Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides join the global movement to ensure children and youth caught in crises have access to the safety, protection and hope of an education

24 January 2020, New York – As part of the global celebrations of the International Day of Education, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) appointed former UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, and former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, as ECW Global Champions for Education in Emergencies.

As the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 kicks off, the two new Global Champions will support the growing global movement to deliver quality, inclusive education to more than 75 million children and youth worldwide that are missing out on the hope, opportunity and protection of an education as the result of protracted crises and emergencies.

“I am delighted that Irina Bokova and Christos Stylianides have accepted to serve in the important advocacy role of ‘ECW Global Champion for Education in Emergencies’,” said Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair, Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Group. “They will be great assets to our shared cause for the United Nations and the 75 million children and youth around the world whose education is disrupted by crises.”

“Irina Bokova and Christos Stylianides are passionate and committed leaders in advocating for education, and they embody the human spirit that drives our movement forward,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Together with our partners, these tireless Global Champions will relentlessly advocate for education to be put front and center in humanitarian responses, upholding the right to education of the millions of girls and boys enduring armed conflicts, disasters and forced displacement.”

As the ninth Director-General of UNESCO – and the first woman to head the agency – Bokova is a staunch advocate for quality education, gender equality, women’s empowerment and sustainable development. UNESCO is a key partner for Education Cannot Wait’s educational responses, which have already delivered education to children and youth in some 30 countries affected by crises.

“Education Cannot Wait is a pioneer of the big efforts to provide education to the 75 million children and youth whose education is disrupted by crises. I am, therefore, very proud to be an active advocate and supporter of ECW’s admirable work,” said Bokova. “Despite the progress, big challenges remain. Joining forces is key to tackle them effectively. It is our moral duty to help children around the globe get the education they deserve.”

As the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Stylianides was a key proponent of the European Union (EU)’s groundbreaking decision to devote 10 per cent of its humanitarian assistance to education.  The EU has already committed €21 million (US$24.7 million) to ECW, and a number of EU member states are key donors to the Fund.

“I am excited and honored to become an ECW Global Champion and to support its ground-breaking work to bring education to children in conflict and crisis,” said Stylianides. “Indeed, education cannot wait until a conflict is over, until buildings have been rebuilt, until resources are available. Education is the best, long-term way to break the cycles of violence and poverty and set communities on the path to peace and development.”

With the support of its Global Champions and key partners in national governments, United Nations agencies, philanthropic foundations and donors, Education Cannot Wait seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to support education programmes for children and youth caught in the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The Fund has already raised over half a billion dollars in its first three years of operation and plays an instrumental role in strengthening the coherence between short-term humanitarian assistance and medium-to long-term development interventions in the education aid sector. ECW is rapidly scaling up its investments to support quality learning outcomes for vulnerable girls and boys in crises, such as:

  • In the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where education is deliberately being targeted by non-state armed individuals and groups, including the killing of school personnel and the destruction and looting of school facilities and threats to communities that have forced the closure of hundreds of schools. Hundreds of thousands of children and youth are in urgent need of educational support across the region.
  • In Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru where half of the refugee and migrant children from Venezuela are not enrolled in formal schooling, putting them at greater risks of child labour, gender based-violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking. The worsening situation in Venezuela has pushed over 4 million Venezuelans to flee the country, a majority of whom are families with children. An estimated 1.2 million children and youth are affected in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru alone.
  • In Yemen, where 12 percent of the population is displaced after nearly four years of conflict, 7 million children need humanitarian assistance to ensure the continuation of their education. Across the country, 2 million children are out of school. Girls are more likely to lose out on education, with 36 percent out of school compared to 24 percent of boys.
  • In Uganda, the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, more than 1.2 million people have sought refuge from the crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Education Response Plan aims to reach almost 600,000 affected children with quality education. At the start of the 2020, $22M has been mobilized, but $89M is urgently required for full implementation of the Education Response Plan.


Support to education for refugees took centre stage at this week’s first-ever Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, culminating in total year-end global contributions to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies, to over a quarter of a billion US dollars in 2019.

New pledges by Germany, European Commission/European Union, Norway and Theirworld bring January-December 2019 donor contributions to Education Cannot Wait to over a quarter of a billion US dollars – with over half a billion US dollars raised in just three years

20 December 2019, New York – Support to education for refugees took centre stage at this week’s first-ever Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, culminating in total year-end global contributions to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Global Fund for Education in Emergencies, to over a quarter of a billion US dollars in 2019.

New funding pledged at the Global Refugee Forum comes from Germany (EUR 16 million), European Commission/European Union (EUR 5 million), Norway (NOK 20 million) and Theirworld (US$431,000).

This new funding brings Education Cannot Wait’s resource mobilization in 2019 total to US$253 million. The Fund has raised over half a billion US dollars (US$583 million) since its inception just three years ago. The funds will jumpstart resource mobilization efforts for 2020, as Education Cannot Wait and its partners build momentum in their global movement to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and youth annually.

“We marked a milestone with UNHCR and our partners at the Global Refugee Forum and the world has spoken. Education needs to be placed at the center of global responses for forced displacement due to armed conflicts and natural disasters,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Every child and every young person is entitled to the protection that crisis-sensitive education programmes can provide during the most difficult time of their young lives. As we enter the Decade of Action, together, we can deliver on SDG4, the Global Goal for inclusive, quality education.”

Germany’s new EUR 16 million contribution (approximately US$17.8 million) substantially adds on to the EUR 10 million previously committed this year, bringing Germany’s total commitment in 2019 to EUR 26 million. Germany’s contribution will support the continued roll-out of ECW’s multi-year resilience programmes in 2020, bridging the divide between humanitarian and development interventions.

With its new EUR 5 million contribution, the European Commission/European Union, expands its total contribution to ECW to close to US$25 million since the inception of the Fund, reaffirming its support for ECW to provide education in emergencies. The European Commission provided the second-largest contribution during the Global Refugee Forum and sets a model for humanitarian-development coherence which is at the core of ECW’s mandate.

Norway’s new NOK 20 million contribution (approximately US$2.2 million) expands upon the NOK 500 million contribution announced for 2019-2022, ranking Norway as the second largest donor to Education Cannot Wait. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jens Frølich Holte, announced the new pledge highlighting that “3.7 million refugee children are not in school and the global community has to step up its efforts.”

Theirworld’s new US$431,000 contribution expands upon its ongoing education support for refugee children on the Greek Aegean Islands with the announcement of a new center near the overcrowded Moria Camp on Lesvos. This new center expands the broader Theirworld project with Education Cannot Wait and will reach additional vulnerable refugee children.

“Worldwide, there are 71 million displaced people – 2 million more than last year. 90 percent have found refuge in a developing country. The root causes of refugee movements are wars, hunger and a lack of prospects. The situation in the crisis region around Syria, in Yemen or in the refugee camps of the Rohingya remains disastrous. It is the children who suffer most. That is why the BMZ committed another 16 million euros to the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ Fund at the Refugee Forum,” said German Development Minister Gerd Müller (view press statement).

“It is heartbreaking to see the conditions these young people are living in and the relative lack of support from the international community. We have found ourselves in a very unique position to deliver immediate education support to refugees through our partnerships and unlock bigger change for thousands more,” said Theirworld President Justin van Fleet (view press statement).

Out of 25.9 million refugees globally, about half are children and youth below 18 years old. While the number of refugee children enrolled in primary education is only 63 per cent, larger gaps remain in secondary education at 24 per cent enrolment and in tertiary/higher-level education at 3 per cent enrolment.

The generous new funding will help build on efforts by ECW and partners to close the funding gap for education in emergencies to reach the approximately 75 million children and youth caught up in forced displacement, conflicts and disasters who urgently need education support.

At the Global Refugee Forum, ECW pledged to “Facilitate and invest in multi-year programmes for refugee and host-community children to access quality education, particularly in secondary education” and joined with the Global Partnership for Education and World Bank to pledge for increased financing and coordination to improve education for refugees.

ECW also called on partners to fully fund the Uganda Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities. Led by the government of Uganda with the support of UNHCR and implemented by a civil society consortium, this ECW-facilitated programme is the first of its kind, with ECW committing US$33 million in seed funding and appealing to donors to fill the gap of US$250 million. 

Since 2017, Education Cannot Wait’s investments – spanning more than 30 crisis-affected countries – have reached 2 million children and youth, of whom 33 percent are refugees.

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About Education Cannot Wait: ECW is the first global 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. 

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UN Photo: Isaac Billy
UN Photo: Isaac Billy


26 November 2018, Strasbourg – The European Parliament announced earlier this month new support for Education Cannot Wait, calling on the European Commission and Member States to increase funding for the new global fund for education in crisis.

In their resolution on European Union development assistance in the field of education, the Parliament welcomed the Commission’s objective of “devoting 10 per cent of the Union’s humanitarian aid to education from 2019.”

The resolution stresses that “education of refugee or displaced children must be regarded as a priority from the very outset; emphasizes the importance of supporting countries affected by fragility and conflict to improve the resilience of their education systems and guarantee access to quality education – including secondary education – for refugee children and young refugees, internally displaced children and their host communities.”

“EU’s landmark resolution shows European commitment to education in emergencies and protracted crisis. In line with the new EU Policy Framework approving 10% of education in emergencies and crisis in May this year, it follows years of EU leadership in making quality education for children and youth affected by conflicts and natural disasters a priority in humanitarian crisis,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, a new global Fund hosted by UNICEF dedicated to providing safe, reliable education for 8.9 million children living in crisis by 2021.

“The collective commitment to action is very inspiring,” said Sherif. “With the bold new EU policy framework and EU resolution, as well as the generous G7 Summit in Charlevoix for girls and women education in crisis, and now the outstanding Global Education Monitoring Report for 2019 spearheaded by UNESCO, we have all reason to be hopeful. We are hopeful that the financial needs to deliver quality education to 75 million children and youth in emergencies and crisis are fully materialized. Through collective commitments of this kind, we see a powerful and action-oriented promise for real change.”


The European Council set a strong policy agenda in support of education in emergencies and protracted crises in its Conclusions  adopted on 26 November.

“The Council expresses its grave concern that more than 75 million children affected by emergencies and protracted crises have no access to quality education. The Council is equally concerned that violence is on the increase in and around the education environment. Education is a human right that must be upheld in all contexts as an essential means to help children and young people meet their full potential, to strengthen individual, community and country resilience, to achieve sustainable development and to ensure peaceful, inclusive and prosperous societies.”

The Council reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring access to inclusive lifelong learning and safe, equitable quality education and training at all levels in emergency and crisis situations. It also welcomed the comprehensive approach to education in emergencies and protracted crises, which includes preparedness, disaster risk reduction, prevention, mitigation, rapid response, and a commitment to building resilient education systems.


Statement of the Education Cannot Wait Director on the EU increase of spending for education in emergencies and protracted crises

I applaud the new EU policy framework aiming to increase the humanitarian funding for education in emergencies and crises to 10 per cent of its overall humanitarian aid budget as of 2019. This announcement marks a key milestone in our collective efforts to fill the funding gap to meet the urgent education needs of millions of children and youth affected by conflict and natural disasters across the globe.

In situations of conflict and crises, safe access to a quality education is absolutely crucial to provide children with physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection that can be both life-sustaining and life-saving. Yet, education is often one of the first service to be disrupted and one of the last to be restored.

Girls in a temporary learning structure near Kabul, Afghanistan © ECW/A. Sandhu
Girls in a temporary learning structure near Kabul, Afghanistan © ECW/A. Sandhu

Lack of access to education directly impacts children’s safety and well-being. All children are exposed to threats during and after emergencies. However girls and boys who are out of school are at much higher risk of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. This includes sexual violence and exploitation, recruitment or use by armed forces or groups and hazardous child labor.

The new EU policy framework also aims to bring children caught up in humanitarian crises back to learning within 3 months. Along with the EU increased funding, this will undeniably play a significant role in supporting a quick and effective response to needs.

The EU has been instrumental in raising the centrality of education in the humanitarian response, consistently stepping up its funding in recent years.  I am hopeful that this new announcement will set yet another example for other donors to follow through. There is no time to waste, the lives and future of millions of children are at stake.

Yasmine Sherif
Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

Additional information on the new EU policy framework on humanitarian funding for education in emergencies and crises is available at: