Education Cannot Wait: Transforming Education In Emergencies & Protracted Crises
UNICEF USAMar 24, 2023,
Yasmine Sherif initially launched Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, from a tiny office in New York in 2017, when the Fund became operational. Just a few years later, ECW, which is hosted by UNICEF, has already mobilized almost $2 billion and created a global movement to ensure children impacted by emergencies and protracted crises worldwide enjoy their right to an education. Learn more about this breakthrough global fund that is transforming education in emergencies and protracted crises.
By Kent Page, ECW Chief Advocacy/Communications
In 2017, Yasmine Sherif was appointed by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown and the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Committee, to lead Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund for emergencies and protracted crises. With a small staff, and an even smaller starter budget, Sherif has now mobilized close to US$2 billion, including an unprecedented US$826 million at last month’s High-Level Financing Conference in Geneva.
Through these contributions from donors worldwide — and aligned funding through ECW’s innovative Multi-Year Resilience Programs — ECW and its strategic partners have already reached more than 7 million crisis-impacted children with the safety, hope and opportunity of a quality education.
“Education is an inherent human right of every girl and boy, no matter who or where they are. Education, represented as Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4): ‘equitable, inclusive quality education for all’, is foundational to achieving all the other SDGs, whether to end hunger, address climate change or achieve gender equality. Without it, we will never achieve peace and stability in our times,” says Sherif, ECW’s Executive Director.
“UNICEF is proud to be a strategic partner of ECW, which helps deliver quality education to vulnerable girls and boys,” says UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Every child has a right to learn. UNICEF is urging public and private sector donors to step up support to Education Cannot Wait.” In partnership with UNICEF and other UN agencies, donors, civil society organizations and the private sector, ECW aims to reach 20 million children with holistic education support over the next four years, with a focus on gender-equality, inclusivity, quality of learning outcomes and other holistic education supports.
“I’ve worked for the United Nations for 30 years now, much of that in humanitarian contexts. During my posting and visits to places like Afghanistan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Lebanon and beyond, I’ve come to realize that we must put human beings first in everything we do. I will not rest until these girls and boys are ensured their right to learn, develop and achieve their full potential,” says Sherif.
“As a human rights lawyer, a humanitarian, and international civil servant, I believe that education is one of the most powerful tools we have in fulfilling the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter and the commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Today, unprecedented levels of displacement in Africa, South America and the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises are derailing development gains worldwide. Progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for an inclusive quality education for all, needs to be put upfront as international efforts seek to end wars, famine, displacement and mitigate climate-related disasters.
“ECW was founded at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. At the time, it was estimated that globally 75 million children caught in crisis and emergencies needed educational support. Today, that number has tripled to 222 million. That’s 222 million futures denied, 222 million dreams dashed, 222 million promises broken. We can do better. We must do better,” says Sherif.
“For years, leaders have promised quality education for all. For years, we’ve promised sustainable development and an end to perpetual traps of conflicts and extreme poverty. For years, we’ve said that girls and women will enjoy equal rights. Yet, here we are in 2023, and girls in Afghanistan are denied their inherent right to education, boys in the Sahel are being recruited as child soldiers, Rohingya girls are being sold into slavery, schools in Ukraine are being targeted in vicious and illegal attacks. We must rethink the way we address these interconnected crises. We need to rethink the future of sustainable development. We need to put human beings at the centre.”
“Transformation is the way forward,” says Sherif. “We need to transform the way we work, which requires bringing humanitarian and development actors together, governments and private sector together, and place the young generation at the forefront. Education is the foundation to addressing climate change, gender and disability inclusion, aid localization, early childhood development, ending conflicts and forced displacement.”
Education is not limited to numerical and literacy skills. It also entails mental health, school feeding and nutrition, water and sanitation, and other elements of a holistic education, which in turn requires sustainability through comprehensive multi-year packages.
ECW and its partners deliver impactful and holistic quality education across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus for girls and boys living on the front lines of crises in place like Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, Lebanon, Syria, Uganda and other crisis-impacted countries worldwide.
“At ECW, we are breaking down silos and bringing partners together across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to inspire change and build a movement to leave no child behind. This means changing the way we do things. It means embracing our instincts for change and innovation, while still making sure that we fulfill our duties to UN Member States, our donors and, indeed, the global community to make good on our commitments to universal human rights. It means delivering further, faster and deeper. It means putting the needs of the girls and boys impacted by crisis first and foremost in everything we do.”
As a hosted fund, ECW is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, and operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure – led by the ECW High-Level Steering Group. Chaired by The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, the Steering Group includes key representatives from government, donors, civil society and the private sector – a veritable Who’s Who in the education space. This has allowed Sherif and her lean team of just over 30 staff to scale up operations rapidly and rethink the way the UN delivers quality learning outcomes for children and adolescents in crisis contexts. The results say it all. Since becoming operational in 2017, ECW has already reached 7 million children and adolescents through comprehensive, holistic education approaches that include upgrading learning spaces, training teachers, embracing innovative models like conditional cash transfers, providing mental health and psychosocial services, school feeding and learning materials, and ensuring continuity of education from early childhood through to secondary school.
“I believe that working for the United Nations is a sacred duty. It’s a duty to humanity. More importantly, it’s a duty to girls like Angel* in the Democratic Republic of Congo to overcome the stigma and horrific scars of sexual violence and find safety and solace in education. It’s a duty to Lucas*, a refugee from the Central African Republic who saw his mother killed in front of his eyes and finally gets to go to school. It’s a duty to Nafisa* in Afghanistan, who dreams one day of becoming a doctor,” says Sherif.
“I will not rest until these girls and boys are able to go to school. I will not rest until they are able to fulfill their potentials. I will not rest until the atrocities of war, violence, hatred and ignorance are a thing of the past. It is possible to make a difference.”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity