Diplomacy for Girls’ Education

Girls’ Education Challenge

By Emily Boost


For the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) to succeed, education diplomacy skills will be critical. They will be needed to facilitate the cooperation, coordination, and collaboration so that key stakeholders are engaged, supportive, and working toward project sustainability goals. Sustainability means going beyond ensuring that girls enjoy the benefits of being able to complete a full cycle of education and are equipped for further education and employment. It also means that the programme achieves lasting change, leaving a legacy of better opportunities for future girls and boys. It means that families, communities, and schools are able to continue providing support to new generations of girls and boys—helping them to enter and progress through school, and gain a good quality education in a safe and stimulating environment.

The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) was launched by the UK in 2012 as a 12 year commitment to reach the most marginalised girls in the world and is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education. The UK is committed to ensuring over a million girls in some of the poorest countries, including girls who have disabilities or are at risk of being left behind, receive a quality education. It operates in 15 countries, supporting 27 projects across Africa and Asia with a wide range of non-state organisations.

Education Diplomacy — leveraging influence, engaging stakeholders, systems coordination, and collaboration for change — is key to the success of strategies for sustainability in girls’ education programmes. Approaches employed by GEC projects across the portfolio are varied and include a combination of the following:

  • Securing government and others’ financial commitments to scale up or sustain project outputs

  • Mainstreaming project interventions into national and local education systems and plans

  • Purposefully generating and using evidence and data about “what works” to influence government plans and budgets

  • Demonstrating cost effectiveness

  • Accessing or catalysing private funding for girls’ education

  • Testing self-financing approaches in schools/communities

  • Building institutional capacity and processes to address girls’ needs, working with key individuals who can have influence

  • Securing commitments from girls’ families and communities, including, for example, identifying individuals who can be “champions for change”

  • Using media and coalitions to create groundswell and thereby change attitudes toward girls’ education.

Successful Education Diplomacy usually “works with the grain”: that is, it picks up on and adds weight to influences that are already at work, sometimes under the surface.

Case Studies

Leonard Cheshire Disability, Kenya

In Kenya, Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) is working to promote systemic changes in education. They are working with several stakeholders, including the Ministry[CC1] of Education, Science and Technology, County Education Offices, NGOs, community-based organisations and communities themselves in order to promote and facilitate disability inclusive education. They have collaborated closely with seven civil society organisations to mainstream disability issues within their work. These groups are engaging local government and advocating for disability-friendly policies.

Though these working groups, LCD is leading efforts to promote inclusive education and has been instrumental in influencing some county governments to introduce three county bills critical to inclusive education (Bursary Bill, Disability Act, and Early Childhood Education Bill). They have directly contributed to the integration of disability indicators into the government’s education monitoring system for decision-making and resource allocation. Through memoranda to relevant government units, they have contributed to the content and the orientation of training for new teachers, ensuring that an inclusive education component is included. Through advocacy with other like-minded stakeholders, they have also contributed to the creation of a Special Needs Education Directorate within the Ministry of Education.

LCD attributes the success of their advocacy and sustainability approach to genuine and intentional engagement right from the start of the project, and to the clear goals it set out to achieve. The organisation describes “pushing on a half-open door” and acknowledges that its voice is one among several calling for change in this area, seeking collaboration for maximum effectiveness.

Link Community Development, Ethiopia

As part of its sustainability strategy, Link Community Development has worked very closely, from the outset, with the Ethiopian government, aligning its activities with government plans and priorities. The Ministry of Education Gender Directorate’s revised gender education strategy has identified the project’s Mothers’ Groups intervention as best practice and commends the approach as a way of engaging and involving parents in their daughters’ education. In addition to policy alignment, Link supports existing structures and builds the capacity of government education personnel at all levels — from community workers, classroom teachers, deputy and head teachers to government education managers such as district experts and cluster supervisors — and thus enabling these personnel to better execute their work.

Link Community Development emphasises that their approach is low cost and low tech, which makes it easier for the local government to adopt.

Education Development Trust, Kenya

The Education Development Trust (EDT) project in Kenya has also aligned its activities with the Ministry of Education’s policies, structures, and systems at central and local government levels. The project works with the Ministry to improve the skills and knowledge of teaching and supervisory staff in order to deliver quality education. EDT also engaged with other school and community stakeholders, enabling their active participation in efforts to improve girls’ education through better understanding of the barriers girls were facing and strategies that could help overcome those barriers. As a result, the Kenyan government is considering EDT’s mentoring and teacher coaching approaches (which have been shown to result in improved teacher-learner interaction and peer mentorship) as part of its approach to supporting teachers and improving school leadership.

Crucial to these achievements have been an open dialogue with the Ministry of Education about the challenges and barriers girls face getting to school as well as those they face inside the classroom. This dialogue is built on a level of trust and an acknowledgment that all parties are working toward the same goals.