The Role of Social Enterprise 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 our partner and with the generous support of Lord Michael Hastings to discuss 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 mark 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 foundation of the Convening17 initiative, click here.


Urgent and Important: Mass Migration


There are families all over the world who are being forcibly displaced from home. Whether it’s war, natural disasters, or lack of economic opportunity, families are being forced to flee.

migration graphic.jpg

Many of these families arrive in a new place having experienced loss, grief, and trauma.  Too often receiving communities are overwhelmed and subsequently filled with anxiety over the changing dynamics in their community and perceived declining economic opportunity as families arrive from other cultures.   "

Professor Nasser Yassin recently shared with Al Jazeera that "Syrian refugees pay more than $1m in daily rent across Lebanon, he said, citing his research. They also spend more than $22m every month on food, according to the World Food Programme.  Before the Syrian war, Syrians used to work, save up and send money home. Now they stay, spend and consume in Lebanon," Yassin told Al Jazeera."

Our conversations at UN Week, Opportunity Collaboration, and Nexus USA Youth Summit have uncovered that there are some core barriers to success for children who have had to leave their schools, teachers, and friends behind.  

Children are arriving with trauma which is sometimes hidden, feeling isolated through language and cultural barriers.  When we look at the UN’s metrics for success in delivering quality education to all - it includes a focus on building schools, training teachers, and passing tests.  While these are relatively easy to measure, participants in Convening17 highlighted that the interventions implied by these metrics do not address the underlying barriers. If you and your child had just lost your home, potentially a parent and other family members, it's incredibly hard to jump into a class on decimal places or fractions in a different language and be successful. Kids need breaks, and understanding.  For example, in the USA the students at Parkland High School in Florida received an exemption from the state standardized tests given the trauma they experienced.  So why would we do anything else for children fleeing Syria? or Boko Haram in Nigeria? or Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation of Hurricane Maria?  

Net Difference.jpg

We recognize that if we follow the status quo where children don't have access to responsive education they are at risk of being attracted to extremist organizations including MS-13, ISIS (ISIL), and Boko-Haram.  These organizations give isolated children a sense of community, agency, purpose, and power.  

The risk is that we could lose an entire generation to extremism if we are not careful.

the role of social enterprise

There must be a better way, and our participants at Skoll World Forum believe social enterprise has a core role to play in delivering innovations that address the root barriers faced by uprooted children.

SWF Better Way.jpg


While previous conversations at Opportunity Collaboration had uncovered the root barriers of mental health support, effective program evaluation, and culturally contextualized technology solutions - our participants at the Skoll World Forum (SWF) dove into some of the core questions we must ask to ensure we are designing for innovations that can make a difference.   Is education just to learn fractions and pass tests? or are we educating children with the skills they will need in the new economy of the 21st century? 

Participants in the session at SWF explored a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers that must be overcome if we are to effectively deliver quality education to children around the world who have been displaced from their homes.  

There were 6 key opportunities we honed in on:

  1. Include the voice and perspective of displaced people in your work
  2. Mental health support / social emotional development / access to play are fundamentally required for children grappling with trauma.
  3. Bring parents along on the journey
  4. Provide language support and unlock the benefits of bi-lingual education
  5. Gender equality and access to education includes sanitation access and menstrual health education
  6. Provide internet access in refugee camps


  1. Include the voice and perspective of displaced people in your work
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISE: Network for Refugee Voices
    "Refugees and migrants are essential stakeholders for defining and implementing comprehensive and sustainable global migration policy.  Too often refugees are brought into international discussions after policy has been defined.  They are included as token victims of the crisis, not active agents of change or experts with personal and professional field experience. Refugee-led organizations are working to empower and support refugee populations around the world. Refugees have the knowledge, skills and network to influence refugee policy for the better. If policy is designed to support existing skills, capacities and needs that occur at the grassroots level of the refugee crisis, more appropriate and sustainable solutions may be found.   Refugees are the most affected by policy decisions and the primary actors of integration policy; their involvement as stakeholders in the decision-making process is critical to policies that can ensure resilience and sustainability. We urge policy-makers and non-governmental organizations to make space for the participation and self-representation of those most affected by migration policy: refugees and migrants themselves."
    June 25-26 Network For Refugee Voices are hosting the Global Summit on Refugees where 80% of participants will be refugee participants in Geneva.
  2. Mental health support / social emotional development / access to play
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: ThinkEqual, 7 Mindsets, Playworks, ASSET Education
    This is the primary root barrier we see to children being able to process their experience and learn new concepts, it is also critically important in changing the mindsets and prejudices that must be overcome in the workforce of tomorrow.  Christine Mendonça notes that organizations that provide children of all ages with access to creative play opportunities, where they are able to express and act out their experiences in safe environments coupled with access to mental health providers is paramount.  As Leslee Udwin of ThinkEqual shared, "we must provide equal support and funding for curricula focused on social emotional development and building empathy between children."  It is critical we come back to the core question of “What is the purpose of education?” Lauren Woodman of NetHope shared, if our goal is to truly prepare children for the jobs that will be needed in the future, then we cannot simply focus on rote memorization or think that teaching people (children and adults alike) to code will be enough."  Employers require talented people who are able to navigate social structures, empathize with users to inform product design, and have the grit to follow their curiosity to innovate.  These skill sets require that our teachers and parents are also connected to the learning path of the child, that they are brought along as a family.
  3. Bring parents along on the journey
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES & RESOURCES: Bridging Refugee Youth & Children's Services
    It is critically important to educate all members of the home and not only the children.  In some regions we are finding that as the children receive an education, the parents, and in many cases, the fathers, are feeling left behind.  As Lauren of NetHope shared, “Many of the camps are poorly laid out, and it’s inefficient to get access to all the things you need for your family.  We’ve found on the ground that the mothers take the children and are out all day running errands.  The fathers are left behind to play soccer.” Tonee Ndungu of Kytabu shared, "we’ve found when NGO’s focus on supporting the fathers, teaching them to have core skills that are valuable and important, it shifts the dynamic so that the fathers are able to find purpose and meaning."  With many of the challenges seen in forced displacement, whether it is a parent or a child there is a universal desire for agency, purpose, and meaning.  Chrystina Russell of S. New Hampshire University Global Education Movement also pointed out the importance of helping to educate the adults who have been displaced. In an article she published last summer she shared, "Evidence has shown the power of education to build transferable skills, improve quality of life and mental health, and expand economic opportunities. Not only does education directly mitigate the social and economic ramifications of displacement, it also empowers refugees to engage with their communities and build a better life for themselves and their families."
  4. Provide language support and unlock the benefits of bi-lingual education
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: Talking Points, The School of Games, Antura and the Letters
    In many cases children (and their parents) are going into educational context that require them to learn a new language.  In the US for example many of these students are placed in tracks that more resemble “special education” or remedial programs - simply because the student is not versed in English.  As Christine Mendonça shared, "in Lebanon the formal education is conducted in English while those students coming from Syria primarily have learned in Arabic." in the Language for Resilience report, Marie Delaney of the British Council found "that language classrooms themselves could support children who've been through trauma.  This would not be instead of extra psychosocial support; but it would add to it."
  5. Program evaluation / standards / consistency across countries and grades
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: Kytabu, Sky SchoolHighlander Institute
    If we are going to understand where and how children fit there needs to be financial support for a larger mapping effort.  We need to understand what are the core elements being taught in specific grades, and how those elements can be consistent across countries.  Dana Borrelli-Murray of Highlander Institute - shared that the growing number of Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE) in countries all around the world is a growing challenge.  Some have experienced extreme disruption as refugees seeking asylum, while others have immigrated to new towns or states.  In many cases, these children are experiencing interruption in their education that requires we have a wide array of tools, curricula, and resources to support development at a range of ages.
  6. Gender equality and access to education includes sanitation access and menstrual health education
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISES: Girls not Brides, Malala Fund, Loving HumanitySanivation
    We discussed the importance of girls having safety and access to sanitation facilities and mensuration products as a critical barrier to equal access.  Marni Sommer of Columbia University has written "An especially important but often overlooked issue is one of the most basic parts of life for women – menstruation. This routine part of female life is a pronounced burden for women in low-income countries and those who are displaced. It disrupts many girls’ abilities to participate actively in school, potentially consigning them to second-class status for the rest of their lives. A lack of easy access to adequate toilets in schools or elsewhere can also place them at higher risk for sexual violence as they seek out safe places to manage their menstruation and other sanitation needs."  Tonee of Kytabu reiterated the interconnected nature of these challenges.  As their program mapped the performance of children across Kenya they were able to identify individual schools where there were fewer girls participating, by knowing where the inequality was based, they could support the government to provide interventions, which for some included access to sanitary products and menstrual health education.
  7. Provide internet Access in refugee camps
    If we want children to learn then it is important that they - and their families - have access to the internet.  This is a real challenge, as there are valid concerns about safety and security.  However, the benefits far outweigh the risks when you compare those camps that have been able to provide internet connections and those that have not.  NetHope has a great success story around this, read more in their full implementation plan here:

    "DadaabNet has enabled 23 local relief agencies to collaborate, share information, and deliver aid more effectively.

  • Savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year thanks to more efficient, unified Internet technology.
  • Creation of local jobs related to the ownership, support and development of broadband in Dadaab.
  • Increased educational opportunities for refugees: five Dadaab community centers now offer online programs for high school and college diplomas via DadaabNet
  • Planning for the future: to help refugees prepare for life outside a refugee camp, DadaabNet offers a multitude of vocational and life skills training courses to ease the transition — critical for the almost 200,000 children and young adults that live in Dadaab."



On May 4th we will be hosting a breakfast at the Global Philanthropy Forum to discuss the role of Philanthropy in supporting pilots, innovative efforts, and organizations that are working to address the critical barriers to success for uprooted children.

The following week at Opportunity Collaboration US on May 9th we will explore the intersection of SDG 1 - No Poverty and SDG 4 - Quality Education within the US context including recent displacement of students from Puerto Rico to schools in Florida and the increasing impact of ICE and other immigration raids on children from immigrant households across the US.