The importance of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in education in emergencies and protracted crises (EiEPC)

Welcome to the Giving Hope Conference. Below you will find information for the day, including: the program with speakers and themes; a breakdown of the running order for the day; and bios and pictures (in two carousels) of all speakers and panel debate participants.

  • Date/Time: 24 April 2024, 09:00 – 12:45 (Seminar:  09:15 – 11:45; Networking lunch:  11:45 – 12:45)
  • Location: Nationaltheatret Conference Center, Haakon VIIs gate 9, 0161 Oslo (map)
  • Attendance: In-person and digital participation possible

Conference Program

We are delighted to welcome the Director General of Norad, Bård Vegar Solhjell to give the keynote introduction to the conference. This introduction will explore areas including NORAD’s focus on the links of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to wellbeing and education within conflicts and crises.

This will be followed by presentations exploring different themes linked to the growing importance of MHPSS to wellbeing and education for children and young people in the face of increasing conflicts and crises. Themes will include: a global perspective on the greater need for MHPSS provision in education in fragile contexts; a Nordic perspective on linking mental health and education (including updates from the recent 2024 Nordic MHPSS conference in Malmö); different and evolving approaches to providing MHPSS to boost wellbeing and education; and a donor perspective on challenges, solutions and priorities for MHPSS provision in education.

Following the presentations there will be a panel debate titled “Problems & solutions – different perspectives.” This debate will look in detail at the different perspectives and experiences of those involved in the education and MHPSS area, including young people themselves. Discussion in the debate will range from the experiences linked to displacement, to ideas on what the challenges and solutions are for improving MHPSS provision and its positive impacts to wellbeing and education.

Program Outline

  • Doors open: 08.30
  • Take seats for conference: 09.00 - 09.15

Keynote introduction and presentations: 09.15 - 10.15

  • Bård Vegar Solhjell (Director General, Norad) - MHPSS links to education in crises & conflicts, NORAD focus
  • Dianah Nelsen (Chief of Education, Education Cannot Wait) - Global perspective on MHPSS in EiEPC
  • Jill Popp (Senior Research Specialist, The Lego Foundation) -Changing donor landscape & priorities for MHPSS in EiEPC
  • Ragnhild Dybdahl (Co-Chair, Norwegian Network for Global Mental Health) - Nordic MHPSS in EiEPC view, incl. Malmö outcomes
  • Susan McIsaac (CEO, Right To Play International) - Evolving MHPSS in EiEPC approaches, incl. play based ones

Break: 10.15 – 10.30

Panel debate: 10.30 – 11.30 “Problems & solutions – different perspectives.”

  • Moderator; Hector Ulloa (Global Student Forum, ECW Board Youth Member)
  • Camilla Lodi (Global Head, Psychosocial Support, Norwegian Refugee Council)
  • Jennifer Roberts (Education in Emergencies lead, UNHCR)
  • Patience Agbamu (CEO, Siedi)
  • Sigurd Johns (Director, Child Protection, Health and Nutrition, Save the Children Norway)

Closing remarks: 11.30 – 11.45

  • Susan McIsaac (CEO, Right To Play International)

Networking lunch: 11.45 – 12.45

Conferance moderator for the day is Lars Erik Svanberg, (National Director Right To Play Norway).

Giving Hope speakers

Bård Vegar Solhjell (Director General, NORAD)

Bård Vegar Solhjell is Director General of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Norad, since January 2020. He is deputy board-chair of the Fritt ord (free word) foundation, and a board member of Norway’s second biggest renewable energy company Hafslund.

Mr. Solhjell came to Norad after having served as Secretary General of WWF Norway.
From 2001 to 2017 Mr. Solhjell held senior positions in Norwegian politics. He was member of the Parliament from 2009 to 2017, Minister of Education from 2007-2009, Minister of the Environment 2012-2013 and a State Secretary for prime minister Jens Stoltenberg from 2005-2007. From 2007 to 2015 he was Vice-chairman of the Socialist Left Party (SV).

Mr. Solhjell holds a master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Oslo. He has written 4 non-fiction books and written extensively for Norwegian and international publications.

Dianah Nelsen (Chief of Education, Education Cannot Wait)

Dianah Nelson joined ECW as Chief of Education in January 2024, with expertise in the education sector and international development stemming from 15 years working with non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, and donor institutions in twenty-one countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Prior to joining ECW, she provided critical leadership and technical support during Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, the Refugee Response in Tanzania, armed conflict in South Sudan, the European Migration Crisis in Greece/Serbia, and during the Ebola Response in Sierra Leone, to name just a few. Dianah is originally from Uganda and has two Master’s degrees in culture and development studies, and educational studies from KU Leuven University. Dianah enjoys spending quality time with her family especially reading, exploring and dancing with her daughter.

Jill Popp (Senior Research Specialist, The Lego Foundation)

Jill Popp is currently a Senior Research Specialist at the LEGO Foundation focusing on building evidence on learning through play, whole child development, and lifelong learning. She is particularly interested in understanding ways to support positive play experiences between caregivers and children within the home environment. Her previous research focused on young children with chronic illness and the impact of stress on young children’s narratives and parent-child relationship quality. Along with this, she has worked as a researcher on several large-scale community intervention programs in the United States.

Ragnhild Dybdahl (Co-Chair, Norwegian Network for Global Mental Health)

Ragnhild Dybdahl is currently seconded to Africa CDC in Addis Ababa from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and is also an associate professor of global mental health at the Centre for Crisis psychology, University of Bergen. She is a licensed clinical psychologist from University of Oslo and a PhD in psychology from University of Tromsø. She has worked in international development cooperation and humanitarian assistance for many years, with more than 15 years in leadership positions. Her research and practice include mental health and psychosocial support in emergencies, early childhood development, sexual and gender based violence, social determinants of health, forced displacement, and experience from Somalia, Bosnia, Guatemala, Niger, Sudan, Vietnam, France and the UK. Her previous positions include project co-ordinator for Norwegian People’s Aid, Head of education and research at Norad, and Deputy head of the Norwegian embassy in Vietnam. She is also a former co-editor of the Journal on Education in emergencies.

Susan McIsaac (CEO, Right To Play International)

Susan McIsaac joined Right To Play International in June 2019 as the Chief Philanthropy Officer, and became Chief Executive Officer in January 2021.
Prior to joining Right To Play, Susan was the Managing Director, Strategic Philanthropy at Royal Bank of Canada, where she provided strategic advice and guidance to RBC’s ultra-high net worth clients in developing their family philanthropic and legacy plans.

In the previous two decades, Susan was a senior executive with United Way of Greater Toronto, where she served as the organization’s Chief Development Officer and then as President and CEO. Under her leadership, United Way mobilized people and resources to address many of the region’s most pressing challenges, including income inequality, housing, precarious employment, and youth success. During her tenure, the organization increased its revenue from $58 million in 1998 to $118 million in 2015.

Susan has been involved in the community throughout her life as a volunteer and director of numerous organizations, and was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012 in recognition of her efforts. She was named by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s To 100 Most Powerful Women in 2014 and won Toronto Region Board of Trade’s Region Builder Award in 2017.

Giving Hope panel debate participants

Moderator; Hector Ulloa (Global Student Forum, ECW Board Youth Member)

Hector Ulloa is originally from Honduras and works as Outreach Director at Skatteforsk - Centre for Tax Research. He was the president of the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund (SAIH), where he gained advocacy experience on education and human rights issues, including policy work related to the financing of public services. Currently he serves as board member of Debt Justice Norway (SLUG) and is an Executive Committee member of the United Nation's Education Cannot Wait fund.

Camilla Lodi (Global Head, Psychosocial Support, Norwegian Refugee Council)

Camilla Lodi spearheads the expansion of the NRC's classroom-based psychosocial support Better Learning Programme (BLP) across more than 30 country offices as part of the 'Right to Wellbeing 2025' initiative. With a career spanning twenty-four years, she is an Education Specialist with experience in managing large and complex social protection and education programs worldwide. Camilla began her journey with NRC in 2007 in Burundi, followed by impactful roles in Liberia, Somalia, Jordan, and Palestine. Currently, she is the head of a global BLP unit providing technical support to countries facing protracted and acute conflict, facilitating the implementation of BLP initiatives in both formal and non- formal education settings. She has been actively engaged in international forums advocating for the provision of high-quality education, psychosocial support, and social-emotional learning to vulnerable populations, particularly children and youth. Through her work, Camilla contributes to the broader realization of their rights in challenging environments, leaving a lasting impact on communities worldwide.

Jennifer Roberts (Education in Emergencies lead, UNHCR)

Jennifer is UNHCR’s technical lead for education in emergency contexts and situations involving large- scale, rapid displacement within UNHCR’s Headquarters Education Section. In this role she provides technical advice on education in emergencies to country operations and strategic partners, delivers offers capacity building and contributes to global guidance. Her work also includes a focus on humanitarian coordination and she has worked with the Global Education Cluster and others to build synergies between different coordination mechanisms. Jennifer is also a member of the INEE Steering Group, representing UNHCR. Between 2014 and mid 2019 she held the position of Senior Education Officer with UNHCR in Türkiye, working closely with national authorities to implement a variety of education support programmes – including language learning programmes - for Syrian refugee children, youth and adults. The UNHCR strategy in Türkiye included large-scale higher education programmes delivered in partnership with the Turkish government. Her prior professional experience also includes appointments in other UN agencies supporting refugee education and work with governments, NGOs and as a consultant specialising in programme evaluation and the measurement of the quality of education.

Patience Agbamu (CEO, Siedi)

Patience Agbamu is the founder and Executive Director of Sterling Inclusive Education and Development Initiative (SIEDI), a youth-led non-governmental organization concerned with promoting quality and inclusive education in Nigeria. As a young woman who is passionate about making education in Nigeria more inclusive and one who has had first hand experience of the physical, emotional and mental effects of the Boko Haram Crisis, she has developed the passion and desire to continuously help victims of such crises find their feet again especially in education.

With over 6 years of experience working and volunteering for several organizations like the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Patience has been involved in the planning and execution of several interventions relating to the provision of mental health support to different internally displaced persons and refugee camps across the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, provided relief items, empowerment opportunities for these victims of crises. She has also worked with teams in proving that these people and other marginalized groups in the society like persons with disabilities have human rights, they should be recognized, accepted and included in the decision making of every society.

With funding support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), MacArthur Foundation, Christian Blind Mission (CBM) and others, she has worked with teams like Cedar Seed Foundation founded by Lois Auta and JDPC to empower youths, women, local and religous leaders on the social, economic, political and religous rights of persons with disabilities. Patience's unwavering passion led to the introduction and adoption of sign language interpretation in the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja.

Having impacted over 20,000 lives in her work as a young humanitarian and an advocate for quality and inclusive education, Patience is open to work with more youths, civil society organizations, governments and other concerned individuals in ensuring conducive learning environment becomes accessible for all.

Sigurd Johns (Director, Child Protection, Health and Nutrition, Save the Children Norway)

Sigurd Johns is working with Save the Children Norway as director for child protection, health and nutrition. He has been working with Save the Children for over 25 years in various roles spanning from field level implementation with partners to global leadership on child rights programming and advocacy.

Next Steps

All participants will be sent a link to the recording of the conference in the days afterwards. We will also explore with partners, ways to take forward the momentum of the conference around attracting more funding and financing focus to MHPSS in education in conflicts and crises. If you would like be involved or kept informed of these next steps, please contact Crispin Williams

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