New York — Out of global crises spring opportunities for change. In crisis, change is not an option. It is a necessity. And, as Plato famously noted: "Necessity is the mother of invention." Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is an invention that sprang out of crisis and was borne of necessity.
Education Cannot Wait was conceived as a direct response to the lack of financial resources and crisis-sensitive approaches needed to address the learning crisis for 75 million vulnerable children and adolescents impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters. Today, three years into its operations, the growing number of already crisis-affected children and youth are now doubly hit by another crisis, COVID-19, while under the threat of being hit again by the global financial crisis.
How many crises can they withstand without succumbing? How many hits can they take without losing hope?
This burning question was at the centre of the UNGA week event: "The Future of Education is Here for Those Left Furthest Behind." On 17 September 2020, ECW brought together an impressive, diverse line-up of political leaders, policymakers, influencers and youth advocates, who unanimously spoke to the need of scaling up investments in inclusive quality education for those left furthest behind: refugees, internally displaced, girls and children with disabilities - all already affected by brutal conflicts and climate-induced disasters.
Their statements were strong, powerful and driven by determination. This impressive gathering recognized Education Cannot Wait's innovative design and modus operandi, specifically tailored to reach those left furthest behind in emergencies and protracted crises.
Education Cannot Wait translates innovation into action. When a climate-induced disaster hits Mozambique, Nepal or Peru, or when hostilities escalate in Mali, South Sudan or Syria, ECW immediately sets in motion a coordinated response that delivers on the ground within weeks. Where protracted conflicts and forced displacement keep children and adolescents out of school, leaving crisis-affected governments to fend for themselves, multi-year joint programming brings together humanitarian and development actors to jointly respond to the crisis and empower governments to deliver on SDG4 in Afghanistan, Chad and Somalia, and many others.
Between 2017 to 2019, 3.62 million girls and boys previously left behind benefited from Education Cannot Wait's investments. In Uganda alone, enrollment and access to quality education for refugees rose from 53% to 75%, while girls' education in ECW investments climbed to 60% in Afghanistan and Nigeria. When schools shut down in April 2020 due to COVID-19, ECW unleashed its emergency reserves and dispersed funding to over 50 grantees across 33 already crisis-affected countries the very same month. When a devastating explosion took place in Beirut in August, ECW moved swiftly and invested in the rehabilitation of damaged schools.
This response to crisis is possible because ECW optimizes other reform efforts geared at innovation and improvement of the multilateral crisis response, such as The New Way of Working, the Grand Bargain and Humanitarian-Development Coherence. It empowers and reinforce existing capacities and coordination structures designed especially for crisis coordination and steers it to prioritize education in the collective response. By doing so, ECW facilitates the multilateral system's ability to work with greater speed and more sustainability in achieving SDG4 in emergencies and protracted crisis - there, where we find those left furthest behind.
Education Cannot Wait is about systemic change. As a pooled funding mechanism exclusively dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises, ECW is designed to leverage financial resources to change the way we deliver inclusive and equitable quality education to those left furthest behind. We know from our growing evidence base that this innovation works.
"Education Cannot Wait is an example of how the United Nations system delivers quality with speed to advance SDG4 leveraging the best from across the UN family. Now is the time to take our work to the next level," affirmed the UN Deputy-Secretary General, Amina J. Mohammed, in her opening statement at ECW's most recent High-Level Steering Group, held during the UN General Assembly Week in September.
Working closely with host governments and local communities, UN agencies and civil society are the ones delivering on the ground. When working together through joint programming and coordination, they have the capacity to empower and support governments in crisis to act with speed and deliver at scale to advance SDG4 amidst the largest crisis-affected areas on the globe. Their challenge is not a lack of capacity, coordination or commitment. Their most significant challenge is the lack of funding to allow them to scale up in delivering on SDG4 in crises.
Today, we cannot say that we do not know how to deliver quality education in emergencies or protracted crises. Nor can we continue to ponder what the humanitarian-development nexus might look like in real life, nor assert that in-country host governments, UN agencies and civil society do not coordinate. As ECW's Annual Results Report of 2019 illustrates, those who work on the emergency frontlines are already doing so - they model cooperation, coordination, speed and quality.
Still, they could do so much more if the required funding was available. To scale up, they need an additional $1.2 billion to reach an additional 5 million children and adolescents. ECW's immediate ask on their behalf is that of $300 million through 2021.
While the pandemic is pushing the world into a global recession, the need for education funding for those left furthest behind has never been greater. As Baroness Liz Sugg, the United Kingdom's Minister for Foreign and Development Affairs, stated during the ECW convened event at UNGA: "Every single country around the work is under huge economic pressure at the moment as a result of COVID-19, but that is not a reason for inaction on education and investing in communities ravished by conflict and crises."
In the same spirit, EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen stated: "We must come together to coordinate further our investments to our purpose of leaving no children behind. ECW mobilizes a collective response to urgent needs in education in emergencies. I am proud that that European Union was part of its inception. We have a once in a generation opportunity to reopen schools better than they were before. Now more than ever, Education Cannot Wait."
When crisis hits, we invent out of necessity. When an invention works, we scale up. When we scale up that which works, we build back better. Now, we need to fund it at scale.
Yasmine Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait.