Just a few weeks ago, the world welcomed 2023. As we enter the fourth year since the global pandemic hit, it’s increasingly clear that now is a crucial time for the state of education. Nobody is more at risk than the young women around the world who face enormous challenges to access education, whether because of cultural bias, gender discrimination or safety concerns. An alarming 129 million girls around the world are not in school, with the pandemic putting an additional 10 million girls at risk of child marriage.
This is a critical moment for the world to stand up for gender equality in and through education. We need to boldly accelerate global change – so every girl can choose her own life path. From poverty to climate change, low girl education rates are a root cause of the world’s greatest challenges. However, improving girls’ education can provide powerful, yet untapped, solutions.
Given how urgent the need and undeniable the opportunity, why are solutions fragmented and fraught with complexity?
While a range of programs – governmental, philanthropic, and community-based – tackle girls’ education through material support, mentorship, and skill-building, many of these initiatives are scattered and competing, leading to inefficiencies.
We can’t continue wasting precious resources. With alignment across companies, individual donors, governments, and NGOs, we can address the systemic challenges girls face in their educational journeys and do so at scale.
Our understanding of social impact has transformed over the last few decades. Gone are the days in which nonprofit and for-profit organizations exist in separate realms, interacting only transactionally. The new era of social impact is hybrid and includes Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) frameworks, B Corps, public-private partnerships, and social impact bonds, with meaningful attempts to define social change as a collective responsibility.
Nonprofits can focus on developing and implementing innovative interventions while also generating revenue, providing employment opportunities, and driving economic growth. Private sector partners can invest in social enterprises, make transformational philanthropic gifts, incentivize government engagement, and implement social justice programs. The public sector can create enabling environments for education by upgrading school curricula, training, and learning materials, as well as enacting legislation, enforcing compliance and driving private investment.
When large, multisectoral consortia form and align on program delivery, resource allocation and outcomes, the results are game-changing – and necessary for girls’ education to stay a priority in the development agenda.
Room to Read has witnessed the magic that can happen when cross-sectoral partnerships become highly strategic collaborations. As Room to Read has expanded our work and scaled across 21 countries in the past 22 years, we’ve built stronger connections between our funding base – which is 92% privately funded – our government partners and the communities we work with around the world. By using these partnerships to implement, monitor and evaluate our programs, we’ve been recognized by world leaders and institutions for operational excellence and even achieved our version of an Initial Public Offerings (IPO) by ringing bells in the New York and the London Stock Exchange!
Simply put, both cross-sectoral alignment and execution of education programs can maximize impact. This combination leads to greater innovation and entrepreneurship, greater scale, and stronger learning and life outcomes. Better yet, it also leads to sweeping change within the communities most vulnerable to inequity.
Investing in Women
Perhaps the strongest opportunity for these types of collaborations to yield change across a range of social challenges lies in girls’ education.
Girls’ education is the best investment a country can make to grow its economy. Countries lose more than $1 billion each year by failing to educate girls to the same level as boys. The disparity is alarming in historically low-income countries, where 66 female students complete a secondary education for every 100 male students, drastically undermining the positive effects of the demographic dividend experienced by many of these countries.
An investment in girls’ education does more than strengthen economies. It also safeguards, as Nelson Mandela put it, “society’s soul” and serves as a litmus test for human rights standards. When children of all genders enjoy their inherent right to an education, we begin to see girls’ education as more than just an economic investment, and instead view it through the lens of dignity, human rights and collective fulfillment.
Trang is a great example of how cross-sectoral efforts towards girls’ education result in both economic and social returns. Trang is a graduate of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program, which helps girls develop crucial life skills, learn of career opportunities, and stay in school longer. The program is implemented in partnership with the government of Vietnam and supported, financially and strategically, by a range of private investors around the world.
As a student, Trang lived in a remote area of Vietnam and traveled to the local market by boat to sell homemade food to support her family. Some days, the boat tipped over and the food they intended to sell was lost to the river.
Trang had learned about perseverance, financial literacy and problem solving through Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program. She decided to chase her dream of acting by starting her own YouTube channel. Viewers laughed as they watched her favorite duck, Bim Bim, cook, dance, and celebrate his birthday with Trang. With her creative, engaging, and financial savvy, Trang attracted a large following, increased her income, and eventually won YouTube’s Silver Creator Button Award. Trang is one of millions of girls who are finding opportunity and strengthening their communities through programs built on cross-sectoral alignment and execution.
Social impact conversations are fostering more partnerships, co-investments and consortia focused on addressing a variety of social challenges, including gender inequality in and through education.
However, the scattered nature of these initiatives, their lack of clarity around desired impact and the competition amongst implementers has limited the speed with which sustainable, systemic solutions are implemented.
I hope the coming years will see greater commitment to collaboration and clarity around successful outcomes for girls’ education, so that partners are increasingly motivated to align and execute together.
Supported by AVPN member:
Bloomberg is proud to support Room to Read as part of their work with a network of non-profit partners to ensure more individuals from under-served communities have the relevant skills, education and experience for employment and entrepreneurship; supporting global efforts to make the world’s economy fairer and more inclusive for all.
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