By Crossland Staff Writer

Why Investing in Girls Promotes Community and International Development: Thoughts From the 2013 WEF

Higher Education

... the evidence is clear that providing girls with access to education (especially beyond the fifth grade), financial literacy, and jobs are among the most effective forms of community and international development.

Why is it so important to educate girls?

Five years ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos initiated a series of research projects, discussion groups, and output measurements on what has been labeled “the girl effect.” Those conversations continue and the news is all good.

In a nutshell, the evidence is clear that providing girls with access to education (especially beyond the fifth grade), financial literacy, and jobs are among the most effective forms of community and international development. Girls with these skills ultimately become employed women, and most of them also become mothers. These women will earn 25 percent more for every year of education beyond middle school, an incremental 25 percent more for financial literacy classes taken, and they will invest over 90 percent of their lifetime earnings back into caring for their families (both children and elders).

These data contrast with the male family reinvestment rate worldwide, which averages less than 75 percent—in many societies it is less than 60 percent. So, while males benefit from the same foundational elements of education, financial literacy, and employment opportunities, they are more likely to spend the gains on themselves and not provide the same community benefits as women.

In addition, financially literate women have a much higher rate of debt repayment (over 90 percent, according to large NGOs and micro-financiers at the WEF). Most important of all, educated and financially savvy mothers raise fewer children than their less educated counterparts, and spend more time and money on each of them. Ultimately, they raise sons who think differently and more positively about women—and THAT also changes the world.

Girls and women face numerous challenges across the planet …

I had the pleasure of attending several sessions at the WEF this past week which focused on “the girl effect.” As the evidence mounts, the WHO, UN, USAID, large foundations, and global NGOs are investing in the concept, and reporting meaningful results. In addition, social media and other forms of communication are opening doors for girls worldwide.

I listened to a teenaged girl from Pakistan talk about completing US college-level courses online and passing the tests, while her twin brother did not fare as well! In fact, when she encountered difficulty due to the Pakistani government’s internet censorship policies, a college professor in India helped her get access to complete her studies.

In the developed world, more than 50 percent of university graduates at both the graduate and undergraduate level are women. Even for those who do not remain full time in the workforce over their lifetimes, the impact on their children and families is clearly favorable in terms of education levels, lifetime family income, and the messaging around gender equality.

I attended a seminar presented by girls from countries where females are banned from higher education. These girls have used MOOCs (massive open online courses) to continue their learning. There was a workshop on decision making led by top academics who showed conclusive research that diversity (e.g., gender, race, socioeconomic background) of teams working on business problems clearly result in better decisions—decisions that lead to, among other things, better financial returns.

I met with the CEO of a European firm employing 100,000 professionals worldwide who bemoaned his firm’s inability to attract, promote, and retain senior women. He was frustrated by numerous attempts “to get it done,” and was initiating quotas and tying bonus payments to gender diversity and promotion rate goals.

This CEO was at the decision-making workshop with me, and left frustrated with his colleagues, brainstorming ways of providing them with the data they need to open their minds. This CEO believes that the absence of senior women in his firm is a competitive DISADVANTAGE, especially given the nature of his business, where women are 80 percent of the customer base.

… but there’s hope in the collective effort to invest in girls

All of this is food for thought. For a woman whose grandmother did not have the right to vote in the US for much of her adult life and whose mother (equipped with undergraduate and master’s degrees from top US universities, all but the dissertation completed for a PhD, and seven years of employment) was forced to quit her job as the principal of an elite private school when she became pregnant, I am glad to learn that the collective efforts of generations of women are helping those who can change the world the most . . . it sure needs ALL of our help.

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