How a U.S.-based NGO is having an impact on the world Girls Education Collaborative
Students from Kitenga secondary school

Photo: Alexander Helmer

It’s written in our name.

At Girls Education Collaborative, we believe that “collaborative” action to support educating girls is a mighty way to build a just and sustainable world. All the way back to our inception in 2011, we’ve intentionally taken a multi-disciplinary approach in our work, adhering to the mindset behind the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Why? Because educating girls can actually help avert irreversible negative consequences for earth and her inhabitants. Though that may sound hyperbolic, it is entirely accurate.

For those who are not fully familiar with this framework, the Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 interconnected objectives agreed upon by all UN member states in 2015 to create a world in which no one, globally, was left behind by 2030. The SDGs cover everything from ending poverty to fighting climate change, promoting gender equality to building sustainable cities.

The SDGs aren’t just a lofty idea or a pipedream. They were designed to be concrete, achievable goals that can be achieved with collective action from individuals, businesses, and governments.The UN Secretary General called on “all sectors of society… generate an unstoppable movement pushing for the required transformations.”

But while the SDGs were unanimously adopted by the UN in 2015 and enjoyed a great reception in their first few years, they have since faced imposing roadblocks — from skeptical climate deniers, to authoritarian leaders, to a global pandemic. Concerned scientists have urged global governments and citizenry to push harder to meet the 2030 deadline. Thus 2021 marked the beginning of what has been dubbed the “Decade of Action,” a call to rapidly accelerate progress on the SDGs. 

With only a few years left, we — all of us — need to act now to create a sustainable future for subsequent generations. It’s a decade of urgency, ambition, and transformative action, which requires the collective effort of all stakeholders, including governments, civil society, the private sector, and individuals.

By bringing social change through the power of girls’ education, GEC’s mission is just that: urgent, ambitious, and transformative.

The SDG Effect of Educating Girls

For more than 10 years, GEC has supported game-changing societal transformation led by local change-makers in a rural Tanzanian community. Our work in the far northwest corner of the country with the Kitenga Girls Secondary School has not only had impact regionally, but is also an example in microcosm of the ripple effect that a decade of action locally can have globally.

The 200 girls currently enrolled and thriving in one of the most impoverished areas of Tanzania follow in the footsteps of three Kitenga graduating classes. Remarkably, in a region where a vast majority of girls don’t continue after lower secondary education, our efforts have resulted in an incredible 100% continuation rate.

By playing an instrumental role in providing access to quality education for girls — and awarding scholarships to those at risk of being forced into early marriage and/or FGM — GEC is directly contributing to SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), and SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being).

Those are not the only SDGs on which GEC is having a positive impact. By equipping girls to take control of their futures, GEC is also tackling SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). This is because educated girls are more likely to delay marriage and childbearing, which means they can focus on building their careers and contributing to society. Positive causal implications continue as educated girls are more likely to have educated children, who are more likely to grow up to be productive members of society, creating a better future for all Tanzanians — and East Africans, our world.

And a new funding model developed by GEC aids locally-led organizations in making transformative change, contributing to SDG 17, Partnerships.

Laser attention right now, rightfully so, is directed at environmental protection and climate change. GEC’s soon-to-debut green-classroom permaculture-farm program will introduce adolescent girls to the principles of regenerative agriculture — a strategy gaining more and more attention as a powerful counterforce to climate change. In addition, this pilot farm project will promote sustainable practices for the local community, reduce carbon emissions, grow healthy and nutritious food, and help in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change by taking carbon emissions out of the atmosphere (where they are harmful to the environment) and sequestering them in the ground (where they have beneficial effects on soil and plant life). This integration of girls’ secondary education and regenerative agricultural training will thus address SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). In total then, the mission of GEC helps move forward 9 of the 17 SDGs. Not bad.

Rethinking Standard Approaches

Girls Education Collaborative’s work is a powerful example of how a single, girl-centered partnership can make a profound difference across different strategic areas, proving that intersectionality is not just a buzzword but a powerful tool for change.

Simultaneously looking back at the last 10 years and ahead to the Decade of Action, GEC’s impact on the SDGs cannot be overstated. Through our commitment to quality education, gender equality, economic growth, environmental protection, and strong institutions, we are contributing to a global effort to making the world more equitable for all. As GEC enters its next 10 years, we too are planning our own decade of action. If we work together, we can create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive — and no girl is left behind.

Join the Movement

Together, we can show the world that there’s nothing a girl can’t do.