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Setting a course for our future, investing in girls education

By Michele Sullivan, Caterpillar's director of Corporate Social Innovation and Caterpillar Foundation president & Atul Tandon, Chief Executive Officer, Opportunity International

For more than 20 years, Opportunity International and the Caterpillar Foundation have partnered to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We have worked together to empower entrepreneurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa with loans, savings, and financial training. We have expanded our outreach in Asia, equipped farmers with targeted financial services, and invested in financial literacy. And throughout our partnership—through years of innovation, discovery, pilot programs, and new initiatives—we have learned how to be more effective change agents and leaders in the fight against global poverty.

Today, on International Day of the Girl Child, we celebrate one of our greatest lessons learned: the power of investing in girls’ education. 

So often, women and girls are barred from the tools and resources they need to thrive. They are kept apart from the very systems that will allow them to ignite lasting, generational change. This problem of exclusion is seen so clearly in education, where 130 million girls around the world are not in school. According to UNESCO and the World Bank, half of the children who are out of school live in sub-Saharan Africa.

We know the power of education—research shows us that it is the single most powerful weapon we have in the fight against poverty. Each year of school a girl completes will add to her life expectancy and increase her wages by up to 20 percent. Families with an educated head of household will be less likely to live in poverty than those with an illiterate head of household. If all girls had a secondary school education, there would be two-thirds fewer child marriages and half as many teenage pregnancies. As they grow, educated girls become educated mothers, leading to half as many child deaths; universal declines in gender wage gaps; greatly reduced maternal mortality, childhood mortality, and childhood stunting. The child of an educated mother is 50 percent more likely to live past age five and is much more likely to receive a good education herself.

On a national level, when just 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s Gross Domestic Product increases by an incredible average of 3 percent.

Educating girls matters—that is clearer now than it has ever been.

Now, we are faced with the exciting prospect of how to move forward in light of this data. 

Opportunity and Caterpillar are committed to ideating, innovating, and investing in girls’ education around the world. 

Caterpillar’s Together. Stronger. platform works to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring every girl has access to a safe, quality education. It recognizes that no one organization, group, or person can alleviate extreme poverty alone—it will take all of us, working together.

Meanwhile, Opportunity’s work in EduFinance provides tools and training to improve access to quality education around the world. Together, we have helped more than 2 million children in 14 countries go to quality schools—and we are just getting started.

Together, we are tackling some of the biggest barriers to girls’ education by investing in high-quality local schools so that girls don’t have to travel unsafe distances; equipping school proprietors to build gender-separate bathrooms so that girls can stay in school, even as they reach puberty; and creating opportunities for parents to build sustainable livelihoods so they can afford to send all of their children to school, not just some of them.

By investing in girls’ education, we are investing in a generation of women who will become world-changers. We are fighting exclusion by fostering connection: to education, the formal economy, much-needed tools and training, and financial services. In doing so, we are connecting women to the world around them, helping them to build futures full of possibilities.

It is our honor to do this work—to come alongside teachers, students, parents, and girls, in particular, to improve educational inclusion.

Today, on International Day of the Girl Child, we are celebrating the progress we have made, and looking ahead to the many challenges we still have yet to tackle. We are setting a course for our future, investing in education and working alongside one another to be Together. Stronger. 

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