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Teach a Girl, Change the World

Terrence McCarthy

POVERTY REMEDY: Chickering, right, with EGG executive director Uzma Khaishgi, left, and board member Asha Jadeja, says educating girls transforms societies.

By Deborah Claymon

Grab your No. 2 pencil— this is a test. In the developing world, what investment yields the highest rate of return?

It’s not oil fields or real estate. The answer is schoolgirls.

Studies from the World Bank and other organizations have shown that girls’ education is not just a matter of gender equity; it’s an economic imperative. It not only increases national and individual income, but also promotes social reforms including literacy advancement, improved infant and child mortality rates, and overall family health. For example, in Africa, the child of a woman who has not been to school has a 20 percent chance of dying before age 5. The mortality risk drops 40 percent for the child whose mother has just five years of education.

A. Lawrence Chickering aims to get this issue to the top of the international blackboard. Three years ago, he founded Educate Girls Globally (EGG), a San Francisco-based advocacy group that promotes girls’ access to primary education worldwide. Other organizations, including UNICEF, have recently mounted similar efforts.

A self-described former “right-of-center” policy-maker, Chickering might seem an unlikely champion of women’s rights. His first real job was as William F. Buckley Jr.’s assistant at the National Review; he later served as general counsel and director of research for California’s Office of Economic Opportunity under Gov. Ronald Reagan. But he has always been interested in empowering the poor, and his work as a founder of the International Center for Economic Growth taught him the importance of investing in education and health in developing countries.

Chickering founded EGG in part because he believes he has the credibility to convince men and women across the political spectrum of the value of girls’ education. “The trouble with women’s empowerment organizations is that they have too many women in them,” he says.

EGG plans to support local organizations working to reform government schools. Its first partner, MAYA, based in Bangalore, India, has developed a process called Prajayatna, or “citizens’ initiative.” Like charter schools in the United States, MAYA enlists parents, teachers and other community members to get involved in educational policy-making. EGG’s first project will bring the MAYA approach to several hundred schools in northern India.

Still in its embryonic stage, EGG faces some challenges. Chickering had planned to start work in Pakistan, but post-September 11th instability has forced him to concentrate his efforts in India and South America. And some say that EGG’s main goal—bringing more girls into the classroom—is not sufficient. “It is also very important to raise the issue of what they are learning,” says Anne Firth Murray, founding president of the Global Fund for Women and a consulting professor in Stanford’s human biology program. “I’m interested in transformation regarding the status of women.”

Chickering remains undeterred. He is writing a book entitled The Feminine Century: How Educating Girls Changes the World. And he’s determined to become a powerful—if improbable—voice for girls around the globe.


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