"We don't want to talk about young people – we want to talk with them"

In this interview, SDC Director General Patricia Danzi talks about the International Cooperation Forum Switzerland and explains why it's so important to include young people in the discussion. Education is one of the most important sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda – and it's also one of the goals that suffers from acute financing problems. What does that mean for those who are impacted? And most importantly, how can we stop this harmful trend? This year's edition of the IC Forum will shine a spotlight on education.

SDC Director General Patricia Danzi visiting an IT training centre in Nepal. The participants in the discussion sit in a circle. Among them are two students.

A good education with job perspectives enables young people to build their own lives. SDC Director General Patricia Danzi experienced the importance of close cooperation between the government and the private sector when she visited an IT training centre in Nepal. © SDC

Further articles on "Education4Future”

Further interviews on the topic of the IC Forum 2023 are available here:

Interview with Ursula Renold, ETH Zürich
"Education empowers people to shape their own lives"

Interview with Anja Hochberg, Zürcher Kantonalbank
"The financial sector can play an important role on the path to sustainable funding for education"

Interview with Donika Dimovska, Jacobs Foundation
“Investing in education is one of the most important things we can do as a society”

The IC Forum 2023 will take place on 15 and 16 February, with this year's focus on education. Why education?

Education is one of the 17 development goals that all countries have agreed on as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And education is not only a development goal – it's a human right! The global community has clearly stated the importance of education for everyone – especially young women and girls. It also provides a stepping stone to achieve other development goals. And although everyone agrees that education is important, it is currently one of the most under-financed sectors. Educational opportunities continue to be very unequally distributed – between rich and poor as well as between boys and girls. An extreme example of this can now be seen in Afghanistan, where girls and young women are no longer allowed to attend school.

Would you say that education is one of the most important development goals?

Education isn't the only goal, but it is certainly a very important one. We should avoid placing one development goal over the others – it doesn't do justice to the vast array of challenges we face. But education is certainly an important goal, because it often acts as a catalyst for achieving other development goals. We can see the importance of education in our own lives: a lot of the decisions that we make in life are connected to the question of what this means for our own educational opportunities or for those of our children.

Education can help countries recover more quickly from shocks. Being well educated also means being able to make decisions more freely.

Is it correct to say that education is also an important path out of poverty?

Absolutely. There are studies showing the impact of one more year of education on household income or how hygiene and health improve as a result. However, education alone won't solve poverty globally. Poverty is multidimensional and depends on many factors. Significant triggers for poverty include armed conflicts and war. We are now seeing this in Ukraine: no one would claim that Ukrainians are poorly educated, but war is quickly dragging the country back into poverty. The pandemic provides another example where countries with well-educated populations can also quickly fall into recessions. However, education can help countries recover more quickly from shocks. Being well educated also means being able to make decisions more freely. This in turn impacts adaptive capacity and resilience against crises.

The sixteenth episode of the SDC podcast A Plus for Humanity takes a look at Burkina Faso and highlights the importance of education for people living in a country that has suffering for years from the consequences of armed conflicts.

What challenges does the global community face in implementing its commitment to education?

In an international cooperation context, no one really questions the critical importance of education. But there's great need here, just like in other areas, and resources are scarce. If I have X amount of money available, am I going to invest it in education, in fighting climate change or in infrastructure? Another challenge is definitely the timeframe involved: education needs a long period of commitment until you start to see changes. Furthermore, you need stable structures and a functioning political system. Stability and patience aren't always a given in our volatile environment.

In Switzerland we're very proud of our education system. Is this justified?

I think so. We really have a lot of opportunities, also for continuing education. Our exam system even gives people flexible access to tertiary education if they have the motivation and the ability. Our dual apprenticeship and education path also allows people to make good money. I think that the diverse options and also the quality offered by the Swiss education system is one of a kind.

When we talk about how multidimensional global problems are, then we need different approaches to solving them.

Since Switzerland has such a good education system, is the country in a way predestined to highlight this issue in its international cooperation?

A system or an idea that works well in one country can't simply be transferred wholesale to another country. The right conditions have to be in place. What holds true everywhere is that an inclusive and multifaceted education system is attractive and can be an important pillar of the economy when accompanied by the right measures and support. Cooperation in the education sector requires a lot of time as well as the willingness to really get involved with a country and its people – especially young people, who the education system is built for. You have to listen and understand. What are the actual challenges? What kind of situation is this country coming from? Is it coming out of a war, out of a recession? Is the country divided? 

Two young women engineers at a construction site checking a plan.
Lanka and Nabina are young engineers who design and build new bridges so that more Nepalese children can safely go to school and have access to a sustainable education. © Thibault Gregorie

Women of the bridges – a story from Nepal

In remote regions, bridges allow families to safely send their children to school.As successful women engineers from Nepal, Lanka and Nabina are living proof of what happens when girls also get the opportunity to receive an education.The two women are they themselves currently working in bridge construction and can independently earn a living. More information can be found on the project's website:

Women of the Bridges.

At this year's IC Forum, there will be speakers from different sectors: politics, the financial and private sector, philanthropists, etc. What do you expect to see from this diverse line-up?

Diverse ideas. When we talk about how multidimensional global problems are, then we need different approaches to solving them. We've lost ground, and the education sector has suffered a lot as a result of the pandemic and inflation. A lot of families can no longer afford to educate their children. This negative trend needs to be reversed. Development cooperation stopped being just the job of the state long ago. We also need the involvement of the financial and private sector, NGOs and civil society – all of which will be represented at the IC Forum. Well-educated young people are definitely in everyone's interest!

What's also noteworthy is that a lot of young people are part of the IC Forum. Was this a conscious decision?

Definitely! We don't want to talk about young people – we want to talk with them. We want to learn from them, to learn about and understand their dreams and challenges. And most importantly, they have a lot of good ideas.

What role does education play in sustainable development? And what kind of education do we need to be equipped for future challenges? Join the discussion at the IC Forum 2023: Education4Future.

IC Forum 2023: Education4Future

Good basic education and training are crucial to sustainable development. And yet education systems around the world are facing major challenges. Even before the pandemic, six out of ten children were not reaching basic levels of proficiency in reading and maths. COVID-19 exacerbated this situation. Countless schools were closed, children could no longer learn, and young people were forced to interrupt their vocational training.

  • What are the consequences of such disruptions?
  • What can we learn from the last two years for the future?
  • And how can we make education systems more resilient and better equipped for future challenges and the consequences of climate change?

The motto of this year's International Cooperation Forum Switzerland (IC Forum) is Education for Future. The event will bring together a wide variety of perspectives: policymakers, researchers, representatives from the financial and private sector, NGO workers and young people will be working together to devise solutions to global challenges. The hybrid format of the event and the interactive online platform will allow all interested parties from around the world to take part in the discussions. As part of the Youth for Solutions programme, the second day will focus on young people and their approaches. 

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