The post-2015 process is a huge lobby space for any advocacy organization. / Photo: Stock.xhng

ICAE and Post-2015: Good practices for advocacy

ICAE, a global adult learning advocacy network, shares war stories and good practices about making a mark on the post-2015 process.



The International Council for Adult Education, ICAE is a global network with a mandate to advocate for youth and adult learning and education (ALE) as a universal human right.

It was created in 1973 and has 7 regional bodies (Africa, Arab Region, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and North America) representing more than 800 NGOs – regional, national and sectoral networks – in more than 75 countries.

ICAE has a long trajectory participating in global processes related to adult learning and education (ALE), and beyond. Since its beginnings, there was explicit recognition among its members that addressing the needs of the populace through adult education takes an interlinkage approach and collaboration across all sectors (Hall, 1995). This is why major world issues such as the environment, gender equity, indigenous knowledge, literacy and others also shaped the agenda of the ICAE (Boucouvalas, 2002).

During the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, ICAE participated in the main conferences aimed at raising the world’s consciousness on key international issues including: The World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, held in Jomtien in 1990; United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro 1992; UN Millennium Summit on development and eradication of poverty in New York, 2000; World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), Durban 2001, and many others. Later on, ICAE also engaged in the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), also known as Rio+20.

ICAE engages in these issues confident in that lifelong learning has the capacity to positively affect many dimensions of poverty, peace, reconciliation as well as conflict prevention. Adult education creates change, enhancing people’s prospect for decent work, community organizing, improving health conditions, as well as enabling people to acquire the tools needed to run their own lives. (EAEA, 2012)

However there is often lack of recognition of the benefits of education, in particular related with non-formal adult education, when looking at development goals. This is why ICAE considers international and regional spaces of policy and decision-making as the main target for advocacy work. In the words of Prof. Gita Sen, advocacy is the art of “friendly persuasion”:

You are just persuading people, and I use the world “friendly” because if it’s not friendly, it’s not advocacy, it is combat, it is war. You may disagree, but you have to get the person who you are trying to persuade to feel that it is worthwhile to move in a certain direction. Persuasion is necessary as well because we have to get people to come onto our side. And this is what the art and the politics of advocacy is all about.” (Sen, 2008)

ICAE’s advocacy strategies for the presence of adult education in development include promoting Adult Education at policy level; engaging learners’ voices; and developing specific strategies based in the context: “one shoe does not fit all”.

In this short piece, we will give special focus to the advocacy work on ALE and lifelong learning in the UN sustainable development agenda, and UNESCO Education For All (EFA) agenda.

The background

Fourteen years ago, in 2000, world leaders promised to halve extreme poverty by 2015 with a global plan called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The plan included a Goal on Education that unfortunately did not target the educational needs of young people and adults. In addition, it is safe to say that this agenda was not discussed widely with participation of civil society; neither did focus on the articulation with the existing law.

Three years before the expiring date of the MDGs, in 2012, in Rio+20, the UN Secretary General presented the need for a new set of goals to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development beyond 2015. In this way, a whole process of consultations and negotiations started under the name Post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Education for All Goals and Framework for Action (EFA)

Education for All (EFA) Goals and Framework for Action were adopted also in 2000 at UNESCO World Forum on Education in Dakar, Senegal. The Forum followed Jomtien Conference (1990) and aimed to assure education for all with an expanded vision of basic education that included children, youth and adults –in and out of the school system, and across the life span.

As stated in ICAE’s Supporting materials for advocacy in the post-2015 process (February 2014):

“Ever since the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All targets were adopted in 2000, the relationship between the two processes has presented real challenges for the education of young people and adults. Whilst the EFA targets cover education across the life span, the MDGs picked just two – relating to universal primary education and gender equality in participation (principally in schools). International development partners and many governments focused overwhelmingly on the MDGs, at the expense of the goals affecting young people and adults – even though the evidence is overwhelming that children do better in school when their parents are educated.”

New challenges for global advocacy in post-2015

It was not easy for ICAE, or any of the civil society organizations involved in these processes, to identify the point of entry for advocacy. Since the discussions didn’t take place in the old UN conference-multilateral sphere, we wanted to make sure our members understand the different consultation and negotiation spaces. Thus, to share updated information was –and still is- one of the main challenges.

Another issue is the decentralization of the process (parallel consultation across the globe: online and face-to-face), which made consensus building and strategizing even more difficult for civil society, especially considering the cost of participation. To build alliances with different sectors and social movements has been a key tool to participate and to position key messages. Yet, the lack of time and space for discussion has made this task difficult.

The involvement and influence of the corporate sector under ‘the role of partnerships’ has also created new challenges for civil society organizations. Roberto Bissio (Social Watch) points out that information access is being made more restrictive under corporate pressure. For example, Bissio argues that:

“[…] a lot of the money earmarked as ODA [official development aid] is in fact going to corporations and not to the governments of recipient countries, according to plans that the corporations themselves elaborate, and not in consultation with the countries that are supposed to benefit from those funds”

These practices are even less likely to be in consultation with wider range of actors in development: civil society organizations, social movements, etc.

On the other hand, Brazilian Ambassador Guilherme Patriota condemned the “outsourcing of development responsibilities” (UN, 2014), meaning that in the name of lack of public funding, the private sector became responsible for providing basic services such as education, health, etc.

Specific challenges for ALE and Lifelong Learning relate to the vision of education as a human right, and the assurance of pre-existing, agreed and binding international commitments. Civil society organizations need to hold their governments accountable at the capital level, while at the same time monitor their involvement and positions in the global arenas. A major task.

The main advocacy strategies carried out by ICAE in the past two years have been:

  • Making sure that Adult Education and Lifelong learning is present as a fundamental issue in the discussions, documents and the outputs of the process.
  • Demanding the fulfillment of the commitments made globally.
  • Joining the efforts of other networks, coalitions and global alliances

ICAE’s work in global advocacy: Global advocacy for AE and LLL

Advocacy is an important component of ICAE’s work, which emanates from its identity as a global organization that addresses adult education, literacy and lifelong learning. The work of ICAE is anchored in the local, national, regional and international work of its constituency; therefore ICAE’s advocacy should take place at local, national regional and global levels. And this is no easy task.

Local agendas affect national agendas, which affect regional and global agendas and vice versa. (Social Watch, 2007). But sometimes the connections and exchange of information between the different levels are not so smooth and, frequently, the grassroots are not able to participate in international negotiations. Therefore, not rarely, global agendas are completely disconnected from the grassroots.

On the other hand, often, global agendas are not legally binding. For instance, the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda framework is voluntary. This is a difficult foundation for real accountability. States will be the primary duty bearers for their commitments to the future SDGs, but all actors, governments, civil society, the private sector and others must be held genuinely accountable to the extent to which they are implicated in the achievement of the SDGs. Anyway, the issue of how to translate commitments into practical action on the ground, and how to assess progress through strong accountability systems, is still being actively debated.

In order to overcome these difficulties and have an effective impact influencing global policies, ICAE focuses on a number of actions. These are aimed at supporting ICAE’s members to facilitate the understanding and the involvement in global advocacy, build capacities and new leaderships and build solid alliances around our key messages.

ICAE’s good practices for advocacy

As the deadline for the MDGs draws nearer (with many goals not yet achieved), the process of the elaboration of the new development agenda beyond 2015 has been increasingly dynamic and changing. Many actors, documents, reports, virtual platforms, meetings and consultations have formed the intricate scheme that will result in the selection of post-2015 priority issues, goals and targets.

On the other hand, the Education For All (EFA) goals expire also in 2015 and the discussion on the framework that should follow the current one has overlapped the post-2015 development agenda.

In this complex context with various processes of planning and negotiations moving forward, in order to facilitate the understanding and the involvement of its members, ICAE has delivered successive numbers of supporting materials for advocacy. These advocacy guides are available online and you can also request them by contacting:

Good practices: do advocacy on multiple frontlines

The guide explained how ICAE had noted that continuous monitoring and face-to-face participation in key spaces, such us face-to-face consultations, relevant official meetings and side events, is vital to delivering our key messages. Nevertheless, the participation procedures of the UN official consultations were rather limited and not always transparent.

Besides, available funds to participate were scarce and events were very much centralized in New York. Coordination with other groups, organizations and networks (Social Watch, DAWN, AWID and others) and the participation in the Women’s Major Group of the Sustainable Development Commission, proved to be a successful strategy to face these difficulties.

In the meetings where international and regional education networks participated, joint efforts of coordination and partnership yielded positive results, as we were able to unify criteria and arrive to strong statements. However, these efforts might not be enough if they do not translate into advocacy actions aimed at national governments where decision-making lies.

Finally, we concluded our advocacy should be focused on multiple spaces and actors at the same time (e.g. the various UN bodies and agencies, States, Civil Society Organizations). This advocacy shows up in different ways and needs follow-up, requires document production and development of flexible strategies that adapt to speed and changes.

The last number of the advocacy guide (May 2014) was dedicated to the link that should exist between the setting of an SDG on Education and the Education framework that should follow the EFA Goals once they reach their deadline in 2015. Civil Society Organizations have been advocating both for securing a strong stand-alone goal on education within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as for having the SDG on education aligned and mutually reinforcing a distinct post-2015 education agenda.

The next number of the advocacy guide will give all the details and updates on the outcome document of the Open Working Group and the next steps on the post 2015 and EFA process. It will be available on our website in the end of October.

Next steps in the advocacy for Adult Education and Lifelong Learning

The post-2015 process has come a long way in the past 2 years. The next months towards Korea World Education Forum (May 2015) and the high-level United Nations Summit for the SDGs (September 2015) will be decisive. The different paths of EFA and the SDGs are better defined and differentiated one from the other, and the challenge is to achieve cohesive and well articulated education and sustainable development agendas.

Below, we share the key milestones and events that will require civil society common advocacy strategies in ALE and LLL.

Regarding the EFA process

The Muscat Agreement: Joint EFA proposal on Education Post-2015

After months of deliberation and as requested by UNESCO Executive Board at its 194th session, members of the EFA Steering Committee finalized a Joint Proposal on Education Post-2015. The Joint Proposal was presented and discussed at the 2014 Global EFA Meeting (GEM) organized by UNESCO and hosted by the Sultanate of Oman (Muscat, 12-14, May 2014). Ministers and representatives of bilateral and multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector adopted the resulting Muscat Agreement. The Muscat Agreement is based on the notion that education must claim an explicit, stand-alone goal in the new development framework after 2015, as well being a cross-cutting theme across the broader development agenda. The document contains an overarching goal and seven global targets, covering early childhood care and education; basic education; adult and youth literacy; skills for work and life; skills for global citizenship and sustainable development; teachers; and financing of education.

The Muscat Agreement was launched in the United Nations in New York in June 2014, within the framework of the 11th Meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The launching in New York intended to influence directly the proposal of the OWG for the sustainable development goal 4 on education (SDG 4). Ideally both EFA goal and SDG 4, and their correspondent targets should be aligned. The Agreement was also distributed to all Member States of UNESCO for their consideration, in order to facilitate their preparations for the global and regional consultations on the post-2015 education agenda, leading up to the World Education Forum (WEF) and the high-level United Nations Summit in September 2015.

Further consultations

UNESCO has organized a series of regional preparatory conferences to review the progress of EFA and to develop regional positions for the post-2015 EFA Goals and Framework for Action. The first one took place in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Asia and Pacific region, on 6-8 August 2014.

The UNESCO Asia Pacific Regional Conference for Education (APREC) was a great opportunity for regional civil society organizations to advocate. And from the experience of civil society organizations’ participants, some of the key issues that made their participation successful were:

  • To have clear lobbying points prepared.
  • Daily CSO meetings and when needed, quick catch-up meetings at the event.
  • To build alliances and coalitions to influence Member States.
  • To participate in the drafting committee, to guarantee key inputs raised are considered in the Conference reporting and documentation.

This needs to be kept in mind and practice in the upcoming regional conferences:

  • Latin America and the Caribbean, Lima, Peru (30-31 October 2014)
  • Europe and North America, Paris, France (3-4 December 2014)
  • Africa, Kigali, Rwanda (9-10 February 2015)
  • Arab States and E-9 ministerial (to be confirmed)

Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Open Working Group on Sustainable development (OWG) Outcome Document

On 10 September 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Outcome Document as the main basis for integrating sustainable development goals into the post-2015 development agenda.

The construction of the document required more than a year of deliberation among the 72 OWG Member States, plus other countries and regional groups (G77, SIDS, African countries, etc.), and the participation of civil society through the Major Groups and other Stakeholders.

The document raises some important concerns related to the human rights centrality, means of implementation or accountability, among others. Developing countries are particularly concerned about the possibility that other processes or inputs that are not as open and subject to fair intergovernmental dialogue could take precedence over the OWG outcome.

In what regards ALE and LLL, Goal 4 on Education includes explicit reference and dedicates two targets to youth and adult literacy and learning opportunities:

“Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

Target 4.4 by 2030, increase by x% the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
Target 4.6 by 2030 ensure that all youth and at least x% of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

At the moment, the SDG 4 on education shows an important coherence with the EFA Joint Proposal as it stands now. Anyway, there are still areas of improvement in the OWG text and targets proposed. In addition, it is important now to analyze current formulation of the goal and targets by civil society at a local level and discuss how to translate commitments into practical action on the ground and how to assess progress through strong accountability systems.

A new stage of the process will start at the end of 2014, with intergovernmental negotiations. Civil society must be well informed and prepared for national, regional and international advocacy.

Further intergovernmental negotiation and consultation

Even if the process has achieved a key milestone with the OWG’s SDGs outcome document, it is far from being over: not only in terms of time, but also in relation to the decision-making spaces that will unfold in the next 12 months. The advocacy spaces are unclear, but in a recent draft resolution of the President of the General Assembly on the organization of the UN Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda  some next steps were identified and must be taken into consideration:

  • The Summit will take place on Sept 21-23, 2015, in accordance to the rule and procedures of the General Assembly.
  • It will include Major Groups and other Stakeholders, as well as dialogues and a preparatory process.
  • The modalities for intergovernmental processes are yet to be established by the end of December 2014. This is also the date set up for the UN Secretary General’s synthesis report on the post-2015 process.

Human rights and justice for all

Through this article we have tried to summarize the most important ICAE’s strategies in the post 2015 process of setting the new development and education agendas: direct participation and advocacy at intergovernmental process, building alliances and networking. The main current entry points for advocacy identified are: the OWG’s proposal on Sustainable Development Goals (that includes Goal 4 on Education) and the Muscat’s agreement finalized in a recent meeting of the Education for All Steering Committee.

Currently, we are facing a very demanding period as these two proposals will be discussed and negotiated until the final agendas are adopted. The proposal on the SDG’s will go through an intergovernmental negotiation process in the way to the UN Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. The EFA proposal will be discussed at the World Education Forum in Korea (May 2015) after its preparatory regional meetings.

The education movement must be active to advocate to bettering the texts and to assure there are no steps back. Our work ahead of the World Education Forum must give priority to securing the adoption of the EFA vision adopted in Muscat, both for the Forum and for the subsequent SDGs. The challenge is to help national governments, as they review the OWG report, to see that the education goal can only effectively be achieved if they adopt the measures in the EFA Joint Proposal, so far absent from the OWG. But at the same time, it will be critical that the new agendas are informed by the perspective that education is a fundamental human right, for all young people and adults, as well as for children.

As we have seen, we are living a historical juncture: the world is currently debating to shape new global commitments on sustainable development and education beyond 2015. This provides a unique opportunity to see development through a renewed perspective geared towards the realization of human rights and a world of dignity.

At the same time we face severe threats to the realization of human rights, including the right to education. The current context is characterized by a multiple, global and civilization crisis, stemming from the exhaustion of the current unsustainable and inequitable development model.

For these reasons, civil society must urge leaders and all development actors to commit to bold changes to ensure progress, progressive realization, and use of maximum available resources to achieve human rights for all.

The education movement has a special responsibility in this context as education is at the very heart of the realization of all other rights, contributes to the full development of human beings, the exercise of citizenship and the elimination of inequalities and discrimination.

Thus, education cannot be understood in isolation from broader debates on global development and both the education agenda and the development agenda must be aligned and work towards (as much as possible) congruent goals, targets and indicators.

Moreover, the Adult Education movement has much to do and say. The right to Education must be asserted throughout life and in all its forms, formal and informal. Young people and adults have always fewer opportunities to exercise this right. Therefore, we need to advocate for education beyond primary levels, throughout life and with a holistic, multicultural and universal approach. This way, we must confront narrow interpretations that leave aside the nature of education as a human right, and deprive it of its most political sense and of its transformative and critical role. Education should not be reduced to an instrumentalist concept at the service of the market to meet the demands of qualified workforce.

Besides, we cannot look aside the 774 million people (the majority of whom are women) who are denied the basic human right to literacy.

We need to keep on making this visible in all the debates and all the arenas and with all actors and stakeholders, including the education movement itself, to reverse the tendency to privilege access to primary schooling and relegate other levels and other forms of education.

Let us then set ourselves a courageous and ambitious agenda where the right to education and lifelong learning is secured for all, children, young people and adults to attain an equitable and just post-2015 era.

Read also:

For the first time in history, lifelong learning will be mentioned as a global development goal:

Lifelong learning will be a global development goal

What have the Millennium Development Goals achieved, and how they affect the Post-2015 agenda?

Looking back to move forward


 ICAE’s capacity building work– some examples

The eighth edition of IALLA meeting in Jordan 2014. / Photo: ICAE


ICAE’s Academy of Lifelong Learning and Advocacy (IALLA) is ICAE’s main capacity-building program. This international training aims at helping young leaders acquire skills and motivation to advocate and network for adult learning and education (ALE) within a human rights framework. Through the program, ICAE shares its experience as a global and regional advocator and prepares participants to get involved in current processes where civil society is meant to advocate.

Each year, during a 2 weeks residential course, around 30 participants from all regions of the world gather and learn from the knowledge of their peers and cultural differences.

Rooted in popular education and folkbildning, the course is based on a participatory methodology that includes an interlinkage analysis (connecting issues that have an effect on each other, as care for the environment, health matters, human rights, income-generation, empowering women and enhancing the overall quality of education), going beyond the field of adult learning and education, and promoting networking as an effective mechanism for collective learning.  IALLA builds on empowerment of trainees and horizontal relations between participants and resource persons. It promotes the analysis of inclusive education and the program addresses gender equality and women rights as one of the main issues along with gender and education, women and literacy and multiple discriminations.

Currently, a total of seven editions of IALLA have taken place in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Arab Region and there are 189 IALLA graduates from 68 different countries. Next edition will take place in Jordan in October 2014.

IALLA goes further beyond than the residential course. IALLA graduates from different editions form an international network of emergent leaders who coordinate in their advocacy work with a broader vision on literacy, youth and adult education and its link with democratic processes and Human Rights. ICAE keeps a close contact with IALLA graduates, offers them its support and endeavors to mobilize them well after the course.

ICAE Virtual Seminars

For the last 7 years and on a regular basis, ICAE has run virtual seminars on adult education and development and Education as a Human Right. Our experience shows this is a very applicable tool to enhance the discussion and to have very different perspectives from all over the world and from all kind of institutions at a very low cost. It is also an effective capacity building tool to bridge gaps, to disseminate best practices and to connect the global with the regional and local spheres.

These seminars take place via e-mail through a moderated list. That is the simplest and most successful way to reach people from all regions, even those who have more difficulties with their internet connection. The last editions have reached more than 1.000 participants from all over the world. ICAE usually chooses some colleagues/experts/practitioners to write specific papers for the seminar and some others are asked to comment those papers.

You can join us in our next Virtual seminar and exchange with us on AE and Communities. It will take place next February 2015 (dates to be confirmed). You can also request the documents and synthesis from previous Seminars by contacting:

Networks and alliances

Networking and alliance-building is one of the key elements of ICAE’s work. It is essential in order to succeed mobilizing our constituencies, partners and key actors all around the globe to join our actions, spread our key messages and assert together the right to education and lifelong learning. We can highlight some examples related to our advocacy experiences within the framework of the post 2015 process:

– At the UN Thematic Consultation on Education held in Dakar (March 2013), ICAE, together with international education networks acted coordinately to protect the human rights framework which is being increasingly threatened (especially by the positions of the World Bank and U.S. think tank: Brookings). The main results of this meeting were the recognition of the human right to education as the basis for sustainable development and the proposal of a “super-goal” of education for post-2015 which was formulated as follows: equitable quality lifelong education and learning for all.

– At the Regional Consultation on post 2015 for Latin America and the Caribbean (Guadalajara, April 2013), ICAE joined efforts with CEAAL and other organizations of the Education Working Group (EWG), and managed to strongly influence the final recommendations on education that were raised by civil society.

– Together with the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and Education International (EI) we have co-convened several events in New York within the framework of key milestones of the process. We brought together member states’ representatives, as well as United Nations Agencies and other Civil Society Organizations to gain support for a rights- based approach to education as a central component of the post-2015 development agenda and adult education and lifelong learning as a key element.

– Through the involvement in the Women’s Major Group, ICAE has obtained special access to information and analysis but also to consultations, meetings and UN spaces. This included taking the floor in the sessions of the OWG, and holding meetings with key actors  as, for example, Ms. Amina J Mohammed, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015.

Thanks to these crucial alliances, ICAE has been able to push for the right to Education and Lifelong Learning not only in the post-2015 process itself but also in the civil society agendas and priorities. The last point is very significant as we had a lot of support from civil society organizations to the approach of education as a human right throughout life and to a non formal education approach. However, the support for youth and adult education and lifelong learning from partners was lower than expected and we have to maintain our efforts.


Hall, B. (1995), Building a Global Learning Network: The International Council for Adult Education.

Boucouvalas, M.  (2002) in Hall, B. (1995), Building a Global Learning Network: The International Council for Adult Education.

EAEA, ICAE and dvv international (2012). Background paper for the Advocacy Workshop “Meeting the Challenge” on Adult Education and Development. 4 December 2012, Brussels, Belgium

Sen, G. (2008). Speech delivered by Dr. Gita Sen within the framework of the international seminar “Women in motion for the right to education” organized by the Gender and Education Office (GEO) of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). 26 June 2008, Montevideo, Uruguay.

Social Watch (2007). Notes on sharing experiences in advocacy actions.

UNESCO (2014) GEM Final Statement: The Muscat Agreement, Retrieved from

Muchhala, B. (19 September 2014). United Nations: General Assembly adopts SDG outcome SUNS #7877. Retrieved from

President of the General Assembly on the organization of the UN (September 2014) Draft resolution on the Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda Retrieved from

ICAE’s supporting materials for advocacy in the post-2015 process. Retrieved from

ICAE (2011). Sumando Saberes: incidencia política por los derechos de las mujeres.

United Nations and Economic and Social Council Joint Thematic Debate on the Role of Partnerships in Implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda, 9 April 2014, New York, USA. Retrieved from

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