The Transformative Power of Education, Especially for Girls

Rwanda Girls Initiative

Photo credit: Rwanda Girls Initiative

How powerful is education? Some 171 million people could be lifted out of extreme poverty if every student in low-income countries finished school with basic reading skills, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It is particularly important for girls. Research shows that an additional year of schooling can raise future wages for a woman by up to 20 percent. Girls who complete primary education are less likely to become teen mothers. Nearly 200,000 maternal deaths could be avoided if all girls completed primary education, according to one study. Other benefits include fewer child marriages, lower rates of HIV/AIDS and gains in gender equity.

“I have travelled the world and met people in many countries,” Malala Yousafzai said to the Canadian Parliament in April.

“I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls. Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world.”

The problem is that too many children are not going to school. More than 264 million children around the world are out of school – 130 million are girls. They range from the Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, to the children of subsistence farmers in rural Rwanda.

The good news is that more children go to school today that at any point in human history. The number of children not attending primary school fell by half between 2000 and 2013, despite a growing global population. It is an impressive feat.

But more money is needed if the world wants to achieve the goal of providing quality pre-primary, primary and secondary education to every child by 2030. Current spending falls short by $39 billion per year, according to the Global Partnership for Education. The group provides assistance to the countries with the greatest number of children out of school and is trying to increase its annual spending to $2 billion a year – still a fraction of the total needed to achieve universal education.

There is also more work to be done to ensure children not only go to school, but they learn while in the classroom. Students in some countries graduate primary school unable to read simple text nor perform basic arithmetic. Harvard University research Lant Pritchett has tracked the problem for years and even wrote a book on the problem.

“Schooling, however, is not the same as education,” Pritchett says. “Few of these billion students will receive an education that adequately equips them for their future. The poor quality of education worldwide constitutes a learning crisis.”

One major problem is the priority placed on getting children into the classroom. The Millennium Development Goals, a set of global goals aimed at reducing problems associated with poverty, only called for increases in enrollment. The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals address the problem by including targets aimed at addressing problems like teacher quality and increased access to vocational training. They also emphasize the importance of girls’ education, namely calling for the elimination of gender disparities in education by 2030.

There is still a lot at stake when it comes to global education. It is hard to overstate the power of education in reducing poverty and inequity. Education can do many things beyond basic learning. For example, it helps lower youth unemployment and it can reduce discrimination against indigenous children.

Education alone cannot solve all of the world’s problems, but it is a crucial part to the wider solution.

“If we want to reduce armed conflict and stem irregular migration flows, equitable access to quality education is essential,” Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister and Chair of the Global Partnership for Education said in May.

“Quality education for all matters whether you are a business leader searching for talent, a security analyst fretting over the risk of conflict, a voter who worries about rising numbers of asylum seekers, or a feminist who admires Malala’s courage. I am convinced that people everywhere are able to embrace the education agenda.”


Many Global Washington members are working toward improving education for young people, especially girls and young women, around the world.

Ashesi University Foundation

Ashesi University Foundation mobilizes support for Ashesi University in Ghana. Ashesi’s mission is to educate a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa and cultivate within its students the critical thinking skills, concern for others and courage it will take to transform their continent. Founded in 2002 by Ghanaian Patrick Awuah, Ashesi offers majors in Computer Science, Business Administration, MIS, and Engineering, all grounded in a liberal arts core curriculum.  Ashesi plans to broaden its impact by growing to 1,000 students by 2020 and adding new programs, while maintaining their strong culture of ethics and critical thinking. Ashesi is seeking partners to continue to expand their impact in Africa.

Bo M. Karlsson Foundation

Founded in 2004, the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation (BMKF) awards higher education scholarships to underprivileged women in Nepal, empowering them to become confident, self-reliant, vital citizens in their communities and country. Over the past decade, BMKF has awarded scholarships to 45 young women who have gone on to pursue careers in accounting, business management, engineering, journalism, law, medicine, nursing, public health, rural development, social work and teaching — futures that were hopelessly out of reach before receiving scholarships to pursue their undergraduate degrees. As the majority of BMKF scholars come from remote villages, most of them are the first in their families to receive any education. Several scholars have a physical disability, belong to marginalized castes or ethnic groups, or have experienced harrowing civil war and human trafficking situations. All share a passion for education. BMKF is committed to helping them succeed.

Kobi Academy

Kobi Academy’s mission is to provide exceptional education that empowers children in Ethiopia to be creative, achievement oriented, compassionate citizens committed to life-long learning and community stewardship.

Mission Africa

Mission Africa believes that education is the key to ending generational poverty and that investment in education can have a profound impact on communities. Many African countries do not offer free education and Mission Africa is dedicated to ensuring that all children regardless of their income level have access to quality education. In the past ten years, Mission Africa’s academic scholarship program has awarded 795 scholarships and has allowed more than 300 students in rural villages in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Togo, Rwanda and Uganda to graduate high school and continue on to college or vocational training. Mission Africa has also shipped 10 40-foot containers filled with books and school supplies to children and families in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.

Mona Foundation

Since its founding in 1999, Mona Foundation has had a simple but compelling goal — to support grassroots educational initiatives that build stronger and sustainable communities by raising the status of women and girls. Mona achieves this by partnering with local organizations and investing in the education of children and youth and women. Mona selects initiatives that are initiated and implemented by the local community and have a proven record of success. A long-term partnership enables sustained social and economic development activities, which often leads to an increase in reach, greater efficacy of programs, and an expanded ability to address complex problems. Mona partners with organizations that work to reduce the barriers to education, improve quality of learning and cultivate agency among girls and boys. Programs use an integrated approach to develop academic skills, and creative and moral capabilities of their participants and transform individuals to become agents of change in service to their families and communities.  As a result, young people gain competency, agency, integrity and a commitment to building socially just communities. Mona Foundation has awarded more than $10 million in support to 35 initiatives in 18 countries, providing access to quality education and training for more than 246,000 students, teachers and parents annually. For 2016 Mona supported partner organizations in the U.S., Haiti, Panama, Brazil, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, and India.


NPH USA supports Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Spanish for “Our Little Brothers and Sisters”) which is raising more than 3,400 orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged boys and girls in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. NPH believes that a quality education is the key to a better life. Many children arrive at NPH with little or no formal schooling. Each child is given a strong foundation of basic academic and interpersonal skills and provided with an extensive variety of educational opportunities. Nearly all of NPH homes feature on-site schools from Montessori preschool through middle or high school, as well as vocational trade certification courses. In 2015, NPH supported 369 students in university – the most in the organization’s history. Children grow up to become accountants, carpenters, doctors, farmers, mechanic, nurses, teachers and community leaders. An additional 2,100 children who live in low income areas outside the homes receive scholarships to attend NPH schools. Click here to see stories of nine children who are learning in different ways at NPH.

Rwanda Girls Initiative

Rwanda Girls Initiative’s mission is to educate and empower girls in Rwanda to reach their highest potential. The organization’s vision is for students to graduate as inspired young leaders, filled with confidence, a love of learning and a sense of economic empowerment to strengthen their communities and foster Rwanda’s growth. The Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology (GGAST) is an innovative and socio-economically diverse model upper-secondary STEM school designed to provide a “whole girl” education. GGAST provides a rigorous college prep academic program, combined with leadership training and extra-curricular activities that fills girls with confidence so they can pursue their dreams of university education and impactful vocations. Since opening GGAST’s doors in January 2011, Rwanda Girls Initiative has educated 270 girls each year with a 93 percent matriculation rate to universities in 16 countries, including 153 in the U.S. and Canada with over $30 million in scholarships.  Educate a girl. Inspire a community. Transform a nation.

Sahar Education International

Sahar provides access to education in Afghanistan and supports an educated future for Afghan girls, enabling them to actively participate in social, political and economic arenas in their communities. Sahar builds schools, computer centers and teacher training programs utilizing local labor and community support. Since 2009, Sahar has invested over $2 million in building, repairing and supplying schools in Afghanistan, a country in which 45 percent of schools operate without adequate buildings. Sahar operates 13 schools, 9 rural and 4 urban, and 87 classrooms have been built or renovated. Sahar impacts 20,000 girls annually and serves girls from Uzbek, Tajik, Pashto and Hazar ethnic groups. In total, Sahar’s programs have impacted more than 200,000 girls.

Schools for Salone

Schools for Salone partners with local villages in Sierra Leone, West Africa, to rebuild the schools devastated in the ten-year civil war that ended in 2002. The organization has built 16 schools and two libraries since 2005.

SE Asia Foundation  

SE Asia Foundation emphasizes education for girls, provides hands-on coaching for sustainability, and complies with the Istanbul Principles, ensuring religious inclusion. In Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand, the Foundation supports girls’ education from preschool to university.

The Rose International Fund for Children

The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC) is transforming education for blind students in Nepal. Being a blind or visually-impaired student in a developing country is an incredible challenge. There are no areas of these student’s educational and personal needs that are properly covered with the limited funding provided by the Nepal government. Add to that the societal stigma attached to having a disability, where one is considered to be cursed or suffering from a past-life sin and the result is a neglected, marginalized group with a devastating loss of human potential. TRIFC is working to solve this problem through an innovative, holistic program which addresses all areas of need and provides students with the necessary tools to be successful in school and in life. TRIFC is working to enhance personal and educational support in the areas of health, hygiene, nutrition, school tools for the blind, daily-living skills and more.

West African Vocational Schools

West African Vocational Schools’ (WAVS) mission is to create hope and opportunity in West African communities by working hand-in-hand with indigenous leaders to establish vocational training centers and economic development programs, while sharing the Gospel message.

World Bicycle Relief  

In rural developing countries, the biggest barrier to education is often the physical act of getting to school. Tasked with many more domestic chores than boys, girls fall behind because of the cultural obstacles they face. In many of the areas where World Bicycle Relief works, it is common for girls to arrive at school late and tired if they arrive at all. By providing bicycles to children, especially girls, they empower girls with knowledge and ultimately, change the course of their lives. Keeping girls in school has been shown to have a multiplier effect that can help break the cycle of poverty.