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Josephine Bourne is the Associate Director of UNICEF. She sat down for an interview with the Inter Press Service to give her thoughts on the upcoming meetings to be held in Washington D.C. on the Global Education First Initiative.

The meetings will bring together Ministers in Finance from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. The topic of conversation will focus on sustainable solutions between the private sector and civil society organizations. The meetings will center around the importance of education on the global economy.

Bourne believes that the initiative will provide an increased pressure for political commitment in the field of education.  She stated that UNICEF would like to continue to work towards ensuring education for the most vulnerable children, particularly girls, with disabilities as well as children living in conflict territories.

When Bourne was asked if there was one thing in particular that greatly diminished a child’s opportunity to obtain an education, she bluntly stated that being born into poverty as a girl in a rural area is a huge disadvantage. The longer a girl is able to attend school, the fewer children she will have – an incredibly important factor in poverty reduction.

Around the world, girls who have seven years of education have 2.2 fewer children than those that do not. When those girls have children, those children will be healthier and better educated, helping to lower the poverty percentage in their given communities. Bourne believes that this environment leads to economic growth, more female leaders, and more sustainable development.

In the interview, Bourne was also asked about gender equality and education. She said that girls from disadvantaged groups are often times the most marginalized because of the special risks that could take them out of school. She believes that there is serious inequity in schools around the world.

Women’s education and empowerment has been a popular theme in the media lately with the recent release of the documentary “Girl Rising”. While this is a very positive thing, Bourne was quick to note, however, that the increased media attention to gender and education inequality, as well as the empowerment that come with it are not enough to bring about social change. In her opinion, in order to create lasting change, we need complete commitment of all duty bearers; from organizations such as UNICEF and the UN, to parents and communities; to be involved in the promotion of the human right of education for all children around the world.

– Caitlin Zusy

Source: Inter Press Service
Photo: UNESCO

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BRAC assists “138 million of the poorest people in nine countries in Asia and Africa,” yet few people have ever heard of the global anti-poverty organization. BRAC began as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee but has expanded to multiple countries.  Though BRAC is no longer an acronym, it has become a synonym for progress.

The organization works to alleviate poverty through empowerment. It is the largest global anti-poverty organization. BRAC provides opportunities for self-improvement, such as self-employment and financial aid. Its economic programs created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities, and BRAC has issued over $5 billion in micro-loans.

Education is key to mitigating poverty in future generations. The organization created over 66,000 schools to meet the needs of primary and pre-primary children. To date, the schools have graduated over 6.1 million students.

Furthermore, the organization itself employs over 125,000 people in Asia and Africa. Many of the employees are first time job holders, and BRAC teaches them necessary skills.  “As a job-creator and employer of scale and diversity, we teach people the basics of customer service, and how to be productive employees,” said Susan Davis, President and CEO, BRAC USA.

BRAC engages diasporas for economic and social development. The organization realizes the value of local people.  Instead of Americans instructing people on how to improve their communities, the organization starts by training people from the country in need.  After successfully completing the program, trainers return home with new skill sets.  These individuals communicate their success stories and encourage others to strive for better lives.

One of BRAC’s unique strengths involves creating new markets.  The organization trains 100,000 health and other promoters to achieve self-employment.  Promoters work with “legal services (property rights), poultry and livestock services, and energy services.”  The jobs vary based on the specific needs of the communities.  Each position interacts with people to teach vital subjects, such as agriculture, family planning, and disease prevention.

The organization “has remained relatively unknown in the West…because it developed on the local level in the poorest, most remote communities of Bangladesh.”  It originated in communities and developed gradually.  Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC “when he was overwhelmed by the sight of death and extreme poverty among refugees returning to Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.” He fled the corporate life and employed all of his resources to launch BRAC.  Today, his vision has improved the lives of millions of people.  Talk about a visionary.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: Fast Company