Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs

Education Cannot Wait Interviews Patricia Danzi, Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

Nov 12 2021 - Patricia Danzi was appointed Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in May 2020. For nearly three decades, she has dedicated her career to serving the world’s vulnerable populations.

Danzi was with the International Committee of the Red Cross since 1996, serving as a delegate, with increasing responsibilities, in the Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo), Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. At head office, she was appointed Deputy Head of Operations for the Horn of Africa and Political Advisor to the Director of Operations. She served as Head of Operations for America between November 2008 and April 2015 and has been Regional Director for Africa from May 2015 until she assumed the post of director general of the SDC on 1 May 2020.

Danzi studied in Lincoln, Nebraska, and in Zurich and holds a master’s degree in agricultural economics, geography and environmental science. She undertook postgraduate work in development studies in Geneva and speaks seven languages.

Born in Switzerland, Danzi is the daughter of a Swiss German secondary school teacher and a Nigerian diplomat and the eldest of six siblings. In her student days she taught mentally challenged children and spent time teaching in a township in South Africa just after Nelson Mandela was elected President. Danzi represented Switzerland in athletics at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. She has two adult sons.

ECW: The Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies was officially launched in January. How will this new hub impact our global efforts to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, most specifically SDG4?

Patricia Danzi: In emergencies, protracted crises and forced displacement situations, education plays a key role for affected children. A structure and the possibility to learn helps them and their families to project themselves into a brighter future and not to lose hope.

Yet education is still too often a rather neglected sector in humanitarian action and tends to fall through the cracks when durable solutions are discussed or development interventions in crisis contexts are designed.

That is why Switzerland pledged at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum to promote Geneva as the Global Hub for Education in Emergencies – a hub which will strive for collective action to raise the profile of EiE, both politically and operationally. Geneva is an excellent place to host the Global Hub for Education in Emergencies. The city is the humanitarian capital and the second UN HQ. A large number of member states representations, hundreds of NGOs, the private sector, academic institutions and many actors across sectors that are relevant for education are present in Geneva. This provides a perfect opportunity for collective thinking and action.

As co-founding members of the Geneva Global Hub for EiE, the pledge was co-signed by Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Global Education Cluster (GEC), the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), UNICEF, the University of Geneva, UNESCO and UNHCR. Switzerland is extremely happy that, since its launch in January 2021, already 21 new organizations have joined the EiE Hub and we welcome many more, including other member states. Only together can we bring EiE to scale and positively impact the education of crisis-affected girls and boys and make a steps towards achieving SDG4!

ECW: Since its inception, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has mobilised US$827 million through its trust fund and over US$ 1 billion in aligned funding through its Multi-Year Resilience Programmes (MYRPs). Switzerland has been a key partner in achieving our goals and delivering for the millions of children and adolescents that are being left behind by conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis. But a huge US$1 billion funding gap remains. How can we fill this gap and align public sector funding, private sector funding and blended finance modalities to achieve our goals?

Patricia Danzi: First, awareness has to rise! The world needs to understand better that if education is not addressed in a timely and proper manner, human capital is lost – sometimes for generations. Investing in education is therefore key.

Second, providing funds for EiE is a collective responsibility. It should be both an act of solidarity and a genuine interest of bilateral and multilateral donors, of the private sector and of crisis-affected countries themselves. In addition, we should all become better in engaging more in preventive and preparing action to make national education systems more crisis resilient. This demands forward-looking approaches of actors working in development and better collaboration between different stakeholders.

Third, we need to become more creative and more flexible in finding new ways of working and of financing. Public donor models of grants have their limits, so has ODA. Engaging the private sector more actively – and holding it accountable – will be important. SDC is, for example, piloting a new way of generating funding and impact for education through a recently initiated project called “Impact Linked Financing for Education” where public and private money is pooled.

ECW: Localisation is a key component of ECW’s global movement to provide crisis-impacted children and adolescents with the safety, hope and opportunity of a quality education. How can we accelerate efforts to achieve the targets in the Grand Bargain Agreement through ECW-financed programmes?

Patricia Danzi: We congratulate ECW for the efforts it makes in this regard. Switzerland endorsed the Grand Bargain. Strengthening local capacity – be it Ministries of Education, decentralized education authorities, local communities or national civil society and NGO actors – is an important concern for Switzerland’s engagement in education, such as it is in other sectors. Only local ownership can bring sustainable change. Moreover, in many emergency contexts, the first responders are parents, teachers, local civil society organizations or educational authorities before the international community arrives and – sadly – often overruns what already exists instead of building upon it and strengthening it.

Every EiE-intervention run by an international actor should have a local counterpart. Capacity strengthening must be a building block in any partnership. Handing over ownership, engaging more flexibly and predictably is key.

ECW: You represented Switzerland in the women’s heptathlon during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. What a remarkable achievement! How can sports benefit girls caught up in emergencies and protracted crises and how can we empower a future generation of powerful women advocates, athletes, doctors, engineers and leaders?

Patricia Danzi: Sports can provide boys and girls with a lot of self-confidence. It can help channel anger, frustration and increase resilience. It prepares one well to be humble when winning and resilient when losing. These are great lessons for life. Generally, we can all mentor young people, learning from and with them rather than lecturing them.

ECW: Before your appointment as the Director-General for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), you worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). How can education help to prevent and limit human suffering and contain the harmful effects of armed conflict on people’s lives and dignity?

Patricia Danzi: If education is not available, opportunities are lacking. Wars often last for decades and sometimes generations have not seen the inside of a classroom. During war, it is important that parties to a conflict respect international humanitarian law. Uneducated fighters lack that knowledge.

When people are forced to flee fighting, families often choose the location where to displace to according to the education that is available for their children. Education helps children to have a structured life and to forget the dire situation they are facing. They can become children again. When equipped accordingly, school can also help them overcome trauma and start the healing process.

ECW: You are living an interesting life! As the daughter of a Swiss-German teacher and a Nigerian diplomat – and a leading role model for women and girls everywhere – we believe that readers are leaders. Can you please share with us two books that have positively influenced you and that you would recommend to others?

Patricia Danzi: Two books that have influenced me and which I recommend are A Long Walk to Freedom and Half of a Yellow Sun. My thoughts on both:

    • A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela: Humbling, a must-read for every person that aspires for leadership. A lesson of how to overcome one’s prejudice, judgements and lead selflessly, taking in lessons from life and showing a true interest in people.
    • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Describing the different sides of the Biafra Civil War – the author wasn’t even born then – makes the reader slip under the skin of the characters, gives readers a different look at what war does to people, how it affects their lives and how it makes them do things they never thought they were capable of (good and bad). It sheds a different and nuanced light on “victims” and “perpetrators”. My grandfather was killed in that war and the book, therefore, brings many accounts of my relatives to life again.


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