Girl Rising is a film-turned-movement that uses rich storytelling to advocate for girls in the classroom. When some colleagues and I attended a screening and a talk by executive producer and documentarian Kayce Freed Jennings, I’m not sure that there was a dry eye in the room. It combines beautiful visual imagery and storytelling about the lives of actual girls who have prevailed against great obstacles with powerful statistics from UNESCO, UNICEF, The World Bank and many other sources.
My Data Diaries statistic, from the World Bank, combines a few of the things that I care about the most:
If the number of Indian girls obtaining a secondary school education increased by just one percent, India’s GDP would increase by $5.5 billion.
Just 1 percent. This made me wonder: What would the economic impact be if 100 percent of the girls in India could obtain a secondary school education? What if all women around the world had access to this level of education?
India holds a special place in my heart as I work with many colleagues from India and have had the opportunity to visit one of its largest slums as well as some of its holiest places. While visiting a cave where the Buddha meditated centuries ago, I was approached by young children asking for money. This was not unexpected. What was a surprise is that (according to my guide) they had a school available to them. Many were absent, however, trying to earn a few rupees. I witnessed many older girls in the fields gathering water or preparing cow dung patties to be burned as fuel.
The barriers to a girl’s education are vast: financial burdens, a lack of facilities, teasing from male students (or worse, abuse from teachers), fears for their reputations and a belief that education is a waste since she will go to her husband’s home in the future. If India’s potential is any indication, however, the economic impact of removing these barriers would be staggering.
The topic of girls’ education is something that I have long been passionate about. I started my career as a teacher, armed with a Fulbright Grant but relatively little life experience, tasked to teach English in an immigrant community in Germany as well as take courses in immigration policy and multicultural education at the local university. It was a formative experience that gave me a new level of appreciation for how difficult and vitally important the work of being an educator is — not to mention one working across cultures. Of course, that was also a relatively peaceful time in that part of the world, and it is beyond sobering to read about the strife in Europe given the refugee crisis today.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working for a global professional women’s network called 85 Broads (now Ellevate Network) where I met dozens of women entrepreneurs and educators as we built out our platform to better support their work. I’d grown up in a strongly feminist household, but my eyes were once again opened through some of the most intelligent, honest dialogues on these subjects that I have ever had in my life. I learned, for instance, how millions of girls around the world face extraordinary barriers— early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic slavery, sex trafficking and more. In a few cases, I even talked to survivors.
The bad news: We have a long way to go to address the inequities in girls’ vs. boys’ education and the disparities in access between the “developing” and “developed” worlds. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Just one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.
The good news: Educating girls has the power to break cycles of poverty in just one generation, and a single person can make a profound difference. Here are a few of my favorite organizations working on this or related issues, which I have either worked with directly or admired from a distance. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments below!
Ellevate Network is a global professional women’s network dedicated to networking, lifelong learning, and the economic engagement of women worldwide. Ellevate is hosting special screenings of “He Named Me Malala” for International Women’s day.
Fulbright Program: In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill in the United States Congress that called for the use of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” Today, the Fulbright Program fosters bilateral relationships through research, study and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries for recent graduates and graduate students.
The Girl Effect is a movement that works to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by connecting girls to each other and to the critical assets they need, as well as harnessing media in innovative ways and building social networks that develop girls’ positive perceptions of themselves and shift how others see and value them. The Nike Foundation launched Girl Effect in 2008 in collaboration with NoVo Foundation, United Nations Foundation and with the support of over 150 partners in 90 countries.
Grameen Bank, founded in Bangladesh, offers credit to classes of people formerly underserved: the poor, women, illiterate and unemployed. Access to credit is based on reasonable terms, such as the group lending system and weekly-installment payments, with reasonably long terms of loans, enabling the poor to build on their existing skills to earn better income in each cycle of loans. Studies have shown that when women control more household income — either through their own earnings or through cash transfers — children benefit as a result of more spending on food and education.
Girls Who Code works to close the gender gap in technology through high-quality instruction in programming fundamentals, web development and design, mobile development and robotics with exposure to real-world technology companies.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a passionate call to arms from Pulitzer Prize winners Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation – the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #pledgeforparity: helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias.
She’s the First provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries, fostering first-generation graduates and cultivating the next generation of global leaders.
Women for Women International helps marginalized women in countries affected by war and conflict, offering support, tools and access to life-changing skills to move them from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.
Women Thrive Worldwide is a network of local women’s groups and civil society organizations that works with grassroots partners around the world to champion policies that increase learning opportunities for girls. Initiatives include improving literacy and math skills and expanding access to technology and educational venues, such as vocational schools and training.
ZanaAfrica: ZanaAfrica helps girls in Kenya to stay in school by delivering reproductive health education and support through their adolescent years, as well as sanitary products.
Data can be a galvanizing force to change minds and behaviors for the betterment of society. My personal passion for this topic aside, it has also become clear to me from diving into the numbers that educating girls is just “good business” for nations and companies. Let’s hope that data does that for the decision makers, too.
Close-up on Krista:
As a Senior Analyst with IBM Market Research, Krista helps business leaders at IBM identify opportunities in new and emerging areas of technology. Prior to joining IBM, she taught English and studied immigration policy in Germany through a Fulbright Grant, and she had such a wonderful experience that she has recently joined the board of directors for Fulbright’s Greater New York Chapter. She also served as Head of Strategy for 85 Broads, a global professional women’s network. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School and enjoys being actively involved in the alumni community. She is passionate about mentorship, intrapreneurship, agile ways of working, and bridging the digital divide. She runs a women’s group at IBM and serves on committees focused on professional development, communication and millennials.
Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with friends, experiencing NYC’s cultural offerings and cuisine, taking long bike rides, and doing yoga and ballroom dancing.
Fun fact: I love to travel, so I’ll share a specific story: While I was in India, I had the opportunity to meditate under the Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. This tree is supposedly the direct descendent of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment after meditating for seven days. Although I’m not a Buddhist, it was thrilling to be in the company of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists like me who had traveled from around the world to experience this place.