No-Brainer Solution to Ending Global Poverty: Educating Girls

Photo by Maria Amasenti

“The best escalator out of poverty is education, whether in Boston or Bangladesh,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told an auditorium full of students and social entrepreneurs at Education:Empowering Girls One Book at a Time at Northeastern University Wednesday evening.

The event featured Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and co-author of their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The inspiration for the book came following their time as Timescorrespondents in China where they learned of the nation’s female infanticide and gender based abortions and with the harsh realization that oppression against women and girls was in fact a global epidemic. WuDunn says there are between 60 and 100 million missing females in the world today. Women and girls who are educated tend to marry later in life, have fewer children, learn how to better care for those children and are more likely to reinvest in their own family.

They were joined by ex-Microsoft exec., John Wood, now Founder and Board Co-Chair of Room to Read, and author of Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy.

“It’s the biggest no-brainer solution,” said Wood. “It frustrates the hell out of me that more isn’t being done about it.” In fact, educating women and girls is the fastest and most effective way to fight global poverty, yet the movement is an incredibly slow one.

The group challenged the School of Social Enterprise students to take action, or “get stuff done,” as Wood likes to say. “As children we use action figures, not talking figures,” Wood adds. And it’s all about action. Along with educating girls, other topics of discussion included economic empowerment, gender-based violence, and maternal healthcare. Their collective advice to these current and future social entrepreneurs:

  • Don’t be afraid to sell: Use some of your business savvy to galvanize a social change movement.
  • Evidence and evaluation is hugely important: Collect data, measure impact.
  • Support local change-makers; use a community-based model. (“We want a hand-off, not a hand-out,” said Wood.)
  • Be transparent: From program management to business practices and finance, show it all.
  • Travel: Step out of your comfort zone and see the need and the impact for yourself – it will inspire you!

As the old Chinese proverb says, “Women hold up half the sky,” and as great as the injustices against women around the world, even greater is their potential to end global poverty with our support. You cannot stop progress. It will happen, but how long it takes is up to us.