Funding for Impact

Funding for Impact

14 February 2022
Dr Rita Bissoonauth presenting at RewirEd

How do we tackle the critical challenge of ensuring access to quality education for refugee learners? With almost half of school-aged refugees out of school and a pre-pandemic projected annual cost of $4.85 billion for inclusion of all refugees into host-country national education systems, how do we spur growth in investment and target high-impact investment opportunities?

On 14 December 2021, members of the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) Education Alliance took to the global stage at RewirEd 2021 to pitch investments for catalytic transformation of education for refugee and displaced learners to a panel of world education leaders and donors.

Action from the pitches

Free and Open Source


Presented by Ms. Lauren Lichtman, Head of Partnerships & Strategy, Learning Equality

The potential of EdTech in refugee and low-resource contexts is great, but the sustainability of EdTech solutions is not only dependent on access to infrastructure but on the ability of organizations to develop and maintain the technology and software. The ongoing end-to-end and hidden costs of connected education solutions are often overlooked, limiting use and sustainability, and impacting on potential for quality EdTech to support learning. Investment in developing and maintaining quality free and open-source EdTech for learners in refugee and low-resource contexts is critical to ensuring ongoing sustainable use and technology adaptation to meet learner needs while also creating a shared public good.

Sustainability of [EdTech] solutions are intimately tied to the organizations who develop and maintain them, in addition to ensuring that the necessary infrastructure exists. Funders of connected education are often not considering the ongoing end-to-end costs to support them.

– Lauren Lichtman, pitch presenter

Investing in Inclusion


Presented by Ms. Najeeba Wazefadost, Asia Pacific Network of Refugees

Refugees are frontline responders to crises in their communities yet are not often directly funded by donors and are often left out of decision-making processes despite widespread acknowledgement that meaningful participation of people receiving aid is the path to best outcomes. The donor community has the opportunity to create transformative and systemic change by funding, investing, and resourcing refugee-led organizations directly, particularly for education.

"Nothing about us without us" means including refugees in design, in the decision-making, in the co-creation, but really in leadership.

– Dr. Rebecca Telford, UNHCR Education Chief

Funding the Missing Middle


Presented by Ms. Judith Flick, Can’t Wait to Learn, Programme Director, WarChild Holland

During the pandemic, EdTech has demonstrated its potential to support students during disrupted learning; however, relatively little Education in Emergencies (EiE) EdTech funding is focussed on the critical phase between ‘proof of concept’ and ‘exponential scale’ – the so-called ‘Missing Middle’ – at the risk of losing brilliant EdTech innovations that could bridge the education gap. Funding the ‘missing middle’ of EdTech innovation is a low-risk and high-impact investment that can help bridge the education gap for learners in emergency and crisis contexts.

I’m so excited that someone is finally talking about this. Often times we find a lot of our EdTech partners specifically are excited to come and pilot their ideas, and not just them, but everyone around them don’t have the interest or commitment to carry through and tackle the missing middle.

– Nada Alhajjri, Dubai Cares

Teacher Training – High Impact Practice


Presented by Dr. Lindsay Brown, Senior Research Scientist, New York University

Teachers not only play the most important role in student learning within an academic year, but their effects can be detected into adulthood. In areas of conflict and crisis, the role of the teacher is even more critical and far-reaching, but sees little attention and investment. The status quo is squandering limited resources and preventing teachers from reaching their full potential – essentially ensuring that the most vulnerable students will not reach theirs. We need to invest money where evidence shows you will have the greatest return on student learning – into research-based, high quality teaching.

We are in the midst of a learning crisis. While children in conflict and crisis are increasingly enrolled in school, they are rarely learning. But I argue today that we already have the technology available to increase student learning. It’s not a gadget or an app. It’s the classroom teacher.

– Lindsay Brown, pitch presenter

Invest in the Education of African Girls


Presented by Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, Head, African Union International Center for Girls & Women’s Education in Africa

When fragility, conflict and violence arise, schools are the first to be closed and the last to be re-opened, and internally displaced and refugee girls are less likely to attend school than boys in conflict settings – 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. Educating girls and women is key towards stability and peace, improving national economies, increasing household productivity, and living standards.

There is a transformative power of education for girls…Only 27% of refugee girls are enrolled in secondary school…Without these efforts we will not be able to meet the SDG4 objectives.

– Andreas Papaconstantinou, Director, Neighbourhood and Middle East, Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Speaking Sense: Language & Learning


Presented by Ms. Petra Heusser, Coordinator of the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies

Refugees and internally displaced children and youth are often forced to flee to places where they do not speak the language of instruction, affecting both access to education and quality of learning. If language learning needs are not addressed early in an emergency, this can delay or impede access to formal education and can have a profound impact on both retention and educational progression. More needs to be done. We must invest in new approaches and in sharing best practices to support language skills, both in the language of instruction and in learners' home language. Language rights are human rights, and we must do all we can to make sure children and young people reach their full potential.

Language is at the heart of all human interaction…Not being able to communicate with others…can be profoundly disempowering…For students and learners, language can easily be the difference between reaching your full potential or falling between the cracks.

– Petra Heusser, pitch presenter

Audience voting on priority for investment

Following the pitch presentations, the live audience was given the opportunity to rank the pitches according to highest priority for investment. The top three areas of priority are as follows:


  1. Teacher Training – High Impact Practice
  2. Invest in the Education of African Girls
  3. Funding the Missing Middle

Reflections from the investor panel

Judging panel


Following the pitch presentations, a judging panel made up of industry leading investors offered insight on pitches and helped to identify priorities in support of boosting much-needed investment in EiE.

Critical insights and consensuses on EiE investment needs and opportunities coming out of the investor panel discussion:


  • Funding needs to focus on long-term, sustained investment and coherence and coordination amongst funding actors. This necessitates long-term and holistic investment, moving beyond the traditional 2-3 year time horizon, and to include critical non-financial investments like into capacity- and partnership-building.
  • ‘Quick [investment] wins’ are not the solution, but at the same time can present a starting point or pathway to real long-term change. Long-term focus is needed for systemic change, but adoption of innovative approaches to holistic outcomes offers a good starting point, while tweaks to the systems can create a pathway to long-term improvements (such as developing new private sector partnerships).
  • Lack of research and evidence is hindering investment and is needed to demonstrate long-term sustainability and systemic impact. This is particularly the case in areas related to EdTech which are likely to see investment inflows once they begin demonstrating systemic impact.
  • Inclusion of the vulnerable groups themselves is key to transformative education programming for displaced learners; inclusion in design and implementation, as well as in research and evidence generation – ensuring research is not just top-down, but bottom-up.

As donors, we need to be patient, flexible and adaptive [to the lack of research on refugee education]…We need to get together to do research from not only a top-down, but really from a bottom-up approach.

– Danah Dajani, Director of Programs and Partnerships, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education

We have to move from a COVID-19 worldwide learning crisis to recovery efforts and strengthening the resilience of education systems. We need sustained investment in education as the sector, and a shift towards greater coherence in the global aid architecture for education bringing together the humanitarian branch and development…Investing in inclusion, quality and remote and hybrid education has the potential to transform the future of learning.

– Andreas Papaconstantinou, Director, Neighbourhood and Middle East, Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

There is a need for long term investment, not just the 2-3 year grants that we typically give as funders and specifically when you’re addressing a topic, for example, like refugee leadership. It’s not just the funding that you’re going to provide them with, but you need to provide them with support, you need to give them capacity building, you need to help them build a network and connect them to other people and that takes time.

– Nada Alhajjri, Dubai Cares

I suspect that larger investments in things like EdTech are not there is because there is still some cynicism around the long-term sustainability of it. I think we need more research into EdTech – how do we make that EdTech more systemic, how do we avoid it not being a technology dump. When we can get EdTech to demonstrate systemic impact, I think we’ll see more money flowing there.

– Euan Wilmshurst, Head of Advocacy & Communications, LEGO Foundation

The two points that come out so strongly are not only the need to leave no one behind, but to leave no one behind in all of the different things that we do, whether it’s building evidence, or co-designing a program. The other one is…[that] to transform things, we have to we have to work through complexity and we have to stick to it and be ready to transform not just the education sector, but even when that is uncomfortably our own organizations and our own approaches.

– Dr. Rebecca Telford, UNHCR Education Chief

Background Note

Earlier this year, a call was put out to members of the GRF Education Alliance to identify critical areas of underinvestment that could provide catalytic change to ensuring inclusive education of refugees. In response, members identified 22 key high-impact and underfunded areas for investment, ranging from EdTech, to early childhood education, to social emotional learning, and to recognition of qualifications. Six thematic areas were pitched at the Funding for Impact session at RewirEd 2021 in conjunction with the HLOM. Other thematic areas were represented at different RewirEd sessions, helping to increase the coverage and urgency for EiE investment across the Summit.