Global Philanthropy Forum 2018

The Role of Philanthropy to provide education to uprooted children.

The following was written by Avary Kent, Co-Founder of



The goal of the Convening17 initiative is to align all forms of capital (time, money, and relationships) with innovations that address urgent and important barriers to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  As the challenges underlying the SDGs are complex in nature - meaning no one person, organization, or country can solve them - we must collaborate more efficiently and effectively if we are to reach the 2030 target.  Goal 17 - Partnerships for the Goals is the root of the Convening17 Initiative and our pilot for the 2017-2018 year is to focus on SDG 4 - delivering quality education. 

In September 2017 we gathered at UN Week with and the generous support of Lord Michael Hastings to discuss ways to achieve SDG 4 - Providing quality education to all.  At our follow up sessions at Opportunity Collaboration Global and Nexus USA, we identified an urgent, important, and actionable challenge to achieving SDG 4 by 2030.  As we marked the halfway point (the 5th conversation in the series) we gathered at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford UK to explore the role of Social Enterprise in providing education to uprooted children.  

To read more about the conversation at Skoll World Forum, click here.  

This brings us to May 2018 and the Global Philanthropy Forum to discuss the role of philanthropy in supporting education for uprooted children.

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Updating our Critical Roles

As we wrapped up the conversation at Skoll World Forum (SWF) we recognized the interlinked roles that highlight the complexity of supporting students to access quality education.  As we opened the conversation at Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) we updated the Critical roles to add greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities.

In this conversation we were joined by Dr. Essam Daod co-founder of Humanity Crew who spoke to a missing stakeholder group from our critical roles - that of the psychosocial support.   This expertise is lacking in the field and many NGOs, teachers, administrators, and families are lacking in the fundamental trauma counseling and support to put the pieces of their lives back together.

We heard from other participants that the interplay between students and their parents is a critically important aspect if we are to provide quality education.  One key lesson was that as we teach students, especially in new languages like Greek, their parents are being left behind.  There are unintended consequences as children stop speaking Arabic while learning Greek, and losing the ability to communicate with their parents at home.  

from the board room to the classroom

Jeff Ubois of the MacArthur Foundation spoke to the importance of bridging gaps between worlds.  It can be exceptionally challenging for a committee of philanthropists in a board room to be able to fully connect to the experience in the classroom.  Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning shared how powerful the stories are of the children her organization is serving in Afghanistan and how often the voices of people from the impacted communities are left out of the decisions made by funders.  Bridging this divide is one of the great challenges philanthropy faces.

Nikki Brueggeman of World Affairs Council also shared, "put everything you think they need on the shelf."  With her years of experience she emphasized how important it is for philanthropists to recognize the work they are doing is about helping people and making a difference, not just feeling good about being a philanthropist.   Too often the assumptions we have about what people need is biased by our perspective in the world - and not grounded in the local context and local experience.

the role of Philanthropy

Philanthropy has a critically important role to play in achieving the SDGs and being able to make systemic interventions possible.  Foundations have a 30,000 ft view of the field and can see across silos.  Philanthropists and foundation staff have the power to Convene, Connect, and Catalyze - all necessary roles to address the systemic challenges facing humanity.

As Victoria Flamant of the Malala Fund shared, "Giving comes from an emotional place."  Participants recognized that too often it is easy to prioritize organizations and projects that have stories that tug at the heart.  Ecosystem building, infrastructure, and indirect services can be harder to prioritize when they do not connect to that emotional story.  As Nikki shared it is also critically important that philanthropists and donors do not feel entitled to visit beneficiaries if it is not in the best interests of the person receiving support and assistance.  Her experiences working to support education in North Korea provided rich examples of how engagement by a benefactor can actually cause harm to those they intend to help.

There is real power in breaking silos and building bridges, whether that is within the framework of education and connecting child psychologies with special ed teachers or teachers with training professionals or from the board room to the classroom - foundations and philanthropists are uniquely positioned to create outsized impact.


  1. Don't leave parents behind - bring them on the journey
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES & RESOURCES: Bridging Refugee Youth & Children's Services, l'Ecole de Choix (Haiti), Humanity Crew
    As we found during the session at Skoll World Forum, when parents feel separated from the success and progress of their children the unintended consequences can be dire.  Dr. Essam Daod shared a story of simple design decisions like requiring parents to drop off their children to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon can have a powerful impact on the family.  These routines can provide much needed connection between the parents and children as well as build deeper relationship between the parents and teachers.  
  2. Support a suite of organizations as a consortium of funders
    ACTION PROJECT: Create a document FOR grantmakers BY grantmakers sharing recommendations on collaborative funding projects.  
    Participants found that we are grappling with truly complex challenges - even if your primary focus is education if a child is hungry or unsafe they will be unable to learn.  But it is unreasonable to expect or encourage grant makers to fund everything!  This is where the power of a consortium could come into play.  By coordinating grants that address the root barriers to success in education for a population we may be able to create real progress.  This means bringing together grantmakers focused on education, hunger, peace, gender equality, energy, and forced displacement.
  3. Building a foundation of trust - unrestricted grants over the long term
    INNOVATIVE FUNDERS: The Whitman Institute, Maverick Collective, Open Road Alliance
    Funders have to balance risk of fraud and ineffective interventions with their financial responsibilities.  Unfortunately participants found that the short term and restricted nature of grants can have the opposite impact where "exiting can cause more harm than never being there in the first place."  Building a foundation of trust is absolutely imperative if we are going to make a difference in global systemic challenges like forced displacement.  One participant shared a story of a school being funded through restricted grants and then faced with a brutally cold winter.  The children were unable to learn because they were just too cold.  Unfortunately the non-profit didn't have the funds to purchase space heaters to support the kids.  This is one example of the emergent challenges that arise and that can only really be seen by those working on the ground and in the classroom.  The Open Road Alliance works to deploy unrestricted grants to address these roadblocks that are inevitable.
  4. Create a collective fund for Research & Development
    We need new solutions and innovative organizations to address deeply rooted challenges.  Unfortunately few non-profits have the capacity to invest in research & development as most funders require a track record of success before making grants.  Once again the tension was raised in needing to balance time and money invested against fraud, which is why participants suggested a specific R&D Fund that has a different fiduciary mandate from typical endowments and can create opportunities for blended finance so that potential for-profit solutions and innovations can be applied to underserved communities.
  5. Support Bridging Human Universals
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: HELP Refugees, Refugees Welcome,  Association of Critical Heritage, Dancing to Connect
    Participants shared stories of the power of connecting through human universals like food, dance, building, and art.  Bringing communities together to create with one another is a powerful way to connect us to our shared humanity.  HELP Refugees is supporting a very special supper club to raise funds for a hospital in Syria.  By connecting with leading chefs from Syria they are able to create an intimate and delicious experience that brings people together.  Refugees Welcome to dinner is another concept that was cooked up by UNICEF where hosts organize each dinner in their own way.  The host covers the venue costs and the cost of the food and works with local resettlement agencies to connect with displaced people in their community to invite to dinner.  As another example Dancing to Connect is a three year program in Germany to break barriers and build trust between young German students and their newly arrived classmates from war-torn countries.



We went straight from Global Philanthropy Forum into Opportunity Collaboration USA to discuss the intersection of poverty and education and then to Oslo Norway for the Katapult Future Festival to discuss the role of technology and impact investing to provide education to displaced children.  Stay tuned for updates from these conversations.

Our next conversation will be on World Refugee Day on June 20th at 9AM Pacific. As we wrap up our series of conversations for Convening17, this virtual session provides previous participants the opportunity to connect and learn about the innovations, insights, and projects to emerge from Skoll World Forum, OC US, and Katapult Future Festival.  We will explore the question - how can we strategically support innovators to overcome the root barriers to quality education for uprooted children and the communities they live in?