IIEP Director leaves her mark on educational planning

03 May 2021


IIEP Director Suzanne Grant Lewis during the 50th annual closing ceremony for the Advanced Training Programme in Paris, France at IIEP-UNESCO.

IIEP-UNESCO’s Director Suzanne Grant Lewis will be leaving the Institute, and the UNESCO family, at the end of this month. Since 2014, she has provided strategic vision and leadership for the Institute’s three offices in Buenos Aires, Dakar, and Paris, leaving a profound mark on not only IIEP but in the field of educational planning and management.

With 30 years of experience in improving educational opportunities in the developing world, Grant Lewis has had an expansive career in education policy and planning. Prior to joining IIEP, she helped launch in 2011 the International Education Funders Group, a collaborative of over 50 foundations to help private donors advance Education for All. She also directed the foundation Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, and as a Harvard University faculty member, she co-developed the International Education Policy Master's degree programme.

“For many of us, Suzanne Grant Lewis is a stellar example of what great things can be accomplished if the worlds of policy and research intersect. In all of her roles and endeavors, she held high standards and even a greater commitment to improving educational development and international cooperation.”

- Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Professor of Education at Teachers College of Columbia University, Professor in Interdisciplinary Programmes at the Graduate Institute, and Director of NORRAG.

At IIEP, colleagues will remember her as the Director who created a truly global Institute while also strengthening the regional presence of IIEP in both Africa and Latin America. She helped secure new partnerships for implementation of technical cooperation, training and research, and substantially grew IIEP funding. She created synergies across IIEP units, and shaped innovative projects like the IIEP Learning Portal, an online resource for policy-makers and planners to improve learning outcomes through planning.

Every year, Grant Lewis spoke to the major educational challenges of the day in her speeches for the closing ceremonies of IIEP’s training programmes. From the first days of the ambitious Education 2030 Agenda, the planner’s role in attending to climate change risks, to providing quality education for a world increasingly on the move, Grant Lewis has urged IIEP alumni to plan thoughtfully, rigorously, and with a bold commitment to create a better world for all.

“I urge you to look further into your country’s future. What can you do to promote a vision and to affect action to build an education system that serves the most vulnerable 30 years from now?”

- Suzanne Grant Lewis, IIEP closing ceremony for the Advanced Training Programme in 2019.

In a way, Grant Lewis epitomizes the key characteristics of a strong education sector plan: a clear vision and a realistic approach to achieving ambitious goals. She embraces IIEP’s mandate to bolster the capacity of UNESCO Member States to effectively plan and manage their education systems, and appreciates that short-term fixes do not lead to sustainable, system-wide transformation. Rather, she draws from evidence, emphasizes results, and inspires colleagues to pay attention to the importance of resilience and the equity dimension in education. This rang true particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption in education. Grant Lewis helped position IIEP as a point of reference for how education systems could respond and minimize the impact on learning. She was also the penholder of the Secretary General’s Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond, and organized contributions of 15 international organizations.

“It’s been a pleasure and honour to work with Suzanne Grant Lewis during her tenure as the (long-overdue) first woman Director of IIEP. Her leadership and contribution to UNESCO will be sadly missed – she brought a breadth of expertise and experience from research, policy support, and as a practitioner on the ground, might I add, a breath of fresh air.”

- Jordan Naidoo, Director and Representative to Afghanistan, UNESCO Kabul Office.

Developing IIEP’s gender focus has been another major achievement for Grant Lewis. As a female leader herself, she accelerated the institutionalization of gender mainstreaming within IIEP. She supported opportunities for a new generation of female educational planners and managers, for example, through the creation of a female scholarship for IIEP training and her strategic support for the 2017 Summer School for female planners. Her leadership also helped the Dakar office enhance its work in gender through the Gender at the Centre Initiative and the recruitment of new staff who would work exclusively on gender issues while helping colleagues integrate gender into IIEP’s work.

In her years at IIEP, Grant Lewis has helped advance the Institute’s motto – Planning education, building the future – in new ways. Now, with the contributions she has made, IIEP looks forward to continuing its mission to support countries in providing equitable quality and inclusive education and lifelong learning for all.