World Humanitarian Summit: Theirworld event on delivering education in emergencies

Children in conflicts, Education funding, Education in emergencies, Safe schools

Chubat,12, sits in burned ruins of school at Malakal in South Sudan that was destroyed in fighting in February Picture: UNICEF/George


Finally, we have a fund to bring hope to millions of children whose education is disrupted by humanitarian emergencies.

The big question – now that the Education Cannot Wait fund is being launched – is how sustained and quality education can be delivered during and after a conflict or natural disaster.

That is the backdrop to a special side event at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey today, hosted by Theirworld – the children’s charity behind A World at School.

The audience comprises Theirworld supporters, partners, youth, World Humanitarian Summit leaders and NGOs. This blog will bring coverage of the event as it happens.

The background


In 2015, humanitarian emergencies and crises affected the education of more than 75 million children and young people. Last year less than 2% of all humanitarian aid went to education, leaving a funding gap of $8.5bn per year. Lack of funding meant that only 12% of those in need of education support were reached in 2015.

Theirworld President Sarah Brown on a visit to a school in Ghana

More than 250,000 people have signed petitions calling on world leaders to commit the urgent funding needed. The new Education Cannot Wait fund is being launched today with the aim of securing $4 billion in the first five years.

Telling the story


As well as through its work with A World at School, Theirworld has made two innovative films that illustrate the plight of children out of school due to emergencies.

The first is an amazing virtual reality film called Safe Schools: Nepal, which was released to mark the anniversary of the devasting earthquake in 2015. It captures 360­-degree video and audio, transporting the viewer to Nepal to see and hear stories of children whose education has been affected.

The second is a spoken-word performance piece called Safe Schools: Children Can No Longer Wait. It features the words of young people around the world sending a powerful message that children trapped in conflicts and natural disasters need safe schools.

The video features TV actor Laura Carmichael and magician Dynamo delivering a poem with the spoken word artist Yomi “GREEdS” Sode.

The format of the Theirworld event in Istanbul is three sessions – each with high-profile panellists and moderated by Tom Fletcher, former British ambassador to Lebanon and now Global Strategy Director for the Global Business Coalition for Education.

Session 1 – The Challenges


This panel will explore the practical challenges that need to be met and the steps to be taken to ensure the provision of sustained quality education in an emergency, most specifically in light of the launching of the Education Cannot Wait Fund.

The panellists are: Gordon Brown (former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and UN Special Envoy for Global Education); Julia Gillard (former Prime Minister of Australia and  Board Chair, Global Partnership for Education); Pierre Krähenbühl (Commissioner-General, UNRWA); Helle Thorning-Schmidt (former Prime Minister of Denmark and Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International); Irina Bokova (Director-General, UNESCO); Jan Egeland (Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council).

Gordon Brown says the Education Cannot Wait fund is an achievement for all – a public-private partnership that bridges humanitarian and development aid in a way not achieved before.

Julia Gillard says the launching of the fund means we have turned a corner – but we must continue to build partnerships to make it work.

Pierre Krähenbühl tells how he was at the southern tip of Damascus in Syria when he saw 120 young boys and girls emerge from the devasted landscape to sit their exams. He adds: “It showed me we truly cannot leave any child behind.”

At the UN General Assembly last year, the Sustainable Development Goals were launched and the children of the world were told they would all get a quality primary and secondary education.

If that is to be achieved, we must focus on displaced children says Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The mission must be “to say clearly to the world that no refugee child should be out of school for more than one month”.

Irina Bokova says the gap between humanitarian and development aid must be bridged – by being more innovative. She adds: “We need more funds, more coordination, more statistics, more data.”

Norway has been a major supporter of a fund for education in emergencies. Jan Egeland says we need to invest in the teachers to be able to reach the most in need, including traumatised youth.

Session 2 – Learning from Experience and the Role of Innovation


The panel will address the challenges outlined in the first panel and will look at concrete examples of delivering education in emergencies on the ground and the ways in which new techniques and innovation have supported this delivery.

The panellists are: Sara Smith (Senior Director of Education, International Rescue Committee); Helle Gudmandsen (Board Member and Head of the Global Campaign for Education, IBIS); Thomas H. Smolich, SJ (International Director, Jesuit Refugee Service); Zeynep Gündüz (Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, RET International); Rob Williams (Chief Executive Officer, War Child UK); Rosine Uwineza (Youth Ambassador, War Child UK); Biya Han (Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs Principal of Global Education, World Vision).

Sara Smith says resources have to be committed to really assess what the problems are – and that anyone funding education in emergencies must demand results. 

Helle Gudmandsen reinforces the point that there must be a bridge between humanitarian crisis happening and wider development.

Education is not just about teaching children – it is also about protecting children and providing them a safe environment, says Thomas H. Smolich, SJ. He says technology is key to training teachers.

Zeynep Gündüz talks about Innovative technology approaches to giving refugee youth tthe opportunity to work and details a successful pilot programme to be scaled up across the Middle East and Latin America.

Rob Williams says the fund has been set up and has “amazing leadership and collaboration”. It would be “a tragedy if the funding is not found”. 

He describes how War Child has a great new methdology, with children learning through tablet technology, which the charity has been able to introduce through private partners including the People’s Postcdode Lottery.

War Child youth ambassador Rosine Uwineza says the Education Cannot Wait fund needs to respond to what young people say are their needs and wants – such as having enough chairs, books and libraries.

Syrian children attend a class at a primary school in Aleppo

Session 3 – Partnerships and International Cooperation


This panel will address how collaboration at all levels can better enable the provision of education in emergencies, the role of standards in this process.

The panellists are: Sarah Brown (Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education and President of Theirworld); Edmund Cain (Vice President, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation); Annemiek Hoogenboom (Country Director, People’s Postcode Lottery); Tariq Al Gurg (Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Cares); Mary Joy Pigozzi (Executive Director, Educate A Child); Mazen Hayek (Group Director of Public Relations & Commercial, MBC  Hope); Hugh McLean (Director of Education Support Program, Open Society Foundations).

Sarah Brown has two hats at this event – she is President of the host Theirworld but she is also Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education. Earlier today, GBC-Education announced $100 million of backing from its members for the Education Cannot Wait fund.

She says: “Where we sought to make a difference is around the advocacy piece and to give youth a voice.” Sarah adds: “What we’ve commited to do is to put $100 million into the basket for the new fund.”

Philanthropic organisations don’t always know how best to mobilise and act and where to do it, contends Edmund Cain, adding: “It’s time to learn and work together to make them work.”

Tariq Ali tells how, at last year’s UN General Assembly, Dubai Cares co-hosted with the International Rescue Committee an event championing education in emergencies. Both then invested in research and partnered with New York University.

He adds: “If you compare this with a traditional way to model, we have to be creative in making a new model. If you are a donor, an agency, a foundation, and you have money to put to education in emergencies but don’t know what to do – we have the Education Cannot Wait fund.”

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