ECW’s Q&A with a global leader committed to reaching the furthest behind first

Minister Ulstein on his recent visit to the Mopti region in Mali. Photo: Ane Lunde/Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

ECW: Minister Ulstein, you announced a significant new contribution of NOK 500 million (about US$55 million) from Norway to Education Cannot Wait, the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies, during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. Can you explain why you think it is important to support this relatively new multilateral funding mechanism dedicated to supporting education for children and youth caught up in crises worldwide?

Minister Ulstein: As Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has highlighted, when a crisis erupts, education is often the first service to be lost and the last to be resumed. We cannot afford to neglect education in emergencies. Schooling not only gives children and youth the skills and knowledge they need to rebuild their society once a crisis is over; it also offers them protection and a sense of normality in an otherwise chaotic and traumatic situation.

I believe there are two main challenges that have to be overcome in order to reach children and youth in emergencies. First of all, the current level of financing is inadequate. Secondly, ensuring quality education for all, in line with SDG 4, is essentially a long-term endeavour and requires both predictable financing and unwavering commitment. ECW is in a good position to address both these challenges.

ECW is a key partner in our efforts to ensure education for the most marginalised children and youth. I am therefore pleased that the Norwegian Government will contribute NOK 500 million to Education Cannot Wait for the period 2019-2022. 

ECW: Just before the General Assembly, you travelled to Mali with the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, where you met communities displaced by the surge of violence in the centre of the country and witnessed the work of the Fund’s partners on the ground to provide education and psycho-social support to children and youth affected by the crisis. What motivated you to undertake such a field visit and what were your main takeaways?

Minister Ulstein: For years, there has been a complex emergency in Mali. The ongoing conflict and a series of natural disasters have led to an education crisis with 285 000 out-of-school children. The Malian Government made it clear that the provision of education is severely affected by the ongoing crisis and that there are substantial unmet needs in this area. The majority of out-of-school children are in the Mopti region, where ECW recently began its first response interventions.

It was important for me to visit Mopti together with ECW’s Executive Director Yasmine Sherif, to learn more about the education situation for children and youth in this region. Listening to the stories of children who had been forced to leave their homes was a real eye-opener. It was evident that education plays an incredibly important role in their lives.

ECW: Despite some progress and increased funding by strategic donors and partners to support education aid in recent years, we are still off-track to ensure quality and inclusive education for every child by 2030, as stated by Sustainable Development Goal 4. How can we turn the tide and deliver learning opportunities to the millions of children and youth enduring armed conflicts, disasters and forced displacement?

Minister Ulstein: SDG 4 is a promise of quality education for all. We will not be able to reach SDG 4 by 2030 unless we increase our efforts to reach children and youth in crisis and conflict situations. While we have many challenges ahead of us, we can see that education has become a greater priority in emergency response. Education efforts are not only about reaching SDG 4, but are also a vehicle for reaching other SDGs and are closely linked to efforts to meet other humanitarian needs. My impression is that awareness of these interlinkages has increased in recent years.

ECW has played a key role in this shift by putting education in emergencies at the top of the agenda. It has mobilised substantial funding and presents new and promising ways of delivering education in emergencies. ECW’s programmes offer predictable and flexible funding, and promote a better coordinated and more holistic education response. At the same time, achieving SDG 4 is a national responsibility and it is therefore important that education aid, including ECW’s programmes, support governments’ work in this area.

Minister Ulstein and ECW Director Yasmine Sherif with children displaced by violence in the Mopti region, Mali. Photo: A. Desgroseilliers/ECW 

ECW: You took office at the beginning of the year as Norway’s Minister of International Development. How much of a priority is education in Norway’s international aid efforts? What are your key priorities, in particular for the education sector?

Minister Ulstein: Norway has substantially increased its aid to education since 2013, and education remains one of the key priorities in our aid efforts. Prime Minister Erna Solberg is a vocal champion of the right to education, especially for girls. We have taken on a leading role in mobilising increased financing for education, including education in emergencies.

Education can be one of the most effective ways of promoting inclusion. We know that marginalised groups such as children and youth with disabilities are generally less likely to attend school, and even more so in crisis and conflict situations. I am pleased that ECW reached 14 000 children with disabilities in 2018. However, we know that we have yet to reach many more marginalised children and youth. Going forward, we need to give greater priority to reaching the furthest behind first.

ECW: Norway has been among the very first supporters of Education Cannot Wait – right from the inception of the Fund at the World Humanitarian Summit. Now that the Fund has been operational for more than 2 years, do you think it is delivering on its promises?

Minister Ulstein: I am pleased to see that ECW provided learning opportunities for more than 1.5 million children and youth who were caught up in 18 of the world’s most devastating humanitarian crises in 2018. I am particularly impressed by the number of multi-year resilience programmes that have been initiated. ECW’s approach is helping to bridge the gap between humanitarian and long-term aid in the field of education. ECW also promotes quality and learning outcomes from the outset of a crisis. At the same time, ECW plays an important role by providing support to education when a crisis suddenly arises or escalates, and education services need to be rapidly restored.

ECW: How do you see the role of Education Cannot Wait in the education aid architecture?

Minister Ulstein: ECW is one of several important partners in the field of education, many of which also play an important role in emergency response. It is crucially important that the various organisations work effectively together. ECW is a strong advocate for the right to education for millions of children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises. ECW is promoting inter-agency partnerships as an efficient way of delivering education in emergencies at the country level.

Minister Ulstein with Grammy Award nominated rapper and Global Citizen Ambassador French Montana at the “Leave No One Behind: Accelerating the SDGs through Quality Education — Two New Initiatives” event at this year’s UN General Assembly. Photo: E.Bahaa/ECW

Learn more about Minister Ulstein and Norway’s international development and development cooperation efforts.


23 October 2019, Rome – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Education Cannot Wait (ECW), today embarked on a strategic partnership to ensure children and youth in emergencies do not miss out on the education opportunities that will shape their futures.  

WFP Assistant Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri, and ECW Director, Yasmine Sherif, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding at WFP’s headquarters in Rome, to strengthen joint programming and joint advocacy at a global level.


Watch Yasmine Sherif and Valerie Guarnieri explain why this new partnership is important as they sign the agreement.


There are currently 73 million children living in extreme poverty who attend school but are missing out on the school feeding, health and nutrition programmes that are essential for their ability to learn. WFP and ECW are committed to address this through an integrated approach that tackles the multiple needs of each child learner.

“Simply put, sick children cannot attend school and hungry children cannot learn,” said Valerie Guarnieri. “It is essential we invest more in the health and nutrition of young learners, particularly girls. We need to assist governments and communities to reap the full benefits of their important investments in education. Through our new partnership with Education Cannot Wait we will work collectively to meet the nutrition and education needs of children who risk being left behind,” said Guarnieri.

Situations of armed conflict, forced displacement, natural disasters and protracted crises around the world are disrupting the education of some 75 million children and youth. In such contexts, families often lack the means to feed their children or send them to school. While missing a meal can have a physical impact on a child, chronic food insecurity impacts a child’s learning and their well-being. The new WFP-ECW partnership will help lift some of these barriers, enhancing access to quality, inclusive education for vulnerable children in emergency and crisis settings.

“For many children and youth in crisis-affected countries, a meal at school may be the only food they eat all day and can be an important incentive for families to send and keep girls and boys in school. It is also essential for a young person to actually focus and learn,” said Yasmine Sherif.

“Our partnership with the World Food Programme will help improve learning outcomes, retention and performance for children reached through Education Cannot Wait’s investments. Together with our partners, we must work towards responses that encompass the whole well-being of a child, creating conducive and protective learning environments.”

In its first two years of operation, ECW has reached more than 1.5 million children and youth caught in crises with education and has investments in 32 countries. Half of the beneficiaries are girls and 51 per cent of the children and youth reached are refugees or internally displaced. Education Cannot Wait and partners call on world leaders, private sector and philanthropic organizations to urgently mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and youth caught in crises annually. Along with partners, the Fund has already mobilized over half-a-billion dollars (US$560 million) since its inception.

School feeding programmes in crisis contexts are a highly effective tool to address children’s diet, nutrition, education and security needs as part of a wider school-based package. These safety nets help provide children with a sense of normalcy and promote social cohesion and stability during crises.

Over the last 50 years, WFP has scaled-up school feeding programmes in more than 100 countries to ensure that children have access to nutritionally adequate food to support their enrolment, attendance and learning in schools. In 2018, WFP provided school meals or snacks for 16.4 million in 64,000 schools – of whom 3.4 million are children in emergencies and protracted crises. Education Cannot Wait’s investments have already supported school-feeding programmes in Somalia, Uganda and Yemen, with plans to expand to additional countries through the new partnership.

Under the new agreement, WFP and ECW will engage in joint programming at the country and regional levels.  In particular, WFP and ECW are conducting joint missions in priority countries to identify challenges related to school feeding as a driver of increased enrolment and continuity in education. The two organisations will also work together globally to inspire greater political commitment and financial resources for school-based interventions, that address children’s education, nutrition and health needs in emergencies and protracted crises.


This joint news release is also available on WFP’s website.


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The United Nations World Food Programme – saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media


Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the first global, multi-lateral fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings.

Follow us on Twitter: @EduCannotWait

Additional information is available at www.educationcannotwait.org and www.act4educationincrisis.org


For more information please contact:

Frances Kennedy WFP/Rome, Tel. +39 06 6513 3725, Mob. +39 346 7600806

Steve Taravella, WFP/Washington, Tel. +1 202 653 1149, Mob.  +1 202 770 599

Anouk Desgroseilliers, adesgroseilliers@educationcannotwait.org, +1-917-640-6820

Kent Page, kpage@unicef.org, +1-917-302-1735




Will Smith, Global Citizen and Education Cannot Wait are celebrating the one-year anniversary of Will Smith’s historic jump from a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. ‘The Jump’ backed a worldwide movement to mobilize resources for Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies.

Global Advocacy, Partnerships and Donor Engagement Have Mobilized US$560 Million to Date for the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies

LOS ANGELES, OCTOBER 15, 2019 – Will and Jada Smith’s Family Foundation (WJSFF), Global Citizen (GC) and Education Cannot Wait (ECW) are celebrating the one-year anniversary of Will Smith’s historic bungee jump over the Grand Canyon. ‘The Jump’ backed a worldwide movement to mobilize resources for Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies.

With the support of high-profile advocates like Will Smith and partnerships with leading advocacy organizations such as Global Citizen, Education Cannot Wait has surpassed over half-a-billion US dollars in resources mobilized (US$560 million) from donors, the private sector and philanthropic foundations since its inception.

Will Smith is an outspoken advocate for youth and lifelong education. His continued efforts to amplify Education Cannot Wait through the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation in collaboration with Global Citizen encouraged governments and other funders to pledge an additional US$216 Million to ECW during this year’s United Nations General Assembly in September 2019.

“We were overjoyed by the outpouring of support we received from global leaders and organizations, following Will’s initial call to action with The Jump,” says Jana Babatunde-Bey, President of the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation. “Through Will’s commitment to use his artistic platform to transform and improve lives around the globe, WJSFF’s partnerships will continue to focus on providing access and opportunity to quality education for communities and children around the world.  Educating the next generation is essential to our future, and we are proud to be at the forefront of mobilizing the resources and providing the global visibility necessary to empower our youth, and to bring hope and safety to every child.”


On September 25, ECW hosted an event that brought together global leaders who recognize the urgent need to address the education crisis faced by millions of children and youth left furthest behind. Smith (vía video) issued a call to action to world leaders to continue to act to support ECW’s mission of serving every child. Leaders from Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the private sector – The LEGO Foundation and ProFuturo – announced significant contributions to Education Cannot Wait at the event, which was produced in partnership with Global Citizen.

Smith’s call to action also aired at the annual Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park on September 28. The live airing of the festival, simulcast on MSNBC, MSNBC.com and NBC News NOW, was the highest rated Global Citizen Festival broadcast ever on MSNBC among total viewers. Total viewers in 2019 increased by +29% compared to 2018 and it was the third straight year in which the festival increased ratings on MSNBC. Viewing hit a record in the prime time portion (7p-1010p), +22% over the prior year. More than 6 million viewed a portion of the Festival on MSNBC, and those who did watched for an average of 42 minutes, also a record.

Speaking on stage at the Global Citizen Festival, Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif thanked Smith and Global Citizen for calling on world leaders to fund education in emergencies. “I’m so inspired and proud of all the Global Citizens who joined the fight for increased funding towards quality education for every child, everywhere. Your actions have helped raise US$216 million in the last month alone… keep the vision!” Sherif said.

The additional funding will help support ECW and its partners in reaching millions of children and youth worldwide caught in armed conflicts, forced displacements, natural disasters and protracted crises who have been deprived of the safety, hope and opportunity that a quality education can provide. Through its global advocacy and partnerships with world-renowned actors and activists like Will Smith, ECW seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and youth.

Remembering ‘The Jump’

Last year, Smith chose to celebrate his 50th birthday by bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon to raise funds for education. Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation partnered with Omaze, a platform that democratizes traditional auction-giving by offering people the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience for as little as $10. The proceeds benefited ECW’s critical work. The event was captured for Will Smith: The Jump, a YouTube Original special, produced by Smith’s Westbrook Studios. The video has attracted over 19 million views to date.

Initial funds raised under Smith’s campaign came in from individuals in 166 countries. The unique partnership brought together Global Citizen, Omaze and WJSFF to help empower vulnerable children across the globe through Education Cannot Wait’s collaborative partnerships and multi-year programs.

ECW was launched in 2016. Now just entering its third year of operation, the fund has already reached 1.5 million children and youth, 50 percent of whom are girls. By 2021, Education Cannot Wait will launch multi-year resilience education programs in 25 crisis-affected countries in collaborative partnerships with donors, national governments, NGOs, civil society and other key stakeholders.

The campaign amplified Global Citizen’s existing advocacy efforts and provided global visibility to a crisis that affects millions of children and youth worldwide. Global Citizen and its celebrity ambassadors, partners and frontlines activists will continue to campaign for Education Cannot Wait over the coming year through the Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream campaign and other unique initiatives. The 2020 ‘Global Goal Live’ campaign seeks to secure an additional US$350 billion in global commitments annually to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Will Smith ‘The Jump’ Playlist

Notes to Editors

You can learn more about Smith and the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation online at wjsff.org or by following us on Instagram @officialwjsff, using our hashtag #WJSFF and on Facebook at @theofficialwjsff.

About Global Citizen

Since the first Global Citizen Festival in New York in 2012, Global Citizen has grown into one of the largest, most visible platforms for people around the world calling on world leaders to honor their responsibilities in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and ending extreme poverty by 2030. Global Citizens have mobilized $48.5 billion in commitments and policy announcements from leaders that have impacted the lives of 880 million people living in extreme poverty.

For more information about how to join the movement, please visit www.globalcitizen.org and follow @GlblCtzn Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #GlobalCitizen.

For press enquiries and to schedule an interview, contact: Sunshine Sachs – gc@sunshinesachs.com, +1 212 691 2800

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):

ECW is the first global, multi-lateral fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure. 

Additional information is available at www.educationcannotwait.org and www.act4educationincrisis.org

Please follow us on Twitter: @EduCannotWait and #Act4Ed

For press enquiries, contact:

Anouk Desgroseilliers, adesgroseilliers@educationcannotwait.org , +1-917-640-6820

Kent Page, kpage@unicef.org, +1-917-302-1735

For any other enquiries, contact:

About the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation:

The Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation (WJSFF) is a non-profit organization that sits at the convergence of philanthropy, media and social impact. WJSFF is an incubator and accelerator that ignites the next generation of big ideas, cutting-edge artists, thought leaders, change-makers and social innovators. Together with grantees and partners, WJSFF invests in organizations and initiatives that empower traditionally overlooked communities and affect real change. For more information, please visit www.wjsff.org

For press enquiries, contact:

Renee Felton, felton@sunshinesachs.com, 323-822-9300