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Guest Profile

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Julia Gillard


Global Partnership for Education

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About Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard is the first woman ever to serve as Australia’s Prime Minister. She joined the Global Partnership for Education as chair of the Board of Directors in 2014 after a distinguished public service career in Australia.


Following her passion for education, she was appointed a Commissioner at the International Commission for Global Education Opportunity in 2015 and became Patron at CAMFED, the Campaign for Female Education, in 2016. She is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.

Julia served as Prime Minister of Australia between 2010 and 2013 and delivered nation-changing policies including reforming Australia’s education at every level from early childhood to university education, improving the provision and sustainability of health care, aged care and dental care, commencing Australia’s first ever national scheme to care for people with disabilities.

Before becoming Prime Minister, Julia was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion.

In recognition of her remarkable achievements and public service, Julia was awarded a Companion in the Order of Australia in January 2017.

Episode Overview

This is a transcript of the conversation between Alberto Lidji, host of The Do One Better! Podcast, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education.

Alberto Lidji: Julia, it really is an absolute pleasure. Welcome on to The Do One Better! Podcast today.

Julia Gillard: Thank you. I'm delighted to join you.

Alberto Lidji: Excellent. I guess we could kick things off by finding out a little bit about GPE or

the Global Partnership for Education. What's it all about?

Julia Gillard: The Global Partnership for Education, I think it's best thought of as a shared commitment to ending the world's learning crisis. We're the only global partnership and fund that focuses solely on school education in lower-income countries, lower-income countries and lower-middle-income countries. So we've got around 20 years’ experience now working with partner countries to make sure that more girls and boys not only get access to school, but the education they have at school is a quality one. And our model for change is really about mobilising donors, the UN family, philanthropists, the private sector, everyone, basically, behind country-led plans to transform their education system. And we're working in 76 countries around the world. So it's a broad and a deep partnership for change.

Alberto Lidji: And where are you based? Where's the GPE based and with so many partner organisations and governments, how do you manage to keep everything together?


Julia Gillard: The Secretariat of the Global Partnership for Education is largely based in Washington DC, though we do have staff in other parts of the world. But the way the model really works is in-country. We work in-country through what we call local education groups. So all of the actors in a country that care about education, are brought together behind the leadership of the developing country government to make plans for education, which are inclusive, and transformative. And then GPE assists with grant money for the realisation of those plans, but also with harmonising and aligning funds from other places behind those plans. And of course, implementation and results are monitored every step of the way. That does mean that we work through grant agents in each country that it can be of a different nature in different places. My job as chair is at the global level, predominantly. So I chair our board of directors, which is a constituency-based board. So we have developing country ministers for education attend. We have representatives of donor nations attend, civil society, the private sector, private philanthropy, the UN family. So we are a convening space, to talk about everything that needs to be worked through to improve education. And then the real work happens within country.

Alberto Lidji: Right. Fascinating stuff. Fascinating. What's the state of affairs with global education right now? How are we feeling about the realities on the ground today and where we want to go for the next, say, 10 years with the SDG target year looming just 10 years away?


Julia Gillard: Well, I guess it's kind of really tried to say now this is not the year that we expected. As 2020 comes to a close, I think most of us are counting down the days when we quite like to be out of 2020. And of course, 2020 brought the global health crisis, the global economic crisis that's gone alongside it. But it's also brought an education crisis around the world. Kids for health reasons have been forced out of schools, schools have been closed. Now in nations like my own, Australia, of course, that's a challenge to maintain the continuity of children's education. But we have the digital connectivity and the resources to work our way through that. In the 76 countries that are partners of the Global Partnership for Education, the degree of this challenge varies from place to place but in most places, it's very acute. So there isn't the digital connectivity to easily maintain educational continuity that way. And there is quite a bitter past experience with health crises. For example, we know the impact of Ebola on education was profound. The most marginalised children, particularly the most marginalised girls did not make a return to school. So as schools were locking down around the world, GPE responded and responded very quickly, with a $500 million fund to help countries maintain educational continuity during the crisis, and to plan for the reopening of schools in a way, which would mean that children are brought back to school that we don't allow children to simply drift away. That there are endeavours made to make sure the most marginalised children return. And then when schools are back in operation to look at what's been missed, and what can be done to catch learning up so that this doesn't end up being a crisis that is long-lived in the sense that the children who were caught by the 2020 crisis bear that learning deficit for the rest of their lives. So it's been a big, hard year. In that sense. I think many in the education community remain concerned that the impact of COVID will be to force some of the trend lines backwards. We were seeing improvements in education. GPE can point to improvements that have happened with twice as many girls being enrolled in schools, in partner countries, more than three-quarters of our partner countries now have as many girls as boys complete primary school and that's up from half in 2002. So substantial progress but I think we're all worried that the trend line from here could push us back. It's not just the disruption of 2020 as profound as that has been. But there's also the fiscal constriction that is coming because of the economic crisis. So governments in developing countries with less money to spend. Now I think we should hear that as a challenge and a motivator to further action, rather than simply hearing it as a depressing piece of news that should spur us on.

Alberto Lidji: Indeed. And so you're working with you mentioned 70, lower-income countries, the degree of expertise that they might have in terms of being able to transform their own education systems, being able to drive things forward, embracing gender equity, and so forth. The technical expertise that they have may be limited, how can the GPE not only assist with funding, but also with technical expertise and knowledge.

Julia Gillard: It's really important to us that there is a knowledge brokering and we do that in a few ways. It's inherent in the model itself, that we work with countries. It is a country-led development model but we work with countries to assist with technical expertise. And we've purpose-designed something we call ‘KIX’, the knowledge and innovation exchange, which is a way of making sure that knowledge, new ways of working, things that are showing results, that are happening in one part of the world get broken through in real-time to the educational transformation happening in another part of the world. And I think when people hear something like that, it is easy for them to imagine that the flow of knowledge is global north to global south. And of course, there is a flow of knowledge that way, but more and more, we see in GPE in the spirit of genuine partnership, knowledge actually being brokered between developing countries about what is best working and consequently could be of use in comparable countries.

Alberto Lidji: Fascinating. Plus, also I imagine a lot of your partner organisations, you also have a job not just in convening, but I guess in encouraging and nudging people who are your partners to communicate with each other?

Julia Gillard: Yes, we do. And we constantly think about and talk about at the board level, that some of the partnership is incredibly important. That when people think of GPE, maybe some people might think of the Secretariat and many of them might know the staff at the Secretariat,

who all do a wonderful job. And of course, what the GPE Secretariat does is incredibly important. But the partnership is more than that. And it is about bringing knowledge, resources, expertise, collaboration, from all parts of the partnership to other parts to make sure that right across we are working together. And thinking about private philanthropy is one part of our partnership. We have seen entities share technical knowledge and expertise, we've seen that in areas like early learning, we've seen partners share resources to help knowledge be brokered back and forth. Private philanthropy has been incredibly important to the development of the knowledge and innovation exchange. So there are plenty of ways of being involved.


Alberto Lidji: Excellent, really excellent. Now, if I'm a foundation, and I'm listening to you, on today's episode, I am focused on SDG 4, I am focused on education. But I also want to feel relevant. And I want to feel that the work that my team and the foundation are doing on the ground is leading to results that I can sort of connect to my own initiatives. How involved can people who are backing the GPE be, in a meaningful way so that it's not just writing a check? But actually, yes, I'm keen to get my organisation involved with GPE and, and I'd like to get my hands dirty a little bit.

Julia Gillard: Well, first and foremost, a private foundation that becomes involved in GPE can be involved in our governance structure, would be involved in our governance structure. Ours is a constituency based board and the private philanthropy has a seat at the table, actually, two seats at the table, because we have a board member and an alternate member from philanthropy. And the job of that board member and the alternate is to convene the constituency. So all of the foundations, the private philanthropy, that is interested in supporting GPE, and to mobilise them in every way, to mobilise their knowledge, their technical expertise, their resources, their views on governance issues in GPE, and to bring that to the board table. So in that sense, everybody can be reassured that they've got a central role in helping steer the ship. And then, of course, programme by programme, country by country, there are things that individual foundations or high net worth individuals can do. They might want to contribute to a particular programme in our knowledge and innovation exchange. They might have a programme in a country and they want to lean in more behind the GPE process, the planning process, the country led model, and when there is a good, clear, robust plan to transform the education system, then align their investments and efforts behind that plan.


Alberto Lidji: Wonderful, wonderful. You’re truly a global fund. The task at hand is massive. Tell us a little bit about the financial state of affairs with the fund right now and what you're looking to achieve in terms of replenishing the fund or funding it over the next few years.


Julia Gillard: We've been through a tremendous period of thinking and change at GPE, even though we've gone to virtual working. And by the time you're convening, people right around the world in multiple time zones and multiple languages on virtual conferencing facilities... Yes, it gets a little bit complicated. But notwithstanding that, we've kept on task this year in an incredibly major way. So in addition to rolling out the emergency COVID fund, and doing all of our usual work, we have completed our strategic planning process. So we have a new ambitious plan to take us through to 2025. And we are preparing now for a financing conference, to back that plan into action. So that financing conference will be co-hosted in the middle of next year by the governments of the United Kingdom and Kenya. And that, in and of itself is incredibly important to us. We, as a global partnership and global fund have adopted a way of working around our financing that shows through the way that it's set up that this is a partnership. So last time we had a financing conference, it was co-hosted by France and Senegal, by presidents Macron and Macky Sall. It was held in Dakar. And it was an incredible event where people came and participated and also pledged resources. And the resources pledged were donor funds from nation states. So overseas development aid, philanthropic funds, as well, but also, importantly, domestic education financing commitments from developing country partner governments. Because as we know, overwhelmingly, education in developing countries is funded by those nations themselves. The international aid is important. In some of the lowest income most conflict affected countries it's a substantial percentage of what is spent on education. But as we look across the landscape, particularly across 76 countries, the biggest source of financing is developing countries' own resources. So pledging that those resources will be increased, matters so much for making sure that every boy, every girl, every child is learning. And that spirit of partnership will be on display in the middle of next year for our next financing event.

Alberto Lidji: What's the scale of the challenge? And tell me, so you mentioned you developed this brand new strategy, looking at where you want to go for 2025. What are the main things you're trying to pinpoint? And again, what is the scale of the challenge? What are the main bottlenecks?

Julia Gillard: Just measuring it in dollars, for a moment, I mean the scale of the global education challenge is huge. We have pitched for our replenishment that we want to raise at least 5 billion US [dollars] for GPE’s work. But you know, GPE is obviously part of a global movement, to make sure that children are learning and to make sure that no child is left behind. And we do know that the world needs to lift and lift substantially if the resources are to be available to ensure that every child can be in school and learning. When we're talking about bottlenecks. They are different in different places. But a key theme for GPE is looking at gender, and the particular risks to girls. We know that, you know, you're talking about the most marginalised child. The child most likely to be left behind, then that is still a girl, in the world's poorest countries, you know, fewer than one in three girls complete secondary school, and only two in three complete primary school. And yet we know educating girls has such a long lived impact not only for those girls themselves but for their families and communities. And so GPE is hardwiring gender into everything that we do, as well as working in a thematic way on girls’ education. And so this has taken us to doing things like training female teachers in Afghanistan, we've been building schools closer to communities where the journey to school can be risky for girls, and that is a big dissuading factor on girls and their families from having their girls go to school. We've been tackling gender inequalities, gender stereotypes in learning materials. Things that can foster a continued cycle of gender disadvantage. And we do know that that way of working, it does have results, that more girls are enrolled and learning as a result of our approaches.

Alberto Lidji: There would seem to be a strong cultural aspect to trying to get as many girls as boys to have access to education. And in many countries, it's not just being able to engage with the education ministry, but you need to take a holistic approach with that government and the various ministries that are involved in the overall outcomes.


Julia Gillard: You're right; to use the Hillary Clinton saying, obviously, she got it from others, but wrote the book on it that it takes a village to raise an educated child. It takes a whole community to make sure that norms are changing, that children are in school, that education is valued. Obviously poverty, families under huge pressure, have to make very difficult decisions about what they can do with their family’s time when the struggle is literally getting enough for everybody to eat, then obviously choices get made about should a child go to school or should a child do something that might assist the family's economic position. In those sorts of circumstances, things like school feeding programmes can make a big difference to the preparedness of communities and families to send children to school, particularly the girls. So we've always got to be sensitive to the particular context, which is why it's so important that our partnership model is developing country-led, that this isn't people in Washington or Brussels or London or any other sort of capital around the world, flying in and saying, we know what you should do next. That is most certainly not our model. That is the complete opposite of the way the partnership seeks to work.

Alberto Lidji: That's a very good point. And also, one of the guests that had on the show a little while back, Mabel van Oranje, who founded Girls Not Brides... the whole issue around child marriage and so forth can derail a kid's education.

Julia Gillard: Yes, it can. And I've spoken to Mabel a lot, and we've worked together. Because there is sort of two sides to the coin when we're talking about child marriage. Mabel is campaigning in such a wonderful, inclusive fashion, on ending child marriage, on preventing girls being forced to be brides. But if girls are going to have a different future, then not only do they need to avoid the marriage ceremony, they need to have a school to go to. And so GPE, the education community, doing what we need to do, is creating the different pathway that can be pointed to for families and communities so that they don't think that the only way for their girl to have a future is to become a child bride, that there is another way and it's about schooling and forging her own path in life.

Alberto Lidji: Yeah. Now I'm the father of two daughters, and I love the fact of putting gender front and centre when it comes to looking at improving education. Now, let's tie everything up. And I'd love to find out a little bit about your trajectory. Because here we are, I'm extremely privileged to be talking to someone who was Prime Minister of Australia. You may have faced your challenges as well and I'd love to know a little bit about your story. And the message that you might have for someone who's listening to this show, possibly someone who may have aspirations for public office at some point.

Julia Gillard: Against the backdrop that we've been talking about. My journey has many privileges in it. But to give you the absolute short story. I was born in the United Kingdom, you can actually end up Prime Minister of Australia and not be born here. We have a very different system to the Americans in that sense. I was born in Wales, migrated with my family in 1966, when I was a very small girl. I was educated at the local government schools, literally at the end of our street. My father, when he came to Australia, ultimately trained as a psychiatric nurse. He'd grown up in a coal-mining village and he left school at 14. He found his way in Australia as a psychiatric nurse. My mother worked as a cook in an aged care home. So we lived a very ordinary suburban life. And I've always been conscious that my life chances have been defined by coming from a loving stable family, but also going to great schools. Fortunately, those government schools at the end of my street were fantastic schools. And if they hadn't been fantastic schools, my entire life would have been different. And so, that has always reinforced in me, that we shouldn't play some sort of global lottery with children's life chances and some children get a great education and millions miss out. Every child in every place in the world should get a quality education and the benefits that come with that and they’re the benefits I've experienced in my own life, which is why, when I went into government becoming initially Deputy Prime Minister, I wanted to be Minister for Education because I knew it was the change agent. And here I am, all these years later, chairing the Global Partnership for Education and urging people to raise their hand. We're asking people, will you raise your hand for education and be part of the campaign to mobilise new resources and new ways of working.


Alberto Lidji: Wonderful story. In terms of what drives you in the morning? I mean, is education the key thing for you really, that you’re thinking... when somebody's going to be looking back at Julia Gillard, 50 or 100 years from now, what is it?

Julia Gillard: Well, I'm in that stage of my life where I can say, the first line of my obituary is already written. It will inevitably record that I was the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first woman to lead this nation. So in some ways, I don't have to worry about any of that anymore. That job's done. So I can do the things that I've been passionate about. I've been passionate about education all my life; it was the driving impulse that took me into politics. And I spend time doing that now I focus a great deal on women's leadership. I believe that it starts with educating a girl and it ends with women leaders, and I devote my time to some other causes, including mental health and health & medical research.


Alberto Lidji: Wonderful. Success for the next 10 years? If we're having a coffee in 10 years’ time and looking back, what would success look like?

Julia Gillard: Well, if I could start with the very short term, I would say that people flooded to and joined the campaign for education. And in 10 years’ time, we could look back and say that the pandemic world was a change point, where we came to realise in a more profound way, what helps us shape a good future for individuals, for countries, and for the planet. And it all became about education. And that, in the years beyond the pandemic, it was part of what we did to build back better. To create fantastic life chances for children, even in the most impoverished and difficult and conflict affected circumstances.

Alberto Lidji: Is there one key takeaway that you'd love for the audience to keep in mind today, after they finish listening to today's episode?

Julia Gillard: I think the key takeaway really is keep going. I think, this year, in so many ways, there's been around the world, so much death, so much ill health, so much economic pain, so much stress and tension and anxiety, we've been kept away from each other, from giving each other a handshake or hug. It's been such an odd time. And when we've lived through times like this, I think it's easy to turn inward. But actually, I think what history is calling us to do is to recognise from this moment, our common humanity and turn towards each other, turn outwards. So however, we're feeling at the end of 2020, please take that with you into what I hope will be a better 2021.

Alberto Lidji: Yes, common humanity indeed. Julia, it really has been a true pleasure speaking with you today, learning about the Global Partnership for Education, and learning a little bit more about the monumental task ahead and how people and foundations and partners from around the world might be able to get involved and help you drive things forward. So, thank you very much for your time. And to our audience, thank you as always, for listening. You've been listening to Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, former Prime Minister of Australia and an inspiration in the world of education. So Julia, thank you so much.


Julia Gillard: Thank you, Alberto

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Additional Resources

Global Partnership for Education - Website

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