Provision of education and other basic services in fragile and conflict-affected contexts can be an important means of building positive peace. However, service provision suffers when government is absent or too weak to carry out this function. In such circumstances, the peace-building function of education may be lost unless other means of provision are developed. UNICEF supported education in Somalia in 1996–2010 as part of its mandate. Though it was not the only international agency working in education in Somalia, UNICEF took a leading role for much of the early crisis period. Facing variable instability and a lack of functioning government, especially in the south-west (central/south zone), UNICEF took advantage of shifting opportunities to educate thousands of children and adults. The agency's longstanding presence and focus on children, families and communities gave it unusual credibility. Close partnerships with local NGOs permitted outreach to diverse communities and capacity to exploit emergent opportunities. Instructional content provided basic skills; negotiated with stakeholders, it was suitable for both public and Qu'ranic schools. UNICEF varied activities according to local stability and partner capacity. Basic components were introduced first, additional components added as conditions stabilized and capacity grew. Efforts were evaluated and programme elements revised. Unable to rely on central government, UNICEF engaged flexibly with sub-national governing entities including nascent zonal governments to support educational provision.