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The Campaign for Education for All: Beyond the Noble Ideal

New blog by Carmela Salzano, independent development consultant.

“Everyone agrees that education is a basic human right and a noble ideal. But protecting children from malnutrition and disease and ensuring that all people can live without fear of their home being washed away, or destroyed by another natural disaster, figure much more widely in public consciousness about development issues. The urgency of overcoming inequalities in access to education and skills training – both as a route out of material poverty and as a catalyst in resolving many of the major development challenges of our time – is less broadly appreciated, except perhaps by education specialists and practitioners working in the global development community.

Indeed there seems to be a missing link in the current discussions around the international education agenda in the post 2015 landscape, a great white elephant in the room. That is, that as a community of practitioners we have failed to ignite the campaign for Education for All (EFA) as a popular, broad-based development movement, or to ingrain the importance of education as an international development prerogative in the public mind set. With the 2015 deadline looming nearer, the times demand urgency. But in an already crowded news environment, campaigning for EFA on the basis of the ‘human right’ to education, ‘access’ and ‘equity’ is generally failing to bring the campaign centre stage on the development agenda, except on specific occasions or at national and local levels.

Indeed, the EFA rallying cry seems to have lost its steam, fractured over the past decade by the lack of convincing messaging and the different agendas of the partners that originally came together to support it. A renewed sense of purpose has emerged as we approach and look beyond 2015, with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Initiative on Education seeming to have re-energized certain actors within the EFA movement. But beyond a broader cross-section of development actors taking part in the on-line thematic discussions, it’s doubtful that the general public will be any the wiser.

Now, more than ever, we need to shake up the communications tool box and perhaps invest in some more powerful machinery. We need to reach out to broader audiences, generating more resonance for today’s young people, their families and communities in a language that isn’t stiff, insular or academic. We also need to create innovative mechanisms that will allow everyday people not directly involved in international development to take action. These development objectives are surely as important as any other.

The campaign could re-energize by drawing some lessons on how the private sector builds a movement behind a brand. In an article for Branding Strategy Insider, Scott Goodson says that “…while people tend to rally around strong ideas and causes, those ideas have to be expressed in a certain way to get people fired up.”1… and…« people interact better when the message being relayed to them isn’t dull and stiff, even if the subject is. »2 Various humanitarian campaigns, from water aid to the protection of the rainforests, have done exactly this, adopting slogans, outreach and visual tools more commonly found in the advertising world, creating alliances with socially responsible brands, or bringing well-known actors or politicians on board to get the message across.

In terms of drumming up support for schooling and generating bottom-line impact, some of the most innovative community engagement strategies in Europe and North America have emerged around ‘cause marketing’ campaigns. In the United Kingdom, the nationwide supermarket group Tesco operates a reward scheme allowing shoppers to collect vouchers that can be redeemed by local schools and youth clubs against computers and books. The scheme is worth a staggering £9.3m per year to the schools taking part. Shoppers also have the option to collect 10 vouchers for Mary’s Meals’ – a school feeding project in the developing world that provides daily meals for over 600,000 children in 16 countries across Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

In the United States, the Target chain recently launched “Give with Target,” a programme that rewards schools-in-need with a $25 Target gift card for every 25 votes it receives on Facebook. The Labels for Education® programme in the U.S. also enables families to collect drinks and sauce caps from over 2,500 participating products to “Earn Free Stuff” for their school. So far, U.S. schools and organizations have earned over $114 million in merchandise over the programme’s 39 year history.

Extraordinary results can be achieved when savvy marketing and business acumen are put to use for development ends. So why not pump some of this energy into the campaign for Education for All?  In doing so, perhaps we will finally begin to connect with mass audiences on a level that goes beyond the noble ideal.”

Notes:

1Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Scott Goodson, excerpted from his book, UPRISING © 2012 McGraw-Hill Professional.

2Reference: Article on ‘Effective Marketing Message Importance’: http://progressforge.com/effective-marketing-message-importance/

3 Summarized from an article by Dan Leidl: The Art of Collaboration. Good-b. http://good-b.com/?p=9709

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