Promoting quality education for all.

Civil Society Engagement and Education Diplomacy

by Yvette Murphy, 

by Yvette Murphy, ACEI

“People are at the center of sustainable development …[and efforts] to strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and committed to work[ing] together.…” These words from the Introduction to the Proposal of the Open Working Group (OWG) for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize that people are central to the implementation and success of a post-2015 development agenda, and they are the ultimate beneficiaries of “inclusive economic growth, social development, and environmental protection…without distinction.”

The people of the world were well represented at the recent 65th Annual United Nations Department of Public Information Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI NGO) conference. A record number 2,000 individuals, representing 902 NGOs/CSOs, 117 countries, and diverse humanitarian interests, convened in New York from 26 – 29 of August to take part in a unique opportunity to contribute civil society voices toward shaping a sustainable future. The event theme explored the role of civil society in the post-2015 development agenda and provided a platform for attendees to contribute to a final Civil Society Agenda outcome document that would inform future high-level discussions.

The broad representation of organizations, individuals, and session topics set the stage for a dynamic event that highlighted not only the complexity of humanity and our world’s interconnectedness, but also the challenges of working together toward a common vision. Attendees explored various issues affecting our present-day and future societies, including women’s health, girls’ empowerment, youth resilience, participation of indigenous peoples, global ethics, education, and workforce development. Other conference sessions explored how cooperation and understanding across sectors, cultures, and worldviews can be pursued to encourage civil society engagement. The Unity in Diversity campaign, for example, discussed the need for a “commonality of mission” with regard to civil society engagement in post-2015 development that could only be achieved through deliberate dialogue and inclusive participation.

The DPI NGO conference demonstrated the energy and potential of a collective voice, but we must remember the lessons learned from the processes leading up to major global initiatives, such as the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals, in order to ensure that we work as a community toward a common vision. Those of us in non-governmental work appreciate the unprecedented availability of platforms that allow NGOs and civil society to help shape the post-2015 development agenda.  Civil society organizations were increasingly embraced from the late 1980s through the 1990s for their ability to promote peace and democracy outside of the government level, provide services, find innovative solutions, and strengthen the voice of the people; in practice, however, we learned that the mechanisms for meaningful dialogue between civil society and government largely depended upon national social and political contexts and the capacity of civil society itself.  As the OWG document for Sustainable Development Goals reflects, realization of a common vision for development requires people-centered approaches with an understanding of how goals spanning poverty, education, health, governance, environmental protection, and climate change are integrated and interconnected. This can only be achieved, in part, if non-governmental individuals and groups are equipped with the tools and knowledge to navigate these spaces in order to effectively advance their agenda while representing those they serve.

During the conference, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) contributed to the dialogue concerning inclusive approaches for engaging civil society in efforts to advance education in future development initiatives by sharing the concept of Education Diplomacy. Education Diplomacy requires that educators possess the skills and dispositions to navigate spaces for participation at many levels. It promotes responsive systems approaches and relationship development, both within the education sector and across related sectors, such as health and social services. Further, Education Diplomats understand that because education is central to fulfilling all of the proposed SDGs, their knowledge must allow them to articulate the relationship of education to human rights principles, such as peace, security, prosperity, development, and the realization of all other human rights.

Education Diplomacy is necessary now more than ever, given increased global interconnectedness, the opening space for inclusive participation, and opportunities for and persisting challenges to meaningful civil society engagement in education and development initiatives. Shaping and achieving a universal vision for a sustainable future post-2015 is only possible if all the diverse voices for human progress are harmonized and able to work together. Civil society groups must be equipped with the tools to effectively work at many levels and consider the complexity of human interests they seek to serve. In order to ensure education remains central to a global development agenda, those working in and with the education sector must be skilled in the competencies of Education Diplomacy and promote practices that we know are effective to advance change.

The 2015 Institute for Global Education Diplomacy will be hosted by ACEI from 5-8 March 2015 in Washington, DC, at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel (Crystal City). If you are interested in learning more about Education Diplomacy and exploring models and best practices to advance your understanding of the concept’s depth and application, please contact institute@acei.org. Registration is now open. Please see the event page to find out how to participate.

For more information

United Nations DPI NGO Conference                                                    

Open Working Group Sustainable Development Goals

Center for Education Diplomacy

Institute for Global Education Diplomacy 

Civil Society and NGOs Cannot Eclipse Government (1999 The Baltimore Sun article, accessed August 27, 2014)

Yvette Murphy is the Director of Advocacy and Outreach at the Association for Childhood Education International

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