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Philanthropists and private-sector leaders join special UN panel on funding for education

NEW YORK, USA, 2 March 2011 – Four hundred philanthropists, corporate and civil society leaders met in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations headquarters on Monday to boost private investment in education at a special event marking International Corporate Philanthropy Day.

VIDEO: 28 February 2011 - UNICEF reports on the special event, 'Partnering with the Philanthropic Community to Promote Education for All,' hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council at UN headquarters in New York.  Watch in RealPlayer


The event was organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in close cooperation with UNICEF, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and other partners. It focused on developing strong partnerships between corporations, foundations and philanthropists to promote the transformative role of education in shaping children’s future, at a time when recession-hit countries are cutting education budgets.

“By offering their skills, time and financial support and creativity to causes greater than themselves, generous corporate philanthropists strengthen our communities and enrich our lives,” US President Barack Obama said in his own message issued for the day.

‘Working in partnership’

At the ECOSOC event, the Cathal Ryan Trust, based in Ireland, announced a contribution of $14 million to help Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable children and women. The organization has been working with UNICEF Ireland to help Sri Lanka come to grips with the effects of the country’s civil war and the 2004 tsunami.

VIDEO: 28 February 2011 - Danielle Ryan, representative of the Cathal Ryan Trust, discusses the Trust's $14 million contribution to UNICEF in support of education and health initiatives in Sri Lanka.  Watch in RealPlayer


“Working in partnership with organizations like UNICEF allows access, personal protection, detailed expertise in each area, financial protection and the ability to communicate with the government to work alongside our vision,” said Cathal Ryan Trust representative Danielle Ryan.

UNICEF has a long history of cooperation with the corporate and philanthropic community to promote the right to quality education. The Global Head of Corporate Responsibility at the ING Group, Dailah Nihot, commented on this work at the ECOSOC event.

“By sharing a vision and goal, and a longer commitment, positive change becomes a journey that you do together,” she said. “It’s not only about building a school in the community but really involving the whole community and empowering future generations. And this is something that that you do in the long term, together, in a team.

Since 2005, through its ‘Chances for Children’ programme, ING has contributed millions of dollars and mobilized its staff worldwide in support of UNICEF education and emergency programmes in Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Zambia.

Education for all

Financial, food and fuel crises, as well as social conflicts, natural disasters, and cultural and political restrictions, are making access to quality education even more difficult for the world’s most marginalized citizens.

VIDEO: 28 February 2011 - Fleur Hudig, ING Group's Manager of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development, talks about the ING 'Chances for Children' programme, which supports UNICEF education and emergency initiatives.  Watch in RealPlayer


Panellists at Monday’s event underlined the stake that the private sector and philanthropic community have in achieving education for all, one of the key Millennium Development Goals.

“With 68 million children still not attending primary school and a short window of opportunity before 2015 and the MDGS, there is an urgent need to mobilize all sectors for intensified and accelerated efforts to provide all children with education of good quality,” said UNICEF Associate Director of Education Susan Durston.

Training for tomorrow’s economy

Today, close to 800 million adults – nearly two-thirds of them women – lack basic literacy skills. With a seeming mismatch in employer demands and the skills acquired by children in school, there is increasing concern that education systems are not adequately preparing students to meet the workplace demands and challenges of the 21st century. 

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0327/Markisz
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry (at right on dais) takes part in the 'Partnering with the Philanthropic Community to Promote Education for All' panel held at UN headquarters on 28 February. At left is Cisco Senior Vice-President Carlos Dominguez..

It is here that private-sector professionals can step in, contribute their expertise and help draw the connection between the classroom and job market – particularly by reshaping skills to reflect new technology.

Panellist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, implored the business community to help non-governmental organizations ensure effectiveness, reduce waste and promote efficiency. “My main plea to the business leadership here is to think of how your tools can reach rural schools in the poorest places,” he said.

Strategic investments

There is a huge untapped potential for corporations to make lasting contributions. Participants in the ECOSOC discussion spoke about focusing efforts on practical, cost-effective strategies that deliver the best results and the greatest return on investment – and reach those in the greatest need.

“By investing in the best possible education for all boys and girls, the corporate and philanthropic community is being strategic about the return on its investment,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, UNICEF’s largest corporate partner with a commitment of more than $180 million, spoke about the need to engage with donors to forge long-lasting relationships.

“When working in partnerships, as the IKEA Foundation has done with UNICEF for more than 10 years, we are interested in seeing how we can get more returns for the invested money,” he said. “But we are also interested in seeing how we can help with our knowledge and our experience as a business.”

IKEA Foundation investments in education include more than $10 million to Schools for Africa – a partnership between UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Hamburg Society for the promotion of Democracy and International Law – which helps to provide quality education for millions of African children.



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