#LetGirlsLearn: the role of the World Bank and the NGOs

Silvia Fontana | 3th May 2016

The presentation at the World Bank (WB) of the initiative Let Girls Learn (LGL) by Michelle Obama and the announcement made by the WB about its investment of at least 2.5 billion dollars in young girls’ education have caused a stir, especially among those who are not specialized in this issue. Reading the comments on Marco Crescenzi’s post in the online newspaper Fatto Quotidiano, we notice that many people want to know the reason why the WB does not focus on everyone’s education, independently from the gender, but only on young girls’ one.

It is worth pointing out that the WB is already implementing such education and the campaign represents an addition to the existing educational programmes. The LGL campaign and the great investment of the WB on girls’ education represent an important breakthrough to a long-term sustainable development. I suggest you then some causes for reflection and lessons about the domino effect that teenagers’ education has in relation to economic and social development in a community. I suggest them in order to understand better the capability of the strategy adopted by the WB in the education area. This strategy aims at the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the numbers 4 and 5 of the Agenda 2030, stating: (4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all and (5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Launched by Michelle Obama about a year ago, the initiative #LetGirlsLearn is a catalyst of ideas and resources; this campaign has taken advantages of the USAID’s work in girls’ educational programmes. The encouraging results of USAID researches led Obama and its administration to consider these educational programmes in an integrated way. The initiative, indeed, aims at an effect on a large scale, including various American agencies, private sponsors and local government, in order to invest enormous resources in projects improving the access to education – especially in zones of conflict or post-conflict – and offer trainings and employment opportunities. At the presentation of Let Girls Learn during the spring meetings between WB and FMI, the president Jim Yong Kim has confirmed that the World Bank will invest at least 2.5 billion dollars, in the next 5 years, in educational programmes for young girls (12-17 years old).

The importance of such commitment lies in the present conditions of million girls. Nowadays about 30 million young girls do not attend school; while those who do attend school have to fight every day to keep doing it, due to social and economic obstacles. Some examples: the families are too poor to pay the educational fees, girls in danger of sexual violence on their way to school or getting pregnant very soon, girls who are obliged to become child brides, in too many countries.

In this scenario, LGL and the WB investment represent fundamental breakthroughs in guaranteeing education and improving life conditions of young girls and their communities. I strongly believe that medium-long period in educational programmes for young girls contributes to the improvement of the society as a whole; I suggest you here some causes of reflections.

Education as a long-period strategical investment for the community.

  • Education is one the most efficient means to improve women and young girls’ condition: educated girls tend to be healthier and more active in their family and as member of the community (e.g. think about health education or the basic feeding practices for the prevention of malnutrition). To support it, according to USAID’s researches, you should think of the fact that every year spent in the high education system allows girls to increase their future incomes of 10%. In India, no educated women are more susceptible to violence if compared to the educated ones; the risk of being child brides decreases if young girls attend a high school; and the rate of infant mortality decreases of 5-10% for every years of instruction.
  • Invest on education and feminine leadership is not only a fair thing but it is a reasonable investment in relation to expected result (cf. business-oriented decision). Results on the field show that investing on women and young girls has an important effect on the community as a whole. Effect due to the role woman has in the community and the family, as first responsible for the education and nutrition of her children, future member of the community. Young girls’ education and their integration into the working world could improve the system as a whole: these young girls will become women contributing positively to the familiar and communitarian dynamics (economic and social multiplier effect).

WB projects for young girls consist of educational elements (e.g. instruction and education), are characterized by an integrated approach and by activities aiming at the improvement of the access to high education system for young girls (e.g. scholarships, campaign against gender violence and forced marriages).

WB is essentially aiming at guaranteeing quality education, certain and continuing access to educational services and the conclusion of the studies of young girls, in order to train young women with the required skills to get a job and, in the final analysis, to let them choose the life they want to live.

The absence of a proper education, together with the limited access to educational and medical services, represent a very strong restriction to the development, not only for teenagers but for the community too. The WB approach seems to be a coherent answer to underlined systematic lacks and contributes to the basis of a sustainable communitarian development.

In operational terms, the coordination and monitoring of every activities and phases of such approach certainly represent elements of complexity and a management challenge for the WB.

Finally, a topic very close to my heart is the cooperation with local non-governmental stakeholders. From a first analysis on the modalities of implementation of Education Strategy (see Education Strategy 2020: Learning for All) of WB, the cooperation with local stakeholders and civil society turns out to be one of the useful mechanism for a long-period effect on education project. I want to highlight anyway the absolute need to focus on this direction. I think that the involvement of local stakeholders is essential for the efficacy of such education project, due to the success of the Strategy 2020 of WB and the capacity building at the level of the society as a whole. I hope the World Back implements, with the local governments, education projects in a more active cooperation with local organizations and members of the civil society, stakeholders that already are on the territory and can contribute in an effective way to the projects design and their implementation in different context.

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