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The Importance of Collaborative Non-Government and Government Efforts to advance Equal Education: Enhancing Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

graphic of equal learning
Date published


The Importance of Non-Government and Government Collaborative Efforts to advance Equal Education: Enhancing Gender Equality and Social Inclusion

With the Education World Forum taking place next week in London, 120 Ministers from 114 countries will come together to try to answer the forum’s overarching question: ‘How should we prioritise policy and implementation for Stronger, Bolder, Better, Education?’

Within the education sector, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) work can often be siloed and marginalised, but the techniques used by GESI experts to facilitate organisational, policy and pedagogical shifts are among the most advanced techniques in the development and humanitarian sectors, and much can be learned from feminist methodologies to answer the broad question posed by the Education World Forum’s for this year’s gathering.

To achieve meaningful and lasting change, collaboration between non-government actors and governments—both national and local—is imperative. This constructive collaboration fosters greater synergies, the co-creation and implementation of effective policies, shifts in social norms, and organisational changes that collectively propel societies towards greater equality and inclusivity. Such collaboration is also vital in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those focused on gender equality (SDG 5), quality education (SDG 4), and reduced inequalities (SDG 10).


The Role of Social Development Direct (SDDirect) in GESI-related systems change

At SDDirect, we currently deliver GESI technical support to two large, UK FCDO-funded long-term projects where our focus is on shifting organisational and social paradigms within governing education structures:  Partnership for Learning for All (PLANE), in Nigeria (led by DAI) and the Syria Education Programme (SEP) in North-West Syria (led by Chemonics)[1].  Drawing on our 25 years of experience in the delivery of GESI and organisational change, we approach this work with a long-term view, encouraging progressive and sustainable change. We support government-led initiatives and meet individual staff members within the various branches of the MoE where they are currently at in their GESI journey. We then guide individuals towards GESI-transformative education policies, practices and procedures whilst also seeking to transform GESI-related social norms. This approach acknowledges that change is a slow process and acknowledges that policy implementation is only half of the story of sustainable: ‘stronger, bolder, better education.’ 


Key Levers of Change

To effectively promote gender equality and social inclusion within government structures and education institutions (inclusive of safe and equitable access to education and disability-inclusive education), it is imperative to foster a positive organisational culture and to change harmful social norms among individuals working within those organisations. Several key levers are pivotal in shaping a safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive culture, each playing a distinct and vital role:

  1. Shared Values: Establishing and upholding organisational values that prioritise safety, empowerment, and accountability is essential. These shared values serve to unify staff and guide decision-making processes, fostering an environment where individuals feel safe and empowered to challenge unacceptable behaviour and practices.
  2. Leadership: Effective leadership is paramount in championing ethical and inclusive behaviours and practices. Leaders within government structures and educational institutions must actively promote accountability and shared ownership in upholding organisational values. Their role is pivotal in driving cultural change and fostering a collective commitment to GESI principles.
  3. Policies, Practices & Procedures: Clear and comprehensive policies, practices, and procedures are indispensable in outlining the implementation of meaningful changes. These frameworks ensure that all staff members understand their responsibilities in creating a safe, inclusive and gender-responsive education system.
  4. Change Agents: Small groups of dedicated individuals can serve as catalysts for significant and sustainable change within organisations and systems. These change agents, whether formal or informal, unite around shared beliefs and advocate for behaviours and actions that promote organisational and systemic transformation.
  5. Signifiers: Visible reminders and regular engagement opportunities are crucial for embedding safe, inclusive and gender-responsive practices across all levels of the organisation and system. Signifiers, such as training sessions, awareness campaigns, and accessible reporting mechanisms, serve to reinforce the importance of our objectives and empower staff to adopt proactive behaviours that uphold organisational values.

By leveraging these levers and actively cultivating a transformative culture, government structures and educational institutions can drive meaningful change in policy, practice, and procedure, thereby fostering greater safety, inclusivity and equity within the education system.

schematic diagram of : SDDirect’s approach to influencing social norms within the education system

Figure 1: SDDirect’s approach to influencing social norms within the education system


Methods to Influence Key Levers:

In order to influence the key levers discussed above and shown in Figure 1, SDDirect applies the following inter-linked methods and approaches:

  • Demonstrating Commitment to Values and ‘Being the Change we Want to See:’

We firmly believe in embodying the principles we advocate, both within our team and in our engagement with government and education stakeholders. We are dedicated to exemplifying the objectives we are working towards as a program, starting with ensuring equal and fair representation of women, men, and people with disabilities within ours and our partners.

We empower our team members to develop their knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviours, including through values clarification exercises. This enables them to confidently address issues of inclusion, disability, and safeguarding within our program and in their interactions with stakeholders.

As part of our commitment to inclusivity, we establish tools and platforms that foster inclusive discussions on how best to achieve our objectives. For example, we actively challenge biases when making decisions for the PLANE program, ensuring that our actions align with our values of equity and inclusivity.

Every member of our team is encouraged to openly discuss and reflect on our impact in addressing the challenges of inclusion, gender equality, social inclusion, disability rights, and safeguarding in the education system. Each output of our programme actively seeks ways to communicate proactively about these critical issues.

We identify effective strategies for delivering inclusive education and leverage evidence to advocate for the scaling up of our program activities. Safety is paramount in all our endeavours, and we continuously assess and enhance the safety measures in our activities.

  • Collaborating with Government for Incremental, Sustainable Change:

Recognizing the importance of incremental progress, we work closely with government entities to support sustainable change within the education system. While we prioritise building a strong foundation for inclusion, we remain vigilant against behaviours that perpetuate exclusion.

Our engagement with the government is guided by ethical principles, ensuring the protection of our counterparts, stakeholders, and students. We actively support disruptors within and outside the education system who champion positive change and challenge the status quo.

To maintain accountability and uphold high standards, each output lead takes ownership of implementing minimum standards, which are reviewed annually to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

  • Enhancing Accountability and Feedback Mechanisms with Civil Society:

We actively seek to strengthen the engagement of citizens and civil society organisations with government to promote inclusive plans, processes, and policies. Recognizing the influential role of civil society in the education sector, we prioritize feedback mechanisms and accountability measures to ensure transparency and responsiveness to community needs.

Case Study: Nigeria and North-West Syria

Using this approach has led to transformative and sustainable changes in Nigeria, where we have supported the government in conducting GESI and Safeguarding analyses of policies, worked with government agencies at the local level to support training and mentorship, and collaborated with schools to implement action plans for increased safeguards. This approach has led to requests for more support and ultimately to more transformative GESI and safeguarding work from the Government, with actors within the government seeing the PLANE team as allies and supporters of their work. We hope to replicate this approach in North-West Syria in collaboration with our SEP consortium partners.



For international development and humanitarian actors, working in collaboration with national and local governments is not just beneficial—it is essential for achieving sustainable and transformative change in gender equality and social inclusion as well as in other areas of education.

By combining resources, expertise, and political will, these partnerships can develop and implement effective policies, shift social norms, and create inclusive organisational cultures. For policymakers and education specialists, embracing collaboration is key to fostering environments where all individuals, regardless of gender or social status, can thrive and contribute to their societies. This is how we answer the Education World Forum’s overarching question. This is how we facilitate stronger, bolder, better education, that is safe, equitable and, importantly, sustainable.

In the pursuit of a more just and equitable world, the importance of such collaborative efforts cannot be overstated. As we move forward, let us prioritise and strengthen these partnerships to ensure that no one is left behind in the march towards gender equality and social inclusion, fulfilling the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.


[1] In North-west Syria, the SEP project works with the Education Directorates, a governing actor within the education system.



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