International cooperation
for and through EDUCATION

Research context

“In the field of development and its sub-sector of aid and international solidarity, no actor, institutional and/or individual, seems today to be able to escape questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of its actions”.

Naëlou, Hofmann & Kojoué, 2020

The city of Geneva hosts 38 international organizations, approximately 750 NGOs, and almost 180 member state missions to the UN Office in Geneva, in addition to many business and financial institutions. In this context, is the so-called International Geneva (IG) a key player in international cooperation, specifically in the education sector? This question was at the heart of research conducted jointly by teams from the University of Geneva and NORRAG/Geneva Graduate Institute in 2021 and 2022. We analyzed its potential influence through the eyes of the organizations that represent International Geneva at the level of the central headquarters and of the national antennas. 

This report focuses on the national offices in the Global South, intending to get insights from the field. Indeed, analyzing the influence of an entity such as IG only makes sense if we look at the effects of the entity’s action on the ground.

In the framework of this research, we analyzed how the institutions representing International Geneva (IG) at the national level perceived this entity’s role on the ground.

To what extent is IG influential in the education sector? And in what specific area? How does IG work with its national offices in the education sector? To what extent does IG take advantage of intersectorality?

To answer these questions, we first reviewed the literature, which gave us some initial answers on the potential IG’s influence at the national level. We understand through this literature review that given the complexity of the influence of international entities like IG, it is difficult for the organizations’ representatives in the national contexts to detect the specific added value of IG’s actions on the ground, beyond the discursive, even normative level. The literature also highlights the weak capacity for making decisions at the national level: the orientations come above all from international headquarters, with little consideration of the problems that arise on the ground. Finally, according to the literature review, coordination issues are recurrent in international cooperation actions in education, especially in a context of intersectorality: the organizations act mainly according to their own interests, including in terms of sectoral priorities.

Secondly, we conducted interviews with representatives of IG institutions based at the national level to see if the field survey confirms the conclusions of the literature review, but also how the actors at the national level envisage addressing these challenges.

The choice of Dakar for the field survey is related to the fact that it is itself a hub attracting international organizations for West Africa/the Sahel region. Also, we have research experience in this context, which makes it easier to connect with specific actors in the field.

It should be noted that, as is often the case for qualitative research in the field of education policy, including questions on international cooperation, it takes work to find people who volunteer to answer questions in an interview setting. In addition, to select the interviewees, we used the “Genève internationale” website to identify institutions based in Dakar that work directly or indirectly (mainly through intersectorality) in the education sector. This reduced the number of opportunities, as we primarily approached the education officers of these institutions. However, even a small number of actors (seven in total) was sufficient to understand the issues related to the influence of international Geneva, especially since we have a good representation of different types of organizations (multilateral and NGOs).

In addition, to avoid jeopardizing the representatives of the organizations with whom we spoke, we chose to anonymize the interviews, as we announced to the Ethics Commission of the University of Geneva. This allowed our interlocutors to speak freely, often with a critical eye on their organization and international cooperation in general within the framework of IG. Also, we consider that some of the comments are sensitive because they touch on aspects of the functioning of organizations.

The report is composed of three parts: the first is devoted to the nuanced power of international entities on education systems, particularly in the countries of the Global South; the second to the question of ownership; the third to the issue of coordinating actions, specifically in a context of intersectoriality.