In an increasingly changing and interconnected world, partnerships are more important than ever to find innovative solutions for sustainable development. New ideas and approaches are important to UNICEF’s work; we aim to engage and partner with the right organizations from the public, private and academic sectors to develop effective innovations that help get girls into school.
A school girl rescued from child marriage in Sierra Leone
Thirteen-year-old Abibatu was happily going to school in Kono in the east of Sierra Leone when her education pursuits were almost interrupted: her parents wished to marry her off before she could complete her education. Her teacher was opposed to the marriage and tried to dissuade her parents from proceeding, but they refused to listen.
© UNICEF Somolia
Faced with little alternative, the teacher then brought the issue to the attention of Education Stakeholders Forum, which comprises community leaders, non-governmental organizations, school representatives, mother clubs and local councils.
UNICEF set up this innovative coordination structure so that various stakeholders in education could come together and discuss education-related issues at the community as well as policy levels.
The Education Stakeholders Forum stepped in and informed the parents of Abibatu about the adverse effects of child marriage. Abibatu was delighted that the Education Stakeholders Forum’s efforts resulted in holding off her marriage in favour of continued schooling. “I want to be a social worker after I finish my education because I want to help change some negative traditional practices and decisions that affect the development of the girl child,” she said.
Community groups champion girls’ education in Niger and Tajikistan
UNICEF supports similarly cross-cutting community groups to champion education around the world. In Maradi, Niger, the Comité de Gestion des Etablissements Scolaires (COGES) is a committee comprising of parents and school administration that oversees the overall management of schools. The COGES does everything from providing safe drinking water to making home-visits in case of absenteeism from school.
In Tajikistan, UNICEF supported the formation of an Education Support Committee (ESC) in the village of Nimich. The committee is comprised of education authorities, a local NGO, community and religious leaders, parents, teachers, entrepreneurs, as well as school boys and girls. The ESC was instrumental in gaining the community’s trust and mobilizing every sector of the community to act on behalf of girls’ education – including building a secondary school in the village for all children, including girls.
Scholarships bring hope to vulnerable girls in Somalia
Literacy levels and school enrolment in Somalia are among the lowest in the world. Moreover, out of the small number of girls that enrol in the first grade, only one in five girls complete a full cycle of basic education.
Naima Abdikarin Hirsi, 16 years old, is among thousands of girls across Somalia who cannot afford school fees. To boost girls’ education in Puntland and Somaliland, UNICEF is partnering with the Ministry of Education’s Gender Unit to grand scholarships to 450 vulnerable girls through the Accelerated Female Participation in Education (AFPE) programme. The scholarship covers tuition fees and other basic needs girls would need to go to school, such as transport money, textbooks, uniforms and small pocket money.
“If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I would probably be at home doing nothing,” says Naima. “Most of my friends who did not make it to school are married, some work at the market, others have become housemaids and others are still idling around.”
Across these regions, the Gender Unit has worked on innovative ways to raise girls’ participation levels in schools. The AFPE programme has demonstrated that with continued support and collaboration among donors, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education, partners and communities, many more girls in Somalia could get the chance to go to school. Due to these successes, UNICEF and partners are planning to expand the programme to other parts of the country.
Working in partnership for innovation in education
Partnerships are key to providing quality education and ensuring relevant learning outcomes for all children. UNICEF continues to explore unique and innovative partnerships throughout the world to ensure successful education programming, calling for integrated approaches on advocacy, curriculum review, financial aid strategies and gender responsive policies.
© Innovation Team UNICEF/Sudan
In Sudan, young women have played an important leadership role in two Innovation Labs that UNICEF Sudan has set up in partnership with two universities. Simply put, an innovation lab is a physical space that allows for collaboration among academia, government and non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.
Once established, they become national facilities for building local technological capacities to support humanitarian development efforts. The project involved setting up two innovation lab pilots for a period of four months to (1) prototype software solutions for selected priorities at the UNICEF Sudan Country Office; and (2) use pilots as capacity-building mechanisms for innovation teams at participating universities.
In collaboration with colleagues at the Faculty of Mathematical Sciences (University of Khartoum) and the Computer Centre (Sudan University of Science and Technology), the Innovation Labs pilot project started in October 2012. The uniqueness of the approach of the innovation labs in Sudan is that they are proposed to be established inside a university campus that allows for sustainable local technical support (to augment that provided by the Innovation Lab Network). This will also ensure that they labs benefit from the steady flow of young innovative graduates – men and women – with fresh ideas and minds.