As First Lady Michelle Obama makes her way through Margibi County, Liberia and Marrakech, Morocco, we see the progress that girls’ education has made as a global priority. Indeed, over the past few years, prominent leaders like Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau of Canada and former prime minister of Australia and Brookings distinguished fellow, Julia Gillard, have joined Mrs. Obama in championing and committing their efforts to girls’ education. Yet amidst this high profile attention, it’s important to remember that local leaders have been working tirelessly to advance girls’ education, in some of the most challenging conditions, far before it was ever visible to the rest of the world (a lesson the first lady herself reminded us in 2014.
Since 2012, the Echidna Global Scholars, fellows hosted by the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings, have shown us how everyday local leaders advocate for policy change, conduct rigorous research, and implement programs that change the landscape of girls’ education on grassroots, national, and regional levels. Adefunke Ekine has designed and conducted gender sensitivity training for science teachers in the Ogun State of Nigeria, which has contributed to a 33 percent increase in girls’ enrollment in science classes after just one year. Nima Tshering has created a girls’ education champions coalition in Bhutan. And Musammat Badrunnesha, founder and chairperson of Empowerment and Human Development Society, has started implementing a program to improve quality education for girls in madrasas in Sylhet, Bangladesh.
The Echidna Global Scholars Program connected these leaders to the global girls’ education movement and allowed them to build capacity and confront challenges as better equipped leaders. However, most leaders are often unconnected from one another and lack the community of practice that can help them share insights and learnings. What would the girls’ education community look like if all leaders were as connected as the Echidna scholars?
As the first lady’s Let Girls Learn initiative enters its second year, it’s clear that global support for local leaders will be vital to ensuring the initiative is sustained at the grassroots level. And this is an important lesson to be gleaned from other projects.
In May, at the Power Shift Forum, we participated in a session with Girl Scouts and Peace Corps to discuss ground-level approaches to developing and supporting local leaders. Through that discussion, we learned that a community of practice for those working in girls’ education locally can help to create maximum shift in the shortest amount of time. At the United State of Women White House Summit earlier this month, Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of CUE, shared findings from What Works in Girls’ Education and highlighted supporting local leadership as a key approach to tackling second generation girls’ education barriers. And recently, CUE nonresident fellows, Allison Anderson and Judith-Ann Walker, discussed the conclusion of the design process for a global network for local girls’ education leaders to be launched in the fall.
What’s more, we can use this momentum to start asking, “What do today’s local girls’ education leaders need?” Next week, at the Girls’ Education Forum 2016 (organized by the U.K. Department for International Development in partnership with Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE), we will be posing this question to leaders and policymakers in the global girls’ education community to deepen the dialogue and learn how to create greater impact together.
And as we follow stories from First Lady Obama’s visit, we think about Harris Tarnue, the principal of Liberia’s oldest vocational high school, whose students greeted the first lady this week. We wonder what leaders like him can share with and learn from others around the world. Imagine the possibilities and amplified impact of these individuals when they are connected by a global network!