Promoting quality education for all.

Five Ways to Grow as an Education Diplomat and Lead for Girls’ Education

Yvette Murphy, 

With over 130 million girls age 6-17 out of school around the world, education leaders play an important role in addressing the direct and indirect challenges that are keeping girls from attending school.  Education Diplomacy - the skills of diplomacy that advance the potential of education and promote collective action to solve education challenges – can enhance an education leader’s capacity to create meaningful and lasting change for girls. 

Due to the systemic and multi-dimensional nature of girls’ education challenges, which include cultural norms and expectations, discrimination, safety and protection, water and sanitation, disability, ethnicity, lack of funding, conflict, and poverty, it is critical that education leaders are trained in the skills and competencies of Education Diplomacy.  Education Diplomats can be characterized by their Education Diplomacy skills and competencies in the following ways:

  • A strong understanding of the values and principles that guide their work
  • Commitment to understanding their stakeholders and including important voices
  • Adept at building relationships through diplomatic communication, establishing trust, and sharing accountability
  • Strategic about how they leverage influence and power while addressing power imbalances
  • Belief in the potential of solving complex education challenges through collective action among education actors across different sectors. 

The transformative potential of education is great and should serve as the primary motivation for education leaders to grow as Education Diplomats. Advancing girls’ education so that the 130 million girls currently out of school can learn and thrive would strengthen economies, promote healthier communities, stabilize communities, and create a more environmentally stable world.

Below are five ways in which you can grow as an Education Diplomat and lead for girls’ education.

1. See yourself not only as an education leader but also as an Education Diplomat.

Education leaders should see themselves as Education Diplomats to represent the skills they employ for meaningful change, such as sensitivity, tact, understanding, and knowledge-based strategic thinking. In “A Three-Part Case for Education Diplomacy in Girls’ Education Leadership,” Christina Kwauk of the Brookings Center for Universal Education asserts that Education Diplomacy skills are most relevant in the girls’ education ecosystem because leaders for girls’ education understand the long-term, hard work necessary to shift often intractable barriers, such as gender norms and expectations within communities. Education Diplomacy builds relationships, establishes trust, and promotes accountability for change among all stakeholders involved – whether for shaping education policy, planning and implementing programs, designing curriculum, training teachers, etc.  

2. Listen and learn from your stakeholders.

Education Diplomats use diplomacy skills to build bridges by listening to and learning from their stakeholders. Particularly for marginalized and vulnerable girls, Education Diplomats ensure that their voices are heard at the local, grassroots level, and on key platforms for education dialogue and decision-making. Yasmine Sherif believes that her role as an Education Diplomat and Director of Education Cannot Wait includes ensuring girls’ voices are heard. “You just need to give them the platform, and they'll come out, and they're strong. They know their rights. They know how to do it… If they're not present, it's our job at Education Cannot Wait to convey their voice in the most authentic way possible. It's not about us, it's about them and their voice and their needs, and their strength,” Ms. Sherif emphasized during her interview about girls’ education in emergency and fragile contexts.

3. Engage your sphere of influence to leverage change.

Every Education Diplomat has a sphere of influence that can support and amplify their work, and therefore allow them to have greater impact. Your sphere of influence includes a variety of personal and professional networks, friends, family, peers, and even social media connections. Understanding this power about yourself should also extend to understanding the power of critical, but often underrepresented, stakeholders, such as girls, mothers, community leaders, and male allies who could have a great impact in addressing complex girls’ education challenges.  In her article, “Grassroots Diplomacy: The Heart of a Successful Girls’ Education Program,” Anke Adams of the Campaign for Female Education describes the need for diplomacy at the grassroots level that builds local networks and recognizes the sphere of influence every community member has for addressing gender inequality in education.  According to Adams, “Girls need psychosocial support networks that address psychological exclusion, as well as networks of authority that work to address gender inequality… We also need to identify and employ tools to unite, rather than polarize, individuals in a network of mutual and extending support for girls.” 

4. Be adaptable to change and embrace innovation.

Education Diplomats of girls’ education are leaders for changing the conditions and systems that are barriers for girls’ ability to learn and thrive. In addition, Education Diplomats recognize that the influencers of education are changing and include increasingly diverse stakeholders. As an Education Diplomat, it is important to be sensitive to how changes you are leading may impact key stakeholder groups, while at the same time embrace the potential collective action among committed, diverse individuals and groups can have for solving complex challenges. Education Diplomacy enables diverse stakeholders – government and non-government organizations, parent-citizen groups, philanthropy, foundations, businesses, etc. – to build relationships for effective collaboration and find innovative solutions to challenges affecting girls’ education. Education Diplomats: Voices for Girls’ Education features examples of girls’ education initiatives that value innovative partnerships and collaborative approaches, such as Education Cannot Wait, Girls’ Education Challenge, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s systems approach to ensuring gender equality and the rights of women and girls, and Brookings’ CUEs Echidna Global Scholars program that promotes leadership for girls’ education.   

5. Understand the principles that are driving you and the education profession.

Building relationships is at the heart of your work as an Education Diplomat. In order to be sensitive, tactful, understanding, and strategic in addressing girls’ education challenges, you need to be grounded by your personal and professional values and beliefs and how they align with the values and principles of the education profession, organizations for and with whom you work, and the individuals and groups with whom you are building relationships. Guiding principles concerning the purpose and transformative potential of education should inspire and shape your daily interactions to advance the importance of girls’ education. These principles include human rights frameworks, global education agreements and declarations, and professional codes of ethics such as CE International’s International Code of Ethics for Educators.  

What are the risks of not growing as an Education Diplomat? 

There are many risks if education leaders don’t grow as Education Diplomats and use Education Diplomacy skills and competencies to advance girls’ education. True and meaningful engagement and change through collective action among diverse stakeholders may stagnate if relationships aren’t inclusive and built on trust. Opportunities for innovation and creative solutions to girls’ education challenges may be lost if different ideas, areas of expertise, and sectors aren’t brought together. We face great risk if complex education challenges are not thoroughly understood by listening to and learning from the important voices of girls and local, community stakeholders. As Anke Adams soberly points out, “A deep lack of understanding persists among those in positions of power regarding the contexts that marginalize girls and leave them exposed. Without local accountability and a deep understanding of the local context, girls’ education interventions can make girls more, rather than less, vulnerable… every diplomatic effort must aim to change this context. We can fix the infrastructure and we can bring the money, but we can’t make lasting change without bringing empathy, promoting agency, and addressing power imbalances at every level.”

You can read more insightful perspectives about the role of Education Diplomats as leaders for girls’ education in Education Diplomats: Voices for Girls’ Education(March 2019), an online publication of the Center for Education Diplomacy and Leadership.

The Center for Education Diplomacy and Leadership, a core program of Childhood Education International (CE International), will be offering online, self-paced training on “5L” Education Diplomacy Skills and Competencies in Spring 2019. If you would like more information, visit or contact Yvette Murphy at

CE International was formerly the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI).

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