Failure to invest in education is penny wise, pound foolish

We could play the numbers game all day long, but the facts are clear. At the World Humanitarian Summit, the global community must ante up with a down payment and mobilization plan to invest in the futures of disenfranchised young people shut out of schools in emergencies and crises.

"Education Cannot Wait" will be a new, historic fund to deliver education in emergencies and realize the long-awaited promise for children and youth impacted by crises and conflict. This ambitious fund, paired with sufficient capital, will be a first crack at bucking the trend in the growing number of refugees, displaced persons and children locked out of opportunity during circumstances beyond their control - whether earthquakes, floods, outbreaks or armed conflict.

We can do better. Currently, we invest next to nothing - less than 2% of humanitarian aid - in education in emergencies. Just last year, four humanitarian appeals received no funding at all. Overall, an anemic 12% of young people caught up in humanitarian emergencies were provided an education. We also invest far too little in education for development - and those funds are often at risk of being reallocated to cope with a crisis should one arise.

But this new fund is unique because of its starting point: the recognition that things must be done differently and business as usual is far too inadequate when it comes to millions of children's futures. At the outset, Education Cannot Wait seeks to end the cycle of education as a perennial casualty in conflict and emergency situations. When unrest arises and humanitarian aid kicks in, education becomes an "unaffordable luxury." In turn, the basic minimums necessary to live in emergency situations - water, food, shelter, medicine - fall short when not accompanied by opportunity and hope.

This fund will be inclusive, redefining the very nature of global engagement. We expect governments, philanthropies, businesses and regional development banks to stand together - shoulder-to-shoulder - as partners in bridging opportunity between the artificial humanitarian and development divides so that no child falls through the net. And in doing so, we must find greater efficiencies and coordination, so that we may align all efforts to achieve targeted results in emergency and crisis situations. Through Education Cannot Wait we are building a bridge to the longer-term financing, planning and development support available in the international community. The aim is to strengthen our overall education response through collective efforts.

For the 75 million young people worldwide with their education interrupted due to emergencies, this fund is the first optimistic signpost in what we hope will become a highway of prosperity. Education Cannot Wait will need to act as an intellectual free trade zone bringing together all the core pillars of society under one roof. Governments will work alongside non-governmental organizations, businesses alongside non-profits and philanthropies alongside founders not just to contribute dollars and cents, but to engage with ideas. To help shape the solutions we dream of, and to secure the future children need.

Education Cannot Wait launches in a critical year as we aim to recalibrate our global trajectory to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In a few months' time, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, through its work with organizations from across the world, will put forward a plan for how we can finance these goals, including the improved mobilization of resources for education in emergencies.

The gravity of the decision to fund or not to fund may have been put best this week by Tom Fletcher, Global Strategy Director at the Global Business Coalition for Education, who asked the simple question: "will the world offer refugees the pen or the sword?" By choosing to offer the pen - alongside sufficient investment - we may better insure the world's young are insulated from the dueling threats of child labor, trafficking, forced marriage, extremism and violence. A decision to stay the course, to fail to invest in the outcomes necessary for a brighter future, would be a mistake condemning millions of young to a future devoid of hope. Such frugality would be penny wise and pound foolish.

So the path forward is clear. The World Humanitarian Summit must be underpinned by a commitment to never again see education relegated to the back of the bus as an unaffordable luxury. With the fund's launch, we have taken a meaningful first step toward recognizing that a child's education cannot be put on hold when crises arise. That we need predictable, stable and secure financing to ensure schooling goes uninterrupted. And that we must be ready to disburse these funds at the outset of a crisis, and then bridge the money into post-crisis development.

We must make this inaugural World Humanitarian Summit one for the books, proving the international community is getting serious about education. Coming to the negotiating table and asking for the bare minimum to launch the fund would be an uninspired outcome for an inspired fund. More than the pounds and pence, renminbi and rubles, dollars and dinars necessary to launch the fund, we count on a sustained commitment to see its work endure. That is our greatest challenge, and my sincere hope.