On September 24, the Luminos Fund hosted our fourth annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week event. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year we went virtual. View the full webinar online here.
Hosted by the Luminos Fund’s Managing Director Mubuso Zamchiya, the webinar featured a diverse panel of education experts including:
Neerav Kingsland, Managing Partner of The City Fund and former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans
George Werner, Former Minister of Education in Liberia
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution
Luminos CEO Caitlin Barron kicked off the event by welcoming everyone into the space and acknowledging that we find ourselves in an unprecedented moment. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, nine out of ten children around the world were out of school. As she noted, “Our world, and everyone else’s, had been turned upside down.” And yet, education leaders around the world have experienced crises before, from the Ebola epidemic to Hurricane Katrina.
Mubuso led several rounds of questions for the panelists, framing the discussion around three themes from President Nelson Mandela’s 2005 speech at the 46664 Arctic concert in Tromsø, Norway: leadership, vision, and political courage. Below are a few highlights from each speaker.
As the CEO of New Schools for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Neerav has witnessed crises first hand. In his experience, the two most important factors that allowed New Orleans schools to become so successful after the hurricane were having adequate political cover and the public will to not go back to the way things were. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the unique ability of the nonprofit world to work together as a team. When asked whether crises of leadership follow other crises, Neerav noted, “It does create a window when you’re in a moment of crisis—for people to question who and how people should lead. A crisis creates the space for unbelievable leaders to create a new vision, and I think that’s what happened in New Orleans.” His advice to the education world:
“Create systems that allow for innovation, that allow for some failure, and when you see things that start to work, grow them as thoughtfully as you can.”
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop
Painting the larger picture, Rebecca noted that although most children are out of school right now, there is a great deal of remote learning. The big divide lies between which children are able to do remote learning and which are not. As Rebecca said, “When school buildings…shut their doors…it lays bare the inequalities in society.” On a positive note, Rebecca also believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the “dormant, latent capacity of education innovation,” and posited that perhaps this can provide us with a recipe of how to act moving forward. She hopes that some changes, such as the emergence of new allies to support education and the recognition of schools as important institutions, will continue beyond the crisis. Moving forward, Rebecca sees society entering an age were, “values are going to be the name of the game.” Her advice:
“We need to get people to think about, ‘Where do we want to head?’ Keep that north star, that vision in your mind, because that will influence how you reopen and what you will allow, what partnerships you will allow.”
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop
George is no stranger to school closures either. When Ebola hit Liberia, schools across the country closed for nearly six months, forcing him to think outside of the box for solutions. “Like Ebola,” George noted, “I believe COVID-19 has given us another opportunity to think outside the boxes we have been given.” The event left us feeling inspired for the road ahead: to help children and education systems recover stronger than ever. As George Werner said,
“In every crisis, you find a silver lining or two. It’s up to leadership to see it and have the courage to bring others along.”
The webinar also marked the launch of Education Leadership through Crisis, a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons learned on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right.
Below is a peek into a few of the interviews we will feature in the weeks ahead:
We look forward to continuing the discussion and invite you to contact us by email or on social media. For more information on this series, visit our series landing page and be sure to follow us on social media for the latest interviews. Stay tuned for new interviews every Monday and Wednesday, and check out the interview with Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education!
On September 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, please join the Luminos Fund for the launch event of “Education Leadership through Crisis,” a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right. www.luminosfund.org/leadership-series.
I wonder if you have had the privilege of watching or reading President Nelson Mandela’s stunning 2005 address at the Arctic concert in Tromsø, Norway. If not, I encourage you to stop and watch. To me, the Tromsø speech stands out for its uncanny relevance to our immediate times.
Madiba began by underscoring that our world remains sorely divided. Hope and despair are paradoxically juxtaposed, sitting as closely together as the two sides of a fifty cent coin. One side boasts leapfrog gains in science and technology. The other side laments far too many children dying unnecessarily for lack of medicine and that millions of children are still out of school.
With the July 2005 G8 meetings then in the foreground, Mandela reminded his audience that much of our common future depends on the actions and plans of world’s highest decision makers. “We now need leadership, vision, and political courage,” the former President expounded with the signature raspy gravitas of his indefatigable spirit.
Then, while casting a gentle, fatherly eye across the gathered crowd, Madiba raised a somber question concerning the AIDS pandemic:
“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?”
An education crisis of unseen proportions
Today, fifteen years later, in the midst of a global pandemic and catastrophic moment in education, we need not listen hard at all to hear the clear, steady echo of President Mandela’s words from Tromsø. As it did then, his clarion call should prick our consciences, rally our creativity, and mobilize our voices to make the right choices for all children whose learning has been turned upside down by COVID-19.
With over one billion children out of school, education leaders today are experiencing the challenge of a generation. And yet, the novel Coronavirus is not the first calamity to put learning at risk. For education ministers and leaders in disaster-prone regions, the ability to lead through crisis with agility is an active, ongoing skillset.
Powerful lessons can be drawn from recent history to inform today’s pathways to relief, recovery, and resilience in education delivery. And, even the best leadership is lost without funding, and that is where today’s funding leaders like the Global Partnership for Education are truly on the vanguard. The emergency COVID-19 response funding that GPE is making available is exactly the support education leaders need to push through the hard process of returning to school safely and, ultimately, building education back better.
A new video series to learn from proven leaders
What can we learn from education leaders and philanthropists who have not turned their backs in past crises and, instead, navigated successfully through the breach? These are precisely the topics and themes of a forthcoming video interview series, Education Leadership through Crisis, which I have the honor to host.
We launch on Thursday, September 24 with a live webinar that will explore leadership lessons that have emerged from Liberia and New Orleans’ contrasting education recovery journeys where, respectively, the Ebola crisis and Hurricane Katrina disrupted learning for millions of children. Neerav Kingsland, Managing Director, the City Fund and former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans; George Werner, former Minister of Education, Liberia; and Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution will share their personal leadership lessons.
The series will continue in the following weeks, featuring discussions with esteemed global leaders from across government, the private sector and civil society, including luminaries such as Arne Duncan, former U.S. Education Secretary; Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka, former Minister of Education in Zimbabwe; Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of African Leadership Group; and Erin Ganju, Managing Director of Echidna Giving.
Alice Albright wrote in March 2020, as COVID-19 cases spiked around the globe, that “The Global Partnership for Education was created out of a belief that in the face of great challenges, we are stronger together.”
As the COVID-19 crisis is testing the next generation of leaders across education and beyond, I am honored to amplify the voices of those who have triumphed in the face of past crises. Indeed, it is clear at this dark moment that we need to lean on each other’s wisdom if we are to have a fighting chance of providing quality education for all.