If you happened to be passing through Times Square on September 28th last year, one billboard would have caught your eye. Amidst the bright lights of Coca-Cola, Hard Rock and those famous yellow arches, an orange banner demanded one simple thing: an education for every single child in the world. This message marked the culmination of the groundbreaking #UpForSchool campaign, created by global charity Theirworld and branded by The Partners.
The Times Square takeover coincided with the gathering of more than 1000 young campaigners, celebrities, politicians and world leaders at the New York Town Hall to mark the delivery of the largest education petition in history, #UpForSchool. Signed by millions of people from over 85 countries, the petition urges UN leaders to keep their promise to ensure that every child in the world has access to an education.
Last month, representatives from the UK’s leading charities attended a networking breakfast here at The Partners to hear Ben Hewitt, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Theirworld, Nick Eagleton, Creative Director at The Partners, and Mark Wood, Design Director, share the remarkable #UpForSchool story. During their talk, we learned how the power of ideas and the spirit of collaboration created a true global movement that inspired 10 million people and numerous organisations, including the UN, Facebook and the US Department of State, to take action for global education.
How an Idea Became a Global Reality
The talk identified five key principles that drove the success of the #UpForSchool movement:
1. The Power of One Idea
In 2015 59 million children were still out of school, falling short of the promise made by the UN Millennium Development Goals.
We were tasked with bringing Theirworld’s mission, to ensure every child’s basic right to education, into the spotlight. The ambition was to build a movement so big that no government could ignore it. The idea for a petition was born, with the aim of inspiring millions of people around the world to pledge their commitment to change. In just a year it became the largest education petition in history, delivered by the #UpForSchool youth ambassadors to the UN, sending a powerful call to world leaders to take action.
The best way to create a broad alliance is with a clear and simple mission expressed with a simple rallying cry: ‘#UpForSchool’. The name was chosen for its affirmative, positive connotations and its ability to adapt as a call to action in a variety of contexts – ‘Stand #UpForSchool’, ‘Rise #UpForSchool’, ‘Sign #UpForSchool.’
2. Do one thing and do it well
#UpForSchool has proved that one inspiring goal stated in a few words can make the world of difference over a long period of time. By providing a brief as simple as ‘the world’s largest petition’, the campaign was given room to flex. From Muslimaid to the Salvation Army, the #UpForSchool flag has been flown by many diverse organisations. Since 2014, #UpForSchool has been on the frontline of crises from terrorist attacks to natural disasters, whilst never losing sight of the single-minded focus of its challenge: signatures on a page.
In 2014, 132 school children were killed in a terrorist attack in Peshawar. #UpForSchool responded by adapting the language of their brand to convey the urgency of the situation: ‘You’ll not bomb our schools’, ‘Stand #UpForSchool’. The result: a further one million signatures.
On the other side of the world and in a different context entirely, the Church of Scotland held ‘Sign Up Sunday’, allowing people from across the UK to add their names to the petition. With a core mission and a clear tone of voice, a campaign can be relevant anywhere.
Now over a year old, the impetus of the #UpForSchool campaign is still felt by supporters who continue to spread the word. Whilst it was hard at times to stick with it rather than develop a new shiny campaign, a single-minded focus on one simple message proved successful.
3. Give Away the Brand
A charity cannot build a movement if its priority is to enhance its own profile. Yes, there are campaigns that should be linked to the charity brand, whether that is with a red nose or a pink ribbon. But this changes when you are building a movement. How many people can honestly say they knew the Ice Bucket Challenge was an ALS Association initiative? Yet it raised £88 million for the charity in a month.
We developed a separate identity for #UpForSchool: the upturned exercise book. This symbol, universally associated with education, also suggested an upward arrow, visually respresenting the message and momentum of the movement. A simple colour palette and a malleable name meant the campaign could be activated globally: whether in the form of posters, placards or cupcakes, it became recognisable. The design system was kept simple, allowing the brand to be recreated in communities with limited resources. The brand’s distinction came from its minimalist identity. Give people a compelling cause and simple tools, and they’ll give you a movement.
With atrocities obstructing education being committed every day, responses of those fighting for the cause can often be founded upon anger and violence. An #UpForSchool banner in the wrong place at the wrong time would be detrimental. However, for a campaign to make global impact, its creators must trust it to the hands of others. Have confidence to give the campaign away and you will empower others to make it thrive.
4. Create a campaign you can touch
The use of exercise books to contain the signatures allowed the project to live and breathe in the offline world. There have been studies to suggest that the act of handwriting boosts memory and our ability to retain and understand concepts. By signing your name on a piece of paper, you are physically engaging with the campaign, touching it, adding to it. #UpForSchool encouraged people to show support in any way they could. A moving manifestation of this can be seen in books sent from the slums of Deli. In the space intended for written signatures, there were only the crude stamps of thumb prints. They belonged to children who could not read or write but who knew they had a right to education.
These books had been filled with 10 million signatures from all over the world. How do you demonstrate such universal support to the UN? Put them into the world’s largest book. Well, not quite, but the plus-sized book presented at the UN headquarters embodied the essence of the whole campaign: the largest petition in history.
5. Win Hearts and Minds
#UpForSchool has empowered a network of young ambassadors in 85 countries to gain support from leaders around the world. Between them, they persuaded one million out of the total 10 million people to sign the petition.
We were lucky enough to be joined at the breakfast by #UpForSchool youth ambassador Hellen Griberg. Her presence highlighted the power that young, engaged individuals have to spread important messages. Hellen managed to win the support of the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg as well as the former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
“I explained to them about the purpose of the #UpForSchool campaign and why I’m so passionate about global education. Then they signed the petition."
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#UpForSchool’s work is far from finished but its impact so far is impossible to ignore. All over the world, whatever their circumstances, people have seen the true value of education and have added their voice to the campaign. The iconic petition books bear the signatures of school students, out-of-school children, parents, business people, youth, university students, community leaders, religious leaders, politicians and many others, making the campaign an icon of the power of collaboration. Education remains at the heart of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Education Commission promises to get every child in school by 2030.
You can’t predict how a campaign will play out. No one involved in the project imagined that an #UpForSchool themed level would be created on the Angry Birds game, nor that the names of Desmond Tutu and Justin Bieber would ever appear alongside one another. This campaign proves that, sometimes, entrusting your brand to others allows it to become a movement and earns it a place amongst the dazzling lights of Times Square.