Safeena Husain
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The world today has many problems. And they're all very complicated and interconnected and difficult. But there is something we can do. I believe that girls' education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet to help solve some of the world's most difficult problems. But you don't have to take my word for it.

The World Bank says that girls' education is one of the best investments that a country can make. It helps to positively impact nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Everything from health, nutrition, employment — all of these are positively impacted when girls are educated. Additionally, climate scientists have recently rated girls' education at number six out of 80 actions to reverse global warming. At number six, it's rated higher than solar panels and electric cars.

And that's because when girls are educated, they have smaller families, and the resulting reduction in population reduces carbon emissions significantly. But more than that, you know, it's a problem we have to solve once. Because an educated mother is more than twice as likely to educate her children. Which means that by doing it once, we can close the gender and literacy gap forever.

I work in India, which has made incredible progress in bringing elementary education for all. However, we still have four million out-of-school girls, one of the highest in the world. And girls are out of school because of, obviously poverty, social, cultural factors. But there's also this underlying factor of mindset. I have met a girl whose name was Naraaz Nath. Naaraaz means angry. And when I asked her, "Why is your name 'angry'?" she said, "Because everybody was so angry when a girl was born." Another girl called Antim Bala, which means the last girl. Because everybody hoped that would be the last girl to be born. A girl called Aachuki. It means somebody who has arrived. Not wanted, but arrived. And it is this mindset that keeps girls from school or completing their education. It's this belief that a goat is an asset and a girl is a liability.

My organization Educate Girls works to change this. And we work in some of the most difficult, rural, remote and tribal villages. And how do we do it? We first and foremost find young, passionate, educated youth from the same villages. Both men and women. And we call them Team Balika, balika just means the girl child, so this is a team that we are creating for the girl child. And so once we recruit our community volunteers, we train them, we mentor them, we hand-hold them. That's when our work starts. And the first piece we do is about identifying every single girl who's not going to school.

But the way we do it is a little different and high-tech, at least in my view. Each of our frontline staff have a smartphone. It has its own Educate Girls app. And this app has everything that our team needs. It has digital maps of where they're going to be conducting the survey, it has the survey in it, all the questions, little guides on how best to conduct the survey, so that the data that comes to us is in real time and is of good quality. So armed with this, our teams and our volunteers go door-to-door to every single household to find every single girl who may either we never enrolled or dropped out of school.

And because we have this data and technology piece, very quickly we can figure out who the girls are and where they are. Because each of our villages are geotagged, and we can actually build that information out very, very quickly. And so once we know where the girls are, we actually start the process of bringing them back into school. And that actually is just our community mobilization process, it starts with village meetings, neighborhood meetings, and as you see, individual counseling of parents and families, to be able to bring the girls back into school. And this can take anything from a few weeks to a few months.

And once we bring the girls into the school system, we also work with the schools to make sure that schools have all the basic infrastructure so that the girls will be able to stay. And this would include a separate toilet for girls, drinking water, things that will help them to be retained. But all of this would be useless if our children weren't learning. So we actually run a learning program. And this is a supplementary learning program, and it's very, very important, because most of our children are first-generation learners. That means there's nobody at home to help them with homework, there's nobody who can support their education. Their parents can't read and write. So it's really, really key that we do the support of the learning in the classrooms.

So this is essentially our model, in terms of finding, bringing the girls in, making sure that they're staying and learning. And we know that our model works. And we know this because a most recent randomized control evaluation confirms its efficacy. Our evaluator found that over a three-year period Educate Girls was able to bring back 92 percent of all out-of-school girls back into school.


And in terms of learning, our children's learning went up significantly as compared to control schools. So much so, that it was like an additional year of schooling for the average student. And that's enormous, when you think about a tribal child who's entering the school system for the first time.

So here we have a model that works; we know it's scalable, because we are already functioning at 13,000 villages. We know it's smart, because of the use of data and technology. We know that it's sustainable and systemic, because we work in partnership with the community, it's actually led by the community. And we work in partnership with the government, so there's no creation of a parallel delivery system. And so because we have this innovative partnership with the community, the government, this smart model, we have this big, audacious dream today. And that is to solve a full 40 percent of the problem of out-of-school girls in India in the next five years.


And you're thinking, that's a little ... You know, how am I even thinking about doing that, because India is not a small place, it's a huge country. It's a country of over a billion people. We have 650,000 villages. How is it that I'm standing here, saying that one small organization is going to solve a full 40 percent of the problem? And that's because we have a key insight. And that is, because of our entire approach, with data and with technology, that five percent of villages in India have 40 percent of the out-of-school girls. And this is a big, big piece of the puzzle. Which means, I don't have to work across the entire country. I have to work in those five percent of the villages, about 35,000 villages, to actually be able to solve a large piece of the problem. And that's really key, because these villages not only have high burden of out-of-school girls, but also a lot of related indicators, right, like malnutrition, stunting, poverty, infant mortality, child marriage. So by working and focusing here, you can actually create a large multiplier effect across all of these indicators. And it would mean that we would be able to bring back 1.6 million girls back into school.


I have to say, I have been doing this for over a decade, and I have never met a girl who said to me, you know, "I want to stay at home," "I want to graze the cattle," "I want to look after the siblings," "I want to be a child bride." Every single girl I meet wants to go to school. And that's what we really want to do. We want to be able to fulfill those 1.6 million dreams.

And it doesn't take much. To find and enroll a girl with our model is about 20 dollars. To make sure that she is learning and providing a learning program, it's another 40 dollars. But today is the time to do it. Because she is truly the biggest asset we have. I am Safeena Husain, and I educate girls.

Thank you.