Financing Conference Mobilizes Support for Education Cannot Wait

By: Giulia McPherson & Macarena Romero Alvaro

Last week, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, hosted a High-Level Financing Conference (HLFC) in Geneva to build political will for financing quality, inclusive, and transformative education for over 222 million children and adolescents living in crisis and conflict settings around the world. Currently there are 27 active conflicts in the world and only in 2022 there were 323 natural disasters. As the United Nations points out, there are already 339 million people who need humanitarian aid in 2023, a figure that represents an increase of 23% compared to the previous year and that has tripled since 2016 due to the sum of multiple correlated emergencies.

Co-convened with the governments of Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway, South Sudan, and Switzerland – the HLFC resulted in more than $826 million in funding, more than half of ECW’s $1.5 billion goal to support its 2023-2026 Strategic Plan. This includes support from two new donors – Italy and the Qatar Fund for Development. On its behalf, the Government of Spain hasn’t committed to making a financial contribution yet, but was willing to publicly support ECW at the conference with the presence of the Secretary Head of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Over the course of two days, advocates, youth leaders, NGOs, and donors gathered to stand in solidarity with every child affected by crisis whose education has been disrupted and to take action. In the Opening Plenary, Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF, remarked that “Education is both lifesaving and life changing. Education provides children with foundational learning tools to survive and thrive. Yet, the portion of humanitarian funding allocated to education remains below 3 percent.”

Young people played a prominent role throughout the conference, providing personal testimonies validating the importance of investing in education programs and encouraging government officials to take swift action. Adriana Figueiredo Costero, a refugee teacher advocate and member of the Tertiary Refugee Student Network shared, “I was lucky because I was able to finish my primary and secondary education after I fled Venezuela. I remember the fear of the unknown. Not sleeping because you were thinking about the future. We have to guarantee a more sustainable environment for kids to get access to education.”

ECW is at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap in education for displaced youth by advocating for access to education in crisis settings. To date, it has reached almost 7 million children and adolescents with programs and interventions in some of the world’s most challenging humanitarian contexts; provided education materials and textbooks to over 4.2 million children; and strengthened equity and gender equality by reaching 3.3 million girls. 

As pointed out in the statement of the Global Campaign for Education Spain, within the framework of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union starting next summer, we call on to prioritize Education in emergencies in its programme, and call for the endorsement and implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines to Prevent the Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflicts.

The HLFC served as an important milestone in ECW’s efforts to build the momentum necessary to reform how education is addressed in humanitarian settings. While historically treated as a secondary priority, education is now receiving the attention it deserves. Over the coming months, advocates will continue to support ECW’s efforts to reach its fundraising goal to ensure that education continues to be prioritized by donors and all decision makers.


Giulia McPherson is Director of Advocacy & Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. She is Chair of the Education in Emergencies Working Group, Global Campaign for Education-US. She can be reached at @GiuliaMcPherson.

Macarena Romero is Advocacy Officer at Entreculturas/Fe y Alegría Spain. She is part of the Advocacy and Coordination Working Group, Global Campaign for Education- Spain. She can be reached at @macarenaromealv.