International Geneva is seeking to position itself in the field of education at the international level. The historical anchoring of institutions such as the International Bureau of Education (IBE-UNESCO) or the presence of multiple international organizations gives it a scope that it wishes to take advantage of. However, we will highlight that its role remains to be clarified and, as for other international entities acting in the field of cooperation, this place should be able to rethink its way of acting, which would give it more legitimacy. This blog post is based on research conducted in 2022 using data from actors representing International Geneva in the field, specifically in Dakar.
« I wasn’t really aware of the structures, the objectives, or the working methods »
The analysis of the influence of international entities often comes up against the complexity of the dynamics of national education policies (role of States, diversity of cooperation organizations, contexts of adversity, etc.), which disrupt the mechanisms and objectives initially set by these entities. This even concerns large organizations such as the World Bank, as we showed in blog #03. The influence of International Geneva is part of these dynamics insofar as, despite a growing marketing discourse around this place, notably in the education sector, the contours of its influence are not precise or too theoretical, including for representatives of organizations of this entity. Other international places are considered to have more weight in this field, such as Washington (World Bank, Global Partnership for Education…) or Paris (UNESCO, OECD…).
Nevertheless, certain areas can make the influence of International Geneva an added value. On the one hand, around humanitarian issues, and in particular education in emergencies. Among recent initiatives, creating the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies has increased its legitimacy in this field. On the other hand, not having so much impact in terms of operationalization (according to its representatives), it could increase its influence is the field of advocacy: the presence of major international organizations and/or representations of organizations, as well as embassies, but also other types of entities such as civil society organizations and the private sector, constitutes a significant opportunity to notably assert the international right to education and the requirement for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. This also involves the fight for more funding for the neediest populations. This would also allow International Geneva to stand out from the crowd (see Blog #01).
Overcoming inefficient cooperation mechanisms
Beyond the areas of influence of International Geneva, it is relevant to question the way it acts in terms of cooperation. Although it has been widely demonstrated that a top-down approach is both inefficient and counterproductive, many international entities perpetuate this mechanism. And according to the actors in the field, International Geneva is not spared from this observation. Indeed, the orientations come primarily from headquarters: they are not elaborated (or not very much) with the actors on the ground who are actually intimately familiar with the realities. For an international entity’s influence to be fruitful, the orientations must not be perceived as exogenous and must be owned by the actors in the education system who will put them into practice. Despite this problematic observation, there is an increasing tendency for some organizations in international Geneva to decentralize the design and implementation of actions at the national level. In this case, the country offices have an actual room for maneuver.
Another historical challenge for international cooperation that we also highlighted in blog #06 is coordinating actions. This challenge is all the more critical since international Geneva is part of an intersectoral context in which organizations from different sectors (health, labor, climate, etc.) could act hand in hand to implement all the SDGs. Here again, actors in the field have shown their skepticism, not about the added value of this kind of mechanism, but about the willingness of organizations to act beyond their own interests (between institutions of the same sector and between sectors). In particular, this intersectorality faces a highly rigid and rooted systemic approach, which would come from the United Nations. Nevertheless, we noted some positive experiences, mainly during COVID-19, where education and health organizations worked closely together (for example, hand hygiene education). Do the most effective solutions come only with the urgency of a situation?
We propose several recommendations to improve the effectiveness of cooperation in International Geneva… if, however, one considers the impact of the actions on the beneficiaries as more critical than the communication/marketing strategy around this entity.
Areas of influence
- Prioritize advocacy, especially for increased resources in favor of education in emergencies;
- Enhance academic cooperation, especially in research and training;
- Clarify and distinguish the added value of International Geneva compared to Swiss cooperation in general.
- Decentralize decision-making on education policies to the regional/national level;
- Listen to the voice of local actors for actions to be taken, especially in terms of advocacy.
Coordination and intersectorality
- Promote interactions between organizations, setting aside the personal interests of each;
- Facilitate intersectorality through more flexible cooperation mechanisms, particularly at the level of the United Nations system.
To concretize these recommendations, a systematic analysis of good practices could be envisaged in light of the few positive experiences coming from the field.