Education Cannot Wait Interviews High-Level Steering Group Youth Representative Mutesi Hadijah and Executive Committee Youth Representative Hector Ulloa
Youth offer a powerful voice in ECW’s global movement to ensure crisis-impacted children worldwide are offered the safety, hope and opportunity of a quality education. As a global multilateral fund, ECW offers a rare opportunity for youth to participate in its governance structure. In this sweeping two-part interview, ECW connects with Mutesi Hadijah and Hector Ulloa who were recently elected to represent the youth constituency on ECW’s High-Level Steering Group and Executive Committee, respectively.
Meet Mutesi Hadijah
Mutesi Hadijah fights for students, youth, women and refugees in Uganda. Currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Communication at Makerere University, Hadijah uses media advocacy to uplift and empower girls facing child marriage, promote refugee rights, and mobilise solidarity for impacted communities. Through bold appearances on TV, Hadijah has contributed to highlighting the challenges faced by refugees in Uganda, using news media as a tool to advocate for their education and integration. Despite facing strong resistance to her continued advocacy for girls' education, Hadijah continues to fight for girls' and women's rights through the Gender Advocacy Working Group at the All-Africa Students Union (AASU). As the current Vice President of the Uganda National Students Association (UNSA), she also mobilises public support for pressing issues, such as showing solidarity with students affected by tragedies.
Hadijah now represents global students and youth as part of the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Group. Guided by values of empowerment and social justice, she believes that equitable access to free, public quality education will empower individuals to break the cycle of poverty, overcome systemic barriers, and pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous society for all.
ECW: Congratulations! Why did you want to be a youth representative within ECW's Governance structure, and what do you hope to achieve in your new role on ECW's High-Level Steering Group (HLSG)?
Hadijah: As a youth and student representative within and outside of ECW's governance structure, my primary motivation stems from a deep belief in the transformative power of education. I've witnessed firsthand the challenges young people face, especially in regions grappling with emergencies, insurgencies and refugee resettlements.
As the Global Student Forum's representative to the ECW High-Level Steering Group, my goal is to advocate for access to free quality education that transcends crises and empowers young people to overcome adversity. By amplifying youth voices, advocating for inclusivity, promoting innovation and influencing policy, I hope to contribute to ECW's mission of ensuring that education truly will not have to wait for those who need it the most.
In particular, I hope to ensure that the perspectives of young people affected by emergencies and conflicts are heard and integrated into decision-making at both global platforms like ECW and national governments. This advocacy is critical for pushing policies that prioritise education in crises and lead to increased funding, improved strategies and long-term commitments.
As a student and youth representative, I believe it's important to stay connected with the student and youth community and to ensure that their voices are heard.
ECW: What does education mean to you personally, as a girl growing up in Uganda, one of the world's top refugee-hosting countries, which is also impacted by climate crisis? How can we realise the #222MilionDreams of the more than 222 million children and adolescents impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters and protracted crises who urgently need education support?
Hadijah: I realised early in life what role education could play in changing my story. I wanted to be different, I wanted to be in a position where I could help bring change. And I knew the only way was through education. In Uganda, a country hosting a significant refugee population and grappling with climate-induced challenges, education becomes even more vital. For refugees and those affected by crises, education is not just about textbooks; it's about ensuring children and youth can dream about anything they want to be and supporting them with needed skills to rebuild their lives.
To realise the objectives of the #222MillionDreams campaign, we must champion a global solidarity fund to support education initiatives in vulnerable areas. We must advocate for policies that prioritise education in emergencies, pushing governments and international institutions to commit resources. I strongly believe technology can help us reach the unreached and close the gaps hindering access to quality education. We saw how technology was used during the onslaught of COVID-19. In the same vein, we can leverage its power to serve marginalised communities, particularly during crises. Refugees can be supported to help themselves and their communities if they are taught practical skills through technical and vocational education and training.
ECW: What can you tell us about ECW's youth constituency and the network of civil society organisations that you represent? How will you help ensure that the voices of crisis-affected children and youth from the Global South are represented around education and SDG4?
Hadijah: The ECW student- and youth-led subgroup is one of four independent groups within the civil society constituency of ECW’s governance structure. Since forming in 2020, we have already grown to 130+ youth- and student-led member organisations in over 40 countries, including global student unions like ours to national networks of youth activists and refugee-led groups operating in settlements across the world. We organise ourselves democratically, collaborating as a global team to input the youth and student perspective in ECW decision-making, nationally champion the importance of education during crises, and many of us also deliver education in emergencies projects at the grassroots level.
The youth constituency is the first time a global fund has created a formal role for young people from crisis-affected contexts to directly shape policies and solutions based on their experiences and insights. With the majority of our members from the Global South, especially Africa, my main aim is to ensure underrepresented voices, like mine, have meaningful ways to be heard at the highest level of decision-making. We hold regular calls ahead of ECW ExCom and HLSG meetings, share accessible consultation forms on key topics and communicate via WhatsApp for urgent responses.
Q: Our readers often say, "readers are leaders." Which books have most influenced you, and why would you recommend them to others?
Hadijah: Here are my top three books that have greatly influenced my life. My first would be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I learned the value of resilience and an understanding that in life’s journey, the challenges we face should not be seen as a setback but rather as part of the process of getting to one’s destination. The second is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Through this book, I have learned strategies to take advantage of the power of habits for my personal development. And lastly, my best of the best is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. One of the habits that resonated deeply with me is "Sharpen the Saw," which emphasises the importance of continuous self-improvement. I wholeheartedly recommend these books as they've been instrumental in shaping my perspectives and offer valuable insights for anyone seeking personal and professional growth.
Meet Hector Ulloa
Hector Ulloa is originally from Honduras and has a background in student leadership and human rights. His activism in the education field led him to become the first foreign president of the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund (SAIH), a Steering Committee Member at the Global Student Forum (GSF), and the Youth Representative of ECW’s Executive Committee.
Ulloa studied law, was deputy leader of the National Law Students' Association and spokesman for the Honduran student movement. In Norway, he completed a master's degree in Public Administration at the University of Bergen through the Students at Risk Scholarship – a human rights protection mechanism for persecuted student activists. Currently, he works as Policy Advisor at Skatteforsk - Centre for Tax Research and serves as board member of Debt Justice Norway (SLUG).
ECW: Congratulations! Why did you want to be a youth representative within ECW’s governance structure, and what do you hope to achieve in your new role on ECW’s Executive Committee?
Ulloa: Through my time as a youth activist and student representative I have experienced firsthand the challenges of meaningful youth involvement in decision making. Having received the trust to represent the youth and student-led sub-group means a lot to me because it gives me the opportunity to further consolidate the good representation practices that these youth-led organizations stand for and also keep on showing the added value of involving youth at the highest levels of governance.
Additionally, through the Global Student Forum and the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, I also got the opportunity to work more closely on topics related to refugee education, financing of education, and education in crisis and conflicts. So my hope is to keep on learning through this experience while amplifying the voices of all the young people I am now working with.
ECW: What does education mean to you personally, in light of your own journey from growing up in Honduras to moving to Norway to pursue your university studies? How can we help realize #222MillionDreams for the more than 222 million children and adolescents impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters and protracted crises, who urgently need education support?
Ulloa: As the son of two teachers, from an early age I came to understand how powerful education is. For me, education is the best tool we have to change our societies and achieve a more equal and fair world. The biggest change required to realize the dream of the millions of children and adolescents impacted by emergencies and protracted crises is to keep on pushing governments to recognize education as a long-term investment and not as a disposable expenditure.
Increased domestic resource mobilization is needed if we are serious about reaching all these children. ECW is making a huge contribution in those places where the most acute and timely financing is needed but we must also remind education advocates and politicians that, in the long run, structural changes to how we finance education are required. This means that everyone in society needs to contribute their fair share in order to strengthen public education systems and make them equitable and resilient.
ECW: How can youth inspire stronger political commitment and financial contributions to ECW and to the education in emergencies and protracted crises (#EiEPC) sector from government donors, private sector, foundations and high-net-worth individuals?
Ulloa: Youth needs to keep on mobilizing at the national, regional and global level by organizing themselves and participating even more in public discussions. The advocacy power and innovativeness of young people shouldn't be underestimated.
In the spaces where youth is already included, representativeness is important to make sure that those further away from the decision-making spaces are also heard through the voices and actions of those they trust. And in the places where youth is not included yet, young people should not be shy with their demands, demand a stake in decision making and ensure that no decisions are being made about them, without them.
ECW: Our readers know that “readers are leaders.” What are books that have most influenced you, and why would you recommend them to others?
Ulloa: As someone that has worked with activism for many years, motivating people and facilitating impactful advocacy has been one of the most important tasks in my day-to-day life. There are two books that I have found insightful, the first one is Creativity Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull – a good book to learn more about inspiring others, taking risks and pushing your limits. The second one is New Power by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, a book that gives very useful insights into how organizations and people have different ways of exerting power in order to bring about change. The book challenges the reader to be versatile and understand, and master, both the old and new ways of power.