Sigrid van Aken is the CEO of Novamedia/Postcode Lottery Group, a private company with a social purpose, that brings together business and ideals. It sets up and operates Postcode Lotteries worldwide to raise funds for charity. With a lucky winning postcode (zipcode), neighbours win together. At the same time, thanks to these player communities, vital funding is raised for charities and good causes (yearly €825 million), making the Postcode Lottery Group the 3rd largest private charity donor in the world after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
Since 2013, Sigrid has been a member of the international Executive Board. Postcode Lotteries are operated in the Netherlands, Great-Britain, Sweden, Germany and Norway.
Sigrid has extensive international managerial experience as a (non-)executive board member in a public-private context. She also has expertise in areas such as the financing of charities, corporate governance, international lottery-legislation, public affairs and stakeholder management.
ECW: With September’s UN General Assembly, Transforming Education Summit, Global Citizen Festival and ECW’s High-Level Steering Group Meeting recently concluded, what key lessons should we take forward to accelerate the delivery of education in emergencies?
Sigrid van Aken: We live in unprecedented times. The continuing hangover from COVID-19 along with never ending conflicts, increased climate-related disasters and growing food and fuel insecurity, are taking their toll. Society’s most vulnerable suffer the most, with 222 million school-age children and adolescents in crisis situations needing access to education or better quality education. Now more than ever, investment and a united approach is urgently needed to provide education to the millions of children out of school.
We have learned from our partners, reiterated at the recent meetings and summits on education, that alongside access to education, a focus is needed on ensuring children and youth are achieving minimum standards in their learning. Only one in ten crisis-impacted children attending primary or secondary education are achieving basic levels in reading and mathematics.
At the Postcode Lottery Group, our vision is that the civil society is a force for good, and for positive change. Our mission is to strengthen the civil society. We set up and operate Postcode Lotteries worldwide to raise funds for a wide range of charities, addressing areas like education and human rights, frequently focused on women and children. Players of the Postcode Lotteries have raised over €12 billion for more than 11,000 charities and social organisations around the world.
We enter into long-term partnerships with charities, trusting them as the experts to spend the money where it is most needed. We understand that being flexible in how funding can be used, provides the freedom to flex with need and try new innovative ways of working which could have greater impact to enable real change. The freedom of unrestricted funding provides an opportunity for our partners to leverage support from elsewhere.
We can commit to long-term partnerships thanks to the millions of players in our subscription-based community lotteries across five European countries: the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany and Norway. The Postcode Lottery is a unique format; tickets relate to the players own postcode (or, in the US zip code). This way everyone playing in the same street or area can win together, while raising money for good causes. It is all about strengthening community and engaging people from all walks of life in a safe and responsible lottery which even when you don’t win, your community through the charities supported, does.
Many of our charity partners, such as Theirworld, Plan International, Red Cross, Save the Children, UNICEF and Action Against Hunger are providing support to those in need of humanitarian assistance through centres for psychosocial support, trauma counselling and school feeding programmes so that displaced and refugee children stay safe. And we know from our charity partners that this whole child approach, which includes social and emotional well-being for each child, is crucial. This can only be achieved through diverse partners on all levels and types, that actively look for sustainable and locally led solutions.
We must accelerate the delivery of education in emergencies, and it was clear to all attendees at these gatherings in September that we cannot afford to leave these children behind and must be held accountable to Education Cannot Wait’s commitment.
ECW: Today, 222 million crisis-impacted children urgently need education support. Why is it important for other private sector partners to invest in Education Cannot Wait’s work to deliver quality education to children left furthest behind to help realize their 222 Million Dreams?
Sigrid van Aken: We know that the poorest households are the least resilient to crisis situations. Added to this, women and girls are unfairly disadvantaged, with school attendance reducing and girls being pulled out of schools too early. We all know the impact of education beyond the school classroom is undeniable. On behalf of donors, Education Cannot Wait is committed to ensuring learning remains a key focus, and with more partners, they can make education a reality rather than the dream it is for so many children.
Despite the increase in humanitarian funding for education in emergencies, the funding gap for education is widening more than in other sectors. More private donors are needed to help place education within the reach of every child, everywhere.
The Postcode Lottery Group is supporting initiatives that drive positive change for those who have less opportunity or chance in life. Our lotteries are enablers of change, and we use our communication channels to encourage and share with others, reaching millions of people every day.
In addition to the support we provide to the work of Education Cannot Wait, thanks to our millions of players, many civil society organizations working on education are supported each year with flexible support that they can invest wherever the need is greatest.
ECW: The Postcode Lottery Group, with Theirworld, has provided funding for ECW’s COVID-19 education in emergencies response in the Greek Islands. Why is it important for the Postcode Lottery to invest funding into education responses to refugee crises in places like Greece?
Sigrid van Aken: Nations like Greece host hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers, a third of whom are children, many of these are girls or children with disabilities. We provided €1.35 million to fund emergency education so that despite the turmoil they faced, education remains available to them.
Without access to education, refugee children, wherever they are, face an uncertain future. We believe that even in a crisis, learning should never stop and thanks to the support of our lottery players we were able to put our funds behind this. We are committed to supporting those who share this belief such as our partners UNICEF, UNHCR and Theirworld to provide education with inclusion and equity for refugee children in the Greek Islands and elsewhere so that no one is left behind.
ECW: From a broader perspective, why is funding for education in places like Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen important for the private sector and businesses worldwide?
Sigrid van Aken: Children in these countries should have access to the same possibilities offered by education. Education offers a different future for them and can provide protection against early marriage, reduce exposure to gender-based violence, and prevent them from becoming a child soldier.
In these places in particular, funding of safe learning spaces, smaller classrooms, inclusive learning environments, school nutrition programmes, psychosocial support services and training for educators is urgently needed. While for the individual it improves their life chances, it also supports communities, the environment and opportunities for the next generation.
The Postcode Lottery Group believes in long-term investment without which continuity of learning cannot happen and help the millions of children living in the toughest parts of the planet.
ECW: As the CEO of Novamedia/Postcode Lottery Group, you are an inspiring, dynamic leader. How can we best empower girls to become inspiring, engaging women leaders of tomorrow?
Sigrid van Aken: By providing strong role models. For every child, role models play an important part in developing their own dreams for the future. I wish that every child will come across these individuals and have the confidence to think big, to pursue their dreams and fully develop their talents. Young girls in particular benefit from inspiring women in leadership positions, so they can see themselves doing something similar in the future. I am personally inspired by young woman who fearlessly work towards their goals and mission in life, and I am lucky to meet many in my daily work.
ECW: Through our 222 Million Dreams campaign, ECW calls on donors, private sector, high-net-worth individuals and philanthropic foundations to mobilize US$1.5 billion for ECW so we can reach 20 million children over the next four years. Why should donors invest in ECW as our High-Level Financing Conference approaches in February 2023?
Sigrid van Aken: As Education Cannot Wait has outlined, this call is not just about accessing education, it is about turning crisis-affected children and adolescents’ dreams into reality.
Access to a quality education in times of humanitarian crisis is the right of every child and Education Cannot Wait is already working with over 7 million children across 40 crisis-affected countries.
Supporting ECW and its holistic approach to education – and addressing the barriers to education through multi-year programmes – will have impact on those who are let the furthest behind in the most challenging of situations. Without education these children can never meet the challenges they face now or will in the future.
ECW: Our readers would like to know a little about you on a personal level. As a dynamic leader, we would like to know what are some of the books that have most influenced you and why would you recommend them to others?
Sigrid van Aken: Recently I attended the UN Transforming Education Summit and Theirworld dinner. I was privileged to be seated next to the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Julius Maada. He told me he grew up in a village far from the city. His mother could not read. And it is education that got him where he is today. As President, he made education a policy priority and has launched the National Education Sector Plan 2022-2026 under the theme, “Transforming Education for All.” His government has provided substantial levels of funding to meet the needs of the education sector, and to free access to quality education.
This inspires me greatly because it expresses hope about what drives people in their lives, on being there for others and making something of it together. I felt similar hope reading the book of the Dutch author Rutger Bregman, ‘Humankind.’ An inspiring tribute to humankind’s better natures. He shows that at root humans are friendly, peaceful and healthy, and that there is a high degree of cooperation and communal spirt when times get rough.
What drives people in their lives, being there for their fellow man and making something of it together, is also strongly expressed in the latest book by Nobel laureate, world-renowned doctor, and noted human rights activist Dr. Denis Mukwege, ‘The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing.’ An impressive book on women, survivors of violence during conflict, and their resilience, enduring strength and power. The strength of women gives hope for the potential of individuals to turn the tide. And Dr. Mukwege also hopes to inspire men to speak out and join the struggle, rather than leaving women to fight the battle alone. A powerful read.