Continuing Childhood Education When Disaster Strikes

DFAT and OpenIDEO’s partnership connects youth to educational opportunities in the midst of emergencies through technology and community.

In partnership with

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

The Challenge

How might we improve educational outcomes for children and youth—particularly girls—in emergency situations?

The Outcome

An open innovation Challenge and Alliance that surfaced and accelerated nearly 300 ideas, awarded $1.6M in funding, and jump-started a network of innovators.

Scalable innovations and organizations that help children complete their schooling, pursue their dreams, lead more fulfilling lives, and contribute to local economies.

When a tsunami hits or an armed conflict breaks out, governments and nonprofits often jump into action, supplying food, water, and shelter to displaced families. While this immediate aid is invaluable, addressing the long-term impact these emergencies have on communities—particularly on children—is a more complex challenge.

Emergencies like natural disasters and disruptions like civil war currently hamper the education of over 75 million children across 35 countries, with girls being 2.5 times more likely to stop attending school than boys. These children forced to leave school may take years to return, ultimately preventing them from securing steady, well-paying jobs and limiting broader economic growth in the process. 

The Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) partnered with OpenIDEO to address this challenge globally, with a focus on girls as the most vulnerable population. As part of a consortium of partners, OpenIDEO and the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) created the Education in Emergencies Open Innovation Challenge to source innovations that provide education continuity during emergencies. The winners would receive a share of U.S. $1.6 million to help move their ideas and organizations forward.

In this video, seven Challenge Winners share their ideas for helping girls continue their education during emergency situations.

Before launch, OpenIDEO developed the Challenge with DFAT based on in-depth academic research, input from over 30 experts, and learnings from a workshop hosted by DFAT and organizations within the consortium. DFAT and OpenIDEO refined the open innovation Challenge focus to four areas: making children feel safe in education environments, using technology to deliver education, improving the quality and relevance of content, and enabling local communities to get involved in their children’s education. 

DFAT has hosted innovation challenges before, but OpenIDEO’s human-centered, global, and community-oriented approach surfaced more diverse perspectives and new collaboration opportunities. The four-month Challenge attracted 379 submissions with participation from 106 countries—including Kenya, India, and Cambodia—and participants included both startups and established organizations like Save the Children. Seven Top Ideas, including Rutindo Schools’ new math curriculum and RISE’s technology for real-time response at refugee camps, received a share of the $1.5 million prize. 

“Being in this program was catalytic. It allowed us to build our platform and test it in Kakuma, one of the biggest refugee camps in the world. More importantly, it helped us hear directly from the community what they needed. We iterated on our innovation and built features such as digital attendance-taking to optimize the school meals program. This led us to develop other core features like immunization and education outcome trackers, which will enable even higher levels of impact.” — Sergio Medina, RISE Co-Founder and CEO

The real “aha!” moment for the team came when they realized the number of promising innovations beyond the seven Challenge winners. DFAT and OpenIDEO began to consider how they might structure post-Challenge support for a broader group and build a community of innovators. They first designed a week-long Bootcamp following the Challenge, which brought Challenge participants, DFAT representatives, and other consortium partners together in person to share and evaluate additional ideas, support each other through setbacks, celebrate progress, find mentors, and learn more about human-centered design. The relationships formed during the Bootcamp suggested that innovators benefited from support beyond funding.

Andrew and Yusto of Rutindo Schools attended the Bootcamp hosted by DFAT and OpenIDEO. They built prototypes to explore how to implement their idea of using cultural artifacts to demystify and reinforce the importance of math to children, especially girls.
“Having technical assistance, the space to really think about my idea, and the funding to do something about it is amazing. This is unique in my experience. There aren’t many grants like this.”
— Moshin Mohi-Ud-Din, #MeWeSyria International Founder and CEO, Bootcamp participant

The Education in Emergencies Alliance (EiE), a virtual accelerator, was a natural next step. The team designed the Alliance to prolong the momentum of the Challenge and Bootcamp and bring DFAT’s vision of community, mentorship, and connection to life. Over six months, the team created customized journeys for all participants, which included matching 40 Challenge teams with tailored resources, mentors, and advisors to advance their ideas and further their impact. Teams were also paired up based on their specific needs, enabling expert peer-to-peer support on topics like human-centered business modeling, program design, storytelling, and measurement and evaluation. Through the online accelerator platform, members connected on weekly calls, attended over 60 training sessions hosted by experts, and shared hundreds of resources with each other, ultimately creating a network and support system.

"Before working with OpenIDEO I wasn't thinking out of the box. I was only thinking about focusing on my local community and my organization. But working with the EiE community has shown me the value in seeing what other people around the world are doing. This community inspired me and I learned a lot." 
— Fakhira Najib, Power99 Foundation CEO, Alliance member

In addition to accelerating ideas and gaining new perspectives and connections, the Alliance helped teams powerfully share their stories by connecting them to storytelling experts, like the former Head of Production for the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Teams created videos to demonstrate progress and pitch funders. Three teams—InnoKido, Playground Ideas, and Light of Hope—received additional funding from DFAT based on the progress showcased in their videos.

Innovators and advisors in the Education in Emergencies (EiE) Alliance connected virtually on a weekly basis to offer support and accelerate their ideas forward.

The impact of DFAT and OpenIDEO’s partnership did not stop at the conclusion of this accelerator program. Relying on the learnings and community generated through the Challenge, Bootcamp, and Alliance, innovators have continued to grow their organizations and secure funding. Fakhira Najib of Power99 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to transforming Pakistan’s education system, has scaled the organization to over 100,000 beneficiaries in the hardest-to-reach parts of Pakistan. After meeting through the Challenge and Alliance, Nora Chefchaouni of Save the Children and Wali Bhuiyan of Light of Hope, discovered a partnership opportunity. Their collaboration has helped Light of Hope receive BDT $5,700,000 in funding to carry out its mission to make learning fun for children through technology.

The mentorship and design resources provided by DFAT and OpenIDEO are helping founders like Mandy Lau of Reach & Match, which provides educational and play-based activities for children with disabilities, grow their organizations. Mandy is currently in conversations with multiple partners who can help Reach & Match scale across the Asia Pacific region. 
“Due to the successful outcome from the OpenIDEO EiE project, we received an endorsement from DFAT, and we are looking for partners and in discussion with different organisations who implement educational programs in developing countries or emergencies. We keep applying a human-centered approach in any way that we can, like program design and designing our surveys and tools!”
Mandy Lau, Reach & Match Founder & Creative Director, Alliance member

Over a year and multiple streams of work later, OpenIDEO and DFAT have broadened the definition of an innovation challenge by sourcing and progressing new concepts, jumpstarting a long-lasting community that extends beyond winners, and helping innovators raise additional funding. These innovations and this dedicated group will help keep children on track to complete their schooling, lead more fulfilling lives, and benefit communities and economies around the world.