sexton at the Theirworld event.

Among those attending were Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme; Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA; Jenny Ohlsson, State Secretary of Sweden; Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner International Partnerships at the European Commission; and Jose Manuel Barosso, Board Chair of GAVI. 

Those representing the business and philanthropic world included Nigerian economist and philanthropist Anthony Onyemaechi Elumelu and leaders from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, People’s Postcode Lotteries, HP, Omnicom and Microsoft. 

From the world of education, there were also representatives of the Global Partnership for Education, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, Education Cannot Wait, Generation Unlimited and the Education Commission. 

Find out about previous winners of Theirworld awards 

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