When I was a kid, I got it. I could see that extreme poverty was inhumane and intolerable. It seemed clear that, before any more spelling lessons or trips to the toy store took place, the homeless people in our town should be taken care of, immediately.
When I’d say that, the people around me – men and women, kids and grown ups — would, in one form or another, pat me on the head and said, “little lady, that’s just not how the world is. There always has been and always will be poverty, dear. We can’t help everyone, dear.”
I wonder how many of us were told in some form, “those are very nice aspirations for the world, but that’s just not realistic.” How many of us squashed or buried or shrunk our vision for change early in life? In order to fit in, be taken seriously, considered “smart”?
What would have been different, if at that moment someone had said to you, “How the world is is indeed insane, and our progress will depend on people like you seeing that and doing something about it.”
I’m here to say: go back. Go back to your early desire to be a force of healing in the world. You are old enough now to trust that the cynics are no greater authority than you are on the way of the world. As a savvy and wise adult, reclaim your childhood desire to make change. Mix it up with your education and your hot vocabulary and your know how and then take action to make a difference.
The Girl Effect
Today is a very exciting day. It’s the launch of an effort I’ve been working on for the past several weeks – a project that involves more than 30 remarkable bloggers and that by the end of the week will involve many more.
Several weeks ago, I watched this short video and learned about an idea called The Girl Effect. I was so captivated, uplifted, and pained by the video that I watched it again and again. I knew I needed to write about it. And then I knew I wanted to help spread the video’s message by inviting others to write about it with me.
Because my new rule is “follow your enthusiasm” (much better than my old rule of “kill your enthusiasm with perfectionism and fear”), I did just that. And amazing writers, thinkers, creators jumped in.
Today, I want to share with you what’s inspiring me.
The Girl Effect is a powerful idea: by investing in girls in the developing world, we make an incredibly powerful investment in ending poverty and domestic violence, and slowing the spread of AIDS. The Girl Effect movie, created by a coalition of nonprofit partners, highlights devastating problems – sexual slavery, physical abuse, hunger, sexually transmitted disease, dire poverty.
But the Girl Effect is fundamentally about solutions. It turns out that the solutions to the complex web of problems mentioned above are relatively simple: 1) investing in girls’ education and 2) investing in loans and training that allow women to start small businesses.
Here’s why: Without an education, girls marry early or are sold into sexual slavery – leading to death from childbirth, incessant violence, or infection from AIDS. It takes a small investment – in many countries just $40 or $50 a year, to keep a girl in school. Girls who stay in school marry later, have fewer children, are less likely to be abused by their husbands, and earn a higher income.
That’s where the ripple effects begin: women in the developing world reinvest 90% of their earnings in their families, while men reinvest only 30%-40%. When women are given the opportunity for education and therefore for earning a living, they lift their entire families out of poverty. Often, as their businesses grow, they lift their entire community out of poverty too.
Why am I writing about this? I’m not an international development expert, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even a seasoned activist. But the Girl Effect cause has deeply inspired me over the past months. It’s inspired me because I want to reduce human suffering, because I want all people to have opportunity and freedom, and because this is a strategy that works.
Over the past months, I’ve done three things that have been tremendously meaningful to me: I’ve learned more by reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s remarkable book Half the Sky. I’ve been spreading the message through this project. Last but not least, my husband and I are giving funds to support small business loans for women and to support education for all in the developing world.
We live in a strange moment, you and I. The gap between the haves and have-nots has never been greater. And yet those of us with resources have never had easier access to changing lives around the world. We’ve never before had the technology to, with a few keystrokes, change a life through a small donation. We’ve never before had the opportunity to so easily join a movement that very well could make widespread poverty and the oppression of women a past chapter in human history.
And whether or not we get there, along the way, we can change the lives of many, many girls, who in turn will change many families and communities. If Anita, my hero, can’t convince you that changing one life is worthwhile, I can’t image who can. I leave you with her.
To read the other Girl Effect posts and add your own, click here.