So – this is what it takes. You need four years, strong programmes in countries around the world, a bit of analysis and some good publications. Clarify your advocacy objectives, be consistent, persistent and anticipate hundreds of hours of meetings (and a couple of fun events). Secure a few allies in the right places, and hope for a touch of luck. That is what it takes to change the UK Government’s approach to education in developing countries.
How did it all start? A group of us from around the world sat in the basement, five years ago, and debated what BIG difference the Save the Children Alliance, collectively, could make in education. We concluded that children living in countries affected by conflict, or children caught up in emergencies, were the most neglected.
43 million of the world’s 72 million out of school children were in these types of countries – yet very little attention or money was turned their way. And every new emergency knocked hundreds of thousands more out of school, often forever. Save the Children had staff and offices in these countries — and we heard clearly from children that it was what they really wanted — to go to school and have a chance in life. So, our ‘Global Challenge’ was born (it later became Rewrite the Future after a pro-bono stint from a PR company) — and we set our sights on getting 3 million of these children into school, improving the quality of education for 8 million children, better protecting them, and increasing the donor financing that went to them.
In the UK we had a particular angle — the Department for International Development (DFID) had made all sorts of political statements about supporting these countries, but so very little of their aid for education went there. It was quite clear that the UK was not practising what it preached, and they didn’t seem to be doing the same analysis themselves. So, with our first policy brief we met with the Minister and outlined what DFID needed to change and why. There were some BIG asks in there — for DFID to spend at least 50% of new aid in conflict-affected fragile states (when they were only spending 16% there), and we named priority countries. We asked DFID to recognise that children in emergencies needed a good education too. And we called on DFID to push other donors to do the same.
How have we done? Well, Save the Children worked to improve the quality of education for 10 million children, exceeding our target. Getting out of school children into school in these countries has proved harder — the multiple barriers (conflict, poverty, discrimination, lack of facilities) are just enormous. We did manage, however, to see 1.4 million children enter school, so we have committed to keep working for the next five years until we reach that 3 million target.
And how have DFID done? This month, they launched their new 2010-2015 Education Strategy. And they have made that massive jump. 50% of their education aid (which, as one of the world’s leading donors, is £1billion each year) will be for conflict-affected fragile states. That means an increase from £60m a year for these countries in 2006 to £280m for the same countries in 2010 onwards. And DFID have recognised the role of education in emergencies.
This is what was needed for those forgotten children – living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. And for the tens of thousands of children who get caught up each year in emergencies like Haiti. This is the change we wanted at Save the Children. But wow does it require a lot of focus, energy and determination — and complete confidence that you have got it right for children.