Education Cannot Wait faces uphill struggle toward $1.8B fundraising target

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Yasmine Sherif, director at Education Cannot Wait. Photo by: Education Cannot Wait

ALICANTE, Spain — Education Cannot Wait’s ability to hit its $1.8 billion fundraising target by the end of next year is under threat as COVID-19 diverts hoped-for funding to other causes, according to its director, Yasmine Sherif.

It is a setback for the fund, which focuses on education in emergencies and had already downgraded its original target of $4 billion to less than half that figure.

“Had COVID-19 not happened, we would have expected to hit the target of $1 billion this year, and then we would have another [$800 million] before the end of 2021. Because of COVID-19, we are not 100% sure that we can reach the [$1.8 billion] target by next year, but you never say never,” Sherif told Devex.

Having been what Sherif called “idealistically pragmatic” at the fund’s inception in 2016 and setting out to raise $4 billion by the end of 2020, ECW later revised the figure to a more “realistic” $1.8 billion by 2021. So far, ECW said it has raised more than $637 million in contributions and pledges. With economies buckling under the strain of COVID-19 and funding priorities shifting to tackle the outbreak, the lower figure may not be reached, in which case ECW may extend the deadline.

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Since the start of the pandemic, ECW has nonetheless managed to disburse more than $60 million in educational aid to partners in 33 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Colombia.

Education has always been underfunded, Sherif said, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation. In 2017, less than 4% of humanitarian aid went toward funding education, yet 75 million children and youths are thought to be missing out on an education or have had their education disrupted due to conflict and emergency. A further 9.7 million children may end up out of school as a result of the pandemic.

Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said COVID-19 had led to the largest disruption of education ever, as he launched a policy brief calling for the prioritization of education in financing decisions.

“The message to our international development partners and the private sector is [that] it is not enough and if you're going to be serious about education for those left furthest behind in conflict and displacement, we have to significantly scale up those resources and also realize that ECW is no longer a startup fund,” Sherif said.

Last year, the U.K. pledged the fund’s largest commitment of $110.5 million. Norway, Denmark, and Germany have also put up significant funds, as have organizations such as The LEGO Foundation and Verizon.

“I'm hoping COVID-19 will be that eye-opener — that without education, everything else will fall away.”

— Yasmine Sherif, director, Education Cannot Wait

Established during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 and hosted by UNICEF, ECW provides funding to partner organizations — such as Save the Children, the Afghanistan Consortium for Community-based Education, and the Norwegian Refugee Council — that are implementing education programs in crisis contexts.

It aims to “reposition education as a priority on the humanitarian agenda, usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground and foster additional funding to ensure that every crisis-affected child and young person is in school and learning,” according to its website.

Getting countries dealing with conflict and extreme poverty to invest in education from the national budget is extremely difficult, Sherif said.

“This is the time to look at the logical correlation between investments we make and the world we want,” she said, noting that not only does COVID-19 risk reversing gains already made, but that unless there is more financing for education, the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole are at risk. “I'm hoping COVID-19 will be that eye-opener — that without education, everything else will fall away,” she said.

Update, Aug. 14: This story was amended to clarify the timeline for ECW’s fundraising target.

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  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.