Providing quality education to girls and boys in refugee camps is #whatireallyreallywant

Program Manager, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

Program Manager, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

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Our Connect to Learn (CTL) project in northern Iraq – a partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Asiacell – recently received two corporate social responsibility awards in Dubai, where I had the privilege of representing Ericsson at the ceremonies. The Iraq project has led to more than 6,000 girls and boys at 10 schools in a refugee camp in northern Iraq gaining access to high-quality, global educational resources. It is part of a larger effort by Ericsson to promote education, and especially the inclusion of girls in high school, through our Technology for Good program. Since 2010 we have reached 80,000 students in 23 developing countries.

When the IRC first approached us in 2014 with the idea of doing a joint project in refugee camps in Dohuk, Iraq, we faced many obstacles and at first I was not sure we would even be able to commit to supporting them. From a security perspective Ericsson doesn't allow its employees to work in refugee camps and we don't allow any of our corporate branding in camps either. At that time our CTL solution was not available in Arabic, which is the preferred language of school instruction in Iraq. Add to that resource limitations, the low level of computer literacy of teachers in the camps and so on, and the challenges and headaches that would come with the project looked almost insurmountable.

But sometimes the hard ones are precisely the kind of projects we need to tackle, especially for those of us who work in sustainability, believe in the UN SDGs and want to make a positive impact on society. As a working woman who faced no obstacles to receiving primary, secondary and tertiary education I am acutely aware that my lot in life and my entire future would have looked very different had I not had equal access to affordable, good quality education. As one of the lucky ones who had the chance to graduate from university I have felt I must fight for other girls out there, if given the chance. And here was my chance.

It takes a village to bring up a girl, and so it is with any CSR project, in my experience. It took courage for our leadership team to commit to a partnership with the IRC, a well-known global NGO. It took a team of developers in India to adapt CTL to Arabic. It required the support of our solution design team in Sweden to adapt CTL for teachers and refugee camp settings and to tirelessly support them through weekly technical meetings to close gaps and add use cases. Asiacell, our connectivity partner, had to upgrade 3G reception in the camps, and supply first dongles and then routers to provide mobile broadband to the schools. It took a group of Ericsson volunteers to help translate key terminology into Arabic and to test it. It required trust and support from our security function to give us the go-ahead and to enable me to travel to Erbil in mid-2015, for face-to-face training and an initial project kick-off meeting – outside the camp, albeit, but still in the country with the key project team. It took IRC getting funding and support from their partners to proceed and ensure they had an on-site, dedicated IT support person for the teachers and the schools.

Along the way my partners in this work have become my friends and my challenges have become victories. Receiving awards is great and positive media attention is always good for strengthening our business relationships. But nothing prepared me for the sense of satisfaction, of being truly moved to realize we had achieved something that had at first seemed so impossible. More than 6,000 students in a refugee camp in northern Iraq are benefiting from better quality education thanks our little village of volunteers and colleagues who knew this challenge was precisely the kind that we needed to tackle to make a difference.

Asiacell representative Abdallah Hassan (at left), Telecom Review representative Jeff Seal (center) and Ericsson representative Candice Taylor (at right) during the presentation of the Telecom Review 2016 Best CSR Award in Dubai on December 13, 2016. (The IRC representative is unfortunately not in the photo.)

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