The UN General Assembly's confirmation of António Guterres as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations is encouraging news for global education, not least because he has been a vocal supporter for education, particularly in humanitarian emergencies. The Global Partnership for Education extends a very warm welcome to the UN's next Secretary-General, and we look forward to working with him when he begins his new post in January 2017.
From my own experience, Mr. Guterres' convictions about elevating support for education in humanitarian and development situations run deep. GPE Board Chair Julia Gillard and I had a number of productive and encouraging conversations with him when he was UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Those discussions culminated in an April 2016 agreement between GPE and UNHCR to collaborate more closely in support of education during emergencies through joint advocacy and through country-level cooperation.
Mr. Guterres' firsthand exposure to countless internally displaced and refugee children surely helped shape his views about the importance of ensuring access to education - especially in the earliest moments of a crisis.
In 2015 he told the World Education Forum that "we have a collective responsibility to ensure education plans take into account the needs of some the most vulnerable children and youth in the world - refugees, internally displaced children, stateless children and children whose right to education has been compromised by war and insecurity. These children are the keys to a secure and sustainable future, and their education matters for us all."
Similarly, on the margins of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly in New York a few weeks ago, Mr. Guterres participated in a panel discussion about education in humanitarian emergencies.
"If one looks at the investment in education in emergency situations compared with the global expenditure in those situations," he told the leadership gathering, "we are still talking [about] a very small percentage [for education]." He added that "this shows, really, how neglected education has been in fund raising and fund mobilization in humanitarian aid."
There is a growing need today for new development models that break down the historical siloes within and between various development sectors in favor of coordinated, partnership-based collaboration - an approach GPE believes is highly effective. Along those same lines, Mr. Guterres said in the UN panel discussion last month that education must be deeply embedded in any humanitarian response from the very start of planning and execution, especially because crises can last for years and a country's recovery can take even longer.
"Education that some might neglect in a narrow-minded approach to life-saving in emergencies," he said, "... is the central pillar of any development project."
That message echoes GPE's own work to bridge the divide between immediate humanitarian action and long-term development programs for children in crisis contexts. And it is why GPE is deeply engaged with the Education Cannot Wait fund that launched earlier this year. Education Cannot Wait will raise much needed additional resources for education in countries affected by fragility and conflict. But it will also ensure that humanitarian assistance efforts prioritize education alongside other essential human services.
Mr. Guterres' confirmation to be the next UN Secretary-General comes at a moment of mounting promise and momentum in the global education sector. World leaders are increasingly supporting the urgency of global education - starting with the adoption of the ambitious new global education goal last year, to the bold recommendations issued last month by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (which, among other recommendations, called for increasing total spending on education from $1.2 trillion per year today to $3 trillion by 2030).
We feel and reflect that urgency at the Global Partnership for Education, where our new strategic plan, GPE 2020, aligns our work with the global goal for education, and where developing country partners and donors are collaborating with us to intensify their own contributions to address the challenge of ensuring a quality education to all children in 65 developing countries.
Having spent decades in public office (he served as Prime Minister of Portugal and President of the European Council, among many other roles), Mr. Guterres has an impressive track record as a leader who moves quickly to get beyond formalities and apply the muscle necessary to resolve tough problems. That makes him a great asset for the education sector, let alone for the many complex, high-stakes matters he will face as Secretary-General.
We therefore very much look forward to working with UN Secretary-General designate António Guterres, and welcome his help, support and guidance going forth. And we wish him much success as he applies his considerable talents to solve some of the world's most urgent issues.