Sultan A. Al Saud
IT IS a sad state of affairs that the 21st century has not only heralded marked technological and scientific advances but also the highest of levels of human suffering since the Second World War. It is for this reason that the UN Secretary General has asked world leaders, philanthropists and other key stakeholders to take part in the first World Humanitarian Summit this week in Istanbul.
It is here that the Education Cannot Wait fund, to provide education to children suffering from emergencies and humanitarian crises, has been launched. An unprecedented level of conflict has resulted in a record number of forcibly displaced people, as of last year there were some 60 million refugees worldwide . The tragedy of this is that children are often the worst affected. In transit, faced by poverty, sickness and violence their education is in great jeopardy.
These children are likely to spend their school-age years outside the classroom, their talents ignored and their potential locked. This message is all the more relevant in the Arab world, where almost two decades on from the first Arab Human Development Report , the region’s youth still suffer from a “poverty of opportunities”. This has been compounded by recent conflicts, leaving many of young people without hope and worryingly uneducated.
It is for this reason that the Education Cannot Wait fund has been launched by former British Prime Minister and UN Global Education Envoy Gordon Brown. Currently, education receives less that 2 percent of humanitarian aid and the support is often late to arrive and is insufficient to cover the needs of children.
Philanthropy in the Arab world is intrinsic to its culture and religious practices, yet though charitable donations are made, there is a need for them to be more strategic and efficient Worldwide it is thought that refugees spend 17 years displaced on average, this is a critical period of time in the upbringing of a child. Syrian children born in 2011 at the beginning of the uprising are now of school age, however many will remain outside the classroom at risk of trafficking, child labour and child marriage.
Recognizing that in times of crisis, education can offer stability yet there is a lack of capital to support it, the fund seeks to provide a constant financial reserve to close this education gap. With an average cost of just over $100 per child, education can be provided to support those affected by war, natural disaster and other emergencies that severely disrupt learning. It is vital that donors from the Arab World also contribute to this fund.
Philanthropy in the Arab world is intrinsic to its culture and religious practices, yet though charitable donations are made, there is a need for them to be more strategic and efficient. Education is the single most important developmental challenge facing the region and it is only through supporting it that we may build a better tomorrow. It is estimated that every year $200bn-$1tn is given in charity across the Muslim world, with GCC philanthropy comprising a significant percentage of these figures.
However, very little of the money goes toward sustainable development and is thereby limited in its effectiveness. The Education Cannot Wait platform provides a more structured approach, providing the benefits of a global coalition that can collaborate to meet the single goal of education.
The fund has brought to together public and private partners to increase the efficiency of current approaches, leverage traditional financing and innovate the delivery of education in emergencies and protracted crises. It cannot be left to governments in the region to fill the funding gap; philanthropists and the growing number of non-governmental organisations have a duty to respond to the call.
Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th largest. Put in in Arab context, every day last year an average of 42,500 Syrian people became refugees. A sustained drive from donors in the region could fill the education gap not just in regionally but globally. This is a historic moment and the first time that such a fund has been established and Arab philanthropic organizations and individuals must take part, education cannot wait.
[Sultan A. Al Saud is an active board member of two charitable endeavours that seek to support the needy — the Ahmad Bin Abdulaziz Foundation for Humanitarian Development and the Hussa Bint Ahmad Al Sudairi Foundation. He is engaged with the Global Business Coalition for Education, which has convened a meeting of philanthropists and businesses at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul]