Global Business Coalition for Education

2017 Global Business Coalition for Education Breakfast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Washington, D.C.


Remarks by Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Thank you very much, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, many, many colleagues and friends in the audience, good morning, it’s really great to see you. Special acknowledgement to President Kikwete, who’s kept going for us all along, not just the MDGs, these transitions to SDGs as well, so there’s hope for us yet. Really pleased to be with you and discussing the future of education. This has been long on the agenda and I certainly cut my teeth when I left business on education first. My question then in 1998 was if I’m leaving the business world and joining civil society, what for? It was education, and much of what we learned in business was the absence of investing in quality education was giving us returns that were very poor in the labor market and becoming increasingly difficult as the pressures got more for countries in terms of population and demand for more and more education.

Really happy that we’ve still got it on the front burner, even if we haven’t achieved what we had intended way back in Jomtien to Dakar, and then New York. We’ve got really ambitious objectives in the 2030 agenda and we know it’s only going to be achieved through effective and genuine partnerships that now move from what it is that we need to do by 2030 to how we’re going to do it, and to do it, as we’ve always said, in a predictable manner and timely. Really getting to help governments when they need it and not after the event. There was a different context to it, that was why the narrative to the 2030 spent a lot of time getting onto common ground of what we thought our challenges were. It’s great to see the work of the GPE responding to that and the initiatives of Education Cannot Wait, all very important in responding to our realities.

The Global Business Coalition for Education really is one partnership that’s doing incredibly impressive work. The [Education Commission’s Learning Generation] report is amazing and I think that people should not just put that on the shelf, but use that as a reference for really reinforcing the messages to governments, to different partnerships. Keeping people at the table because today it appears to be quite difficult to do that. I think, not to take for granted, the ambitions of 2030 don’t mean that we’ve still got people along on the journey with us, and we need to really encourage them to stay. This is about many of you corporate leaders who are behind not just achieving SDG 4 for the sake of SDG 4 but what it means for all the other 16 goals. I think when we look through that, as you use SDG 4 in your discussions today as the docking station for everything else, I think you’ll see how it feeds and adds value to the rest of the goals.

I’d particularly like to thank Gordon and Sarah for the efforts that you’ve done. Every time you’ve come to brief the Secretary-General, who wishes he was here today, it has really been one that has moved us to more momentum, pulling the system together, getting behind the “can do” because often discussions in multilateral institutions will be the challenges we have to do things and sometimes why we can’t do them. Your efforts have really shown what can be done. Thank you very much for that. We know that the discussions that you’ve had clearly indicate that you know where education lies, at the center of all sustainable development. The gains from it we continuously reiterate on poverty and poverty, I must say, when I came back to the UN a few weeks ago, I was wondering where it was because it had somehow got lost in the conversation.

Ultimately, taking people out of poverty and giving them a chance of a life of dignity and putting hope at the end of that tunnel is really, really important, so underscoring the importance of education to lifting people out of poverty, particularly our girls and women. Better health, increased ability for over a billion children and adolescents worldwide to take their future into their own hands, and many of those futures will be in urban centers. The cities will dictate what we have. What sort of education do we need for the environments that we are hoping to build within the framework of 2030?

Today’s discussion is going to emphasize the importance of intensifying our collective efforts, so more coordination, more coherence, building on things that are working, going to scale. I hope that we see some of the innovations that we can speak about in terms of moving them forward at the country level. Discussions here I think reinforce our intentions but the real actions need to be done on the ground. That’s where it’s really difficult, where questions of risks start to be asked about. Just to remind everyone that we have many in this room who are taking risks every day with their businesses at country level. Local NGOs that are doing this, I can see Zouera, who is working morning, noon, and night to make that happen in complicated situations in the northeast of Nigeria. When we think of risk, partner with those who are doing it on a daily basis. If you can’t do it yourselves, think of a different way of addressing the whole risk situation.

We do need to bring more on board. This is a Coalition that needs to grow. Perhaps you have satellites but whatever it is, the momentum has to keep going and we have to get the numbers that will begin to make the difference at the local level. The voices that will be heard, the encouragement that will be given, and the pressure that’s put on parliaments and on governments as they prepare their budgets. The potential for collaboration is huge, and many, many more benefits for business. It is really a win-win, it’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true; it works both ways if it’s done together. We do know that we all need to support a workforce going forward that is more creative, skilled and innovative, empowering women. We’ve had all the statistics at our CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] Week. For the first time, women being on the agenda talked about the difference that they would make to the GDP.

I think that it’s really important that we also think about education and women. It’s not just the old version of formal and informal education. We have to expand those barriers that are there in the curriculums that don’t put women in the right positions that are available. We frequently talk about the best investment we can make is in the assets we have, human resources, and 50 percent of the women in many countries, but we don’t invest in the specific skill sets that are needed to connect to the markets that are evolving. If our countries are supposed to do that, then we need to do a little bit of mapping and to see where that is.

The Secretary-General has an initiative internally, I mean from the inside, out, what can we do for gender parity at all levels in the United Nations, particularly in the Secretariat? What’s the challenge? We suddenly find that half of the Secretariat that deals with security, that deals with peace building, those skill sets are not there for women. Women are not even in the market, preventing them access into those jobs. It really, from education, we have to build that base so that we do have women doing everything and having access to it.

UNESCO has told us, with the figures that they have, a $39 billion financing gap of achieving the SDG education targets. I’m always worried about data and statistics, and I’m not sure if I can put my hand on my heart but it’s a big enough figure for us to think about, especially when we look at this initiative looking to target $10 billion per annum. The gaps are huge and they’re continuing to increase because the context are quite different. It’s really why we need robust private sector partnerships to find the incentives to leverage all that is around and to become much more creative about the innovation.

The International Finance Facility for Education, which we hope the Secretary-General will launch soon, aims to try to fill that financing gap by bringing together the public and private donors, international financial institutions, philanthropy. All of this I think is an approach that is innovative and that has huge opportunities to scale at the country level. I want to thank Gordon again, for the efforts that you’re pushing on this. It’s dogged, it’s tough. There are lots of naysayers but I think that the consultations and preparations show that this is really viable and getting close to fruition.

In short, I think that in terms of business and education, we all need to work hand-in-hand. It’s still difficult. I was questioning the involvement of other partnerships like civil society and I see civil society is onboard with us. Mostly it’s international civil society, so to really get the local voice across the globe is going to be important. One of the things that we have witnessed in the past is that when we do come up with investments in education, anything that is service delivery, people will question how much we’re paying for that in the domestic budget when it is in fact something that should not cost. It’s subsidized, it does cost and we need to know a little, perhaps we need more clarity how we engage on that.

This is going to be an opportunity, this next few hours, and the days of the spring meeting to really diversify and increase the learning opportunities that we have to put this out to youth and adults, especially some of those that will be around at the meetings today. Not just this room, I will take the messages from this room into the other rooms that we have. I think that’s what the SDGs do. You might be advocating for one specific goal but please, when you walk into other rooms, tell them about that goal and why it’s good for them. I certainly will be trying to do that. Thank you very much and I look forward to us moving with this. We have a G20 meeting coming up soon and I think there’s going to be lots to celebrate this year, so thank you so much.