Omnicom + Theirworld: 5 Questions With Janet Riccio and Sarah Brown



On September 19th, the United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York to debate key issues and determine policies that will have a global impact.

In 2015, the UN approved a roster of 17 Sustainable Development Goals—global commitments to end poverty, protect the planet and promote peace. All UN member nations are pushing towards making significant strides against these initiatives by 2030. As part of an industry-wide initiative, Omnicom Group selected to help tackle goal #4, education, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

In June, Omnicom announced its partnership with groundbreaking education nonprofit Theirworld, with the goal of empowering the global children’s charity with the capabilities of their international network of partners to deliver against this crucial Sustainable Development Goal.

We spoke with Omnicom EVP Janet Riccio and Theirworld president Sarah Brown to discuss the partnership and their goal of empowering children across the planet with access to education.

For those who aren’t familiar with Theirworld, what do you do?

Theirworld President Sarah BrownSarah: Theirworld is an innovative children’s charity based in the UK but with a global focus, with offices in NY, DC, and pilot projects across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Much of our focus is on education, how to unlock opportunity and ensure every child can reach their full potential. Many believe it is impossible for every child to get an education, but at Theirworld we believe it is more than possible—it is probable that we can achieve this by 2030. We have a moonshot mentality and work to unlock the solutions needed from the top-level policymakers through to the grassroots actionists.

We believe education is a fundamental human right and should be included in any humanitarian response when there is a conflict or natural disaster. In the wake of an emergency, the first focus of humanitarian aid is directed to the immediate needs of food, shelter, medical care, sanitation, but we also need to offer hope. Only 1% of humanitarian aid goes towards education, learning and reducing psychological stress. Without access to education, a child’s chance of developing and fulfilling her potential is neglected. In an emergency situation, all children need to be able to return to a normal life as quickly as possible—the education environment is a key part of this process.

theirworld square headerDue to the rising number of refugees and length of time spent as a refugee, on average 17 years, education is now a greater priority than ever. Theirworld’s initiatives include pioneering new double-shift schools, which offer an innovative way to double the number of children able to access education without having to double the number of schools and teachers.

For example, in Lebanon, the Ministry of Education has been able to get over 200,000 Syrian refugee children back to school by sending Lebanese children to school in the morning and Syrian children in the afternoon thanks to Theirworld’s actions. We also offer teacher training and empowerment programs for girls and champion early childhood development in our projects.

We also pilot Safe Schools programs in West Africa, Latin America, and other areas with either short-term crises or long-term violent situations or risk of attack. From physical security in the building and along the school journey, to community information and broader methods of combating the problems, this work is crucial.

Wherever we work, we’re pushing for big changes and innovation, accelerating putting children into school and always running pilot programs to test and measure these new ideas.

Our priority is always to reach out to the top of the tree, grab the highest-hanging fruit and hold onto it. The high hanging fruits to us are the big wins in education that are difficult to reach but well worth the struggle to get there. Education for all is within our grasp—a safe, welcoming learning space available for every child in every corner of the globe.

Why did Omnicom choose to partner with Theirworld?

Janet Riccio Headshot

Janet: Omnicom is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of education, which is part of the Common Ground initiative: for the first time in history, all six of the global advertising holding companies have joined hands in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We picked this goal in part because our CEO John Wren is very dedicated to education, as exhibited by our 23-year support of Omnicom University, of which I am Dean. Education is at the core of Omnicom. We asked all of our Omnicom University alumni about what they were doing in the field of education, and after receiving hundreds of responses, a few organizations kept bubbling up. That’s how we found Theirworld.

We chose this organization, because we thought that, during the interview process, the vision they had and the way they brought it to life was revolutionary. They are doing things that no one else is doing, and that’s why we chose them.

What does working with Omnicom offer an organization like Theirworld?

Sarah: Omnicom is helping to create innovative solutions and breakthroughs all over the world. Having access to that global network and scope of talent is very exciting for us.

Our first practical step has been to work with Tracey Lovatt and the team at Batten & Company to undergo their “True North” process and figure out how to refine bringing our broader strategy to life. We have learned that we are often so focused on our end goals that we don’t always take the opportunity to look at the organization and how we work day-to-day. Now we can see ourselves clearly on our Best Day and will be working with creative agencies across the network to develop this.

Thanks to Omnicom’s commitment, we’re uniquely privileged to learn how the whole system of agencies and creative partners work, and have set out deliberately to create connections and solve some of the biggest problems. We know that bringing people together who are both highly skilled and passionate will achieve the right results, and that can’t be done alone as a single organization.

What’s next for this partnership for Omnicom?

Janet: We’re going to be doing an influencer mapping session to decide the next steps and agency partners for Theirworld to work with specifically. I know that we’re going to be looking to help them create content, specifically video content in the form of a manifesto video.

Our commitment is to help in the areas of advertising, public relations and communications, media, digital, data and design support. And then, of course, there are going to be opportunities in countries that we’ll be working with locally.

Theirworld has been doing extraordinary work for quite a few years, but they’ve never had a chance to put their names out in the marketplace. They work beautifully in collaboration with organizations, but now we’re excited to help them brand themselves as a leader in education.

And what’s next for Theirworld with this partnership?

Sarah: We’re focused on where the next touchpoints are and where the biggest opportunities lie.

This includes expanding education financing through the Education Cannot Wait Fund, and looking at the newly-proposed International Financing Facility for Education that will pioneer new education investments where countries can invest in their own futures. Now we can really outline a large-scale strategy to help the existing organizations come together and genuinely finance education for all.

We have also launched an innovation hub on the first day of the UN General Assembly, looking at the new areas that we think will be most transformative and making sure that our best groundbreaking ideas are tried, tested and shaped to ensure that we continue to help as many children as possible.

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