$100 Million Women

Two years ago, The Economist (subscription required) argued that investing in girls' education made good economic sense, since "women are now the most powerful engine of global growth." Later that same year, the success of microlending to businesswomen gained international respect when Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for a program that lent small sums to Bangladeshi women. Now, the world's largest business bank and 16 business schools have come together to design programs and distribute $100 million to educate women around the globe, as reported in the AP's Goldman to Spend $100M Educating Women.

Called 10,000 Women, the project --Goldman's biggest charitable donation--is backed by American schools such as the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Harvard Business School and other schools that will work with local universities overseas to run the program.The initiative specifically plans to target women in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who might have little or no opportunity to pursue an education.

The theory is that educating women is, in effect, educating an entire society. Investing in women benefits multiple generations, because women pass on their skills to their children. Studies have shown that higher education levels for women increases a country's gross domestic product.Tom Robertson, Wharton's new dean, said the program can help to chip away at social stigmas about women entrepreneurs in some corners of the world.

"I think there's a lot of ignorance and lack of awareness in some cultures about women in business," explains Maha ElShinnawy, an associate professor at The American University in Cairo. "For instance, a woman trying to get funding is more likely to be met with demands for collateral than a man would be. We can show these women can pay back loans, and there's no reason to be skeptical."

What has education meant to women in your family and your culture? What kinds of ignorance could this type of program -- and this amount of investment -- erase in your world?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 12, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  You Go Girl!
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"What has education meant to women in your family and your culture?"


Posted by: chittybangbang | March 12, 2008 7:55 AM

What an incredible project. Giving women an education is the first step to freeing them from marginalization and systematic abuse.

Posted by: atb2 | March 12, 2008 8:33 AM

Ditto to "everything."

Posted by: leslie4 | March 12, 2008 8:35 AM

What chitty said. ;-)

Education, especially in the form of literacy and math skills, is the most important thing to pass to the next generation. You're less likely to be taken advantage of by creditors if you know what you are signing up for.

Posted by: tntkate | March 12, 2008 9:11 AM

I think this is fantastic!

"What has education meant to women in your family and your culture?"

It allowed my mother the menas to escape an abusive relationship (thus, ensuring her two daughters were removed from that dangerous situation).

My mom getting her education then inspired me to get an education, which has allowed me to do something I truly love, along with having financial independence.

From what I've seen (for myself and others), educating women can only lead to good things.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | March 12, 2008 9:14 AM

'menas' = means

Posted by: Corvette1975 | March 12, 2008 9:15 AM

Ditto Chitty.

My mom was focused on education from the get-go -- her own as well as mine. Got pregnant early on in college, got married, had to work full-time to support the family (because the "woman's" job was to support her man's education), and still managed to graduate college in 4 years. When my dad left, she took the risk of leaving a "safe" job teaching high school to go back for her Ph.D, even though it meant living on a small stipend and food stamps for a few years. Talk about setting an example for your kids! So like Flygirl said, I grew up just assuming I'd go to college, because that was the very clear expectation.

My mom and dad were the first generation to do that. My father's mother grew up on the farm, became a military wife (then widow) in WWII; neither she nor either of her husbands ever got a college degree. My mom's family was blue-collar: my grandmother went to college, but dropped out to marry my grandfather, a high-school grad who made refrigerators for 40+ years.

But both sets of grandparents wanted their kids to have the opportunity to do better than they did, and they pushed their kids to go to college. All of their kids and grandkids have college degrees (at a minimum). And all of us are living MUCH better lives than if we'd all stayed down on the farm -- more economic security, more fulfilling work lives, fewer teenage pregnancies, etc. etc. etc. (of course, some struggle more than others, but I think even the strugglers have more opportunity than the relatives I see down on the farm, who basically have nowhere to go and not a lot of opportunity to do anything). That focus on education translated into a set of values that has passed down two generations, and provided us all with the chance at a better life. And I am SO grateful that I live in a country that extended this opportunity to my mom as well as my dad, to me as well as my brothers.

Posted by: laura33 | March 12, 2008 9:22 AM

Chitty nailed it: "everything."

My mother knew from day 1 that education was her ticket out of the life in which she was raised. She busted a hump to graduate from East High in Denver with a 4.0 GPA; she got a full academic ride to the University of Colorado and graduated with her degree in Education then started working as a teacher. She married my father and followed him around the world (or went back to Denver with us when he went to Korea, Vietnam or places like that). She almost always worked before finally retiring a few years ago.

We heard our entire lives about the importance of an education - the opportunities it would bring and what life would be like without it. When my younger brother threatened to drop out of high school, Mom told him she'd quit work and personally accompany him to each and every class until he graduated. She meant it!

She's been impressing on her six grandchildren the importance of education since they were old enough to understand her.

Any gender, any race, any society, any culture: education means "everything."

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 12, 2008 9:38 AM

My mom grew up in the rural south. My grandmother has an elementary education, as well as my grandfather. Racism ensured that blacks didn't receive the same educational opportunities as whites when my grandparents were small. My mom was the 2nd to go to college, and the first to get a masters. For me it wasn't a matter of Will I Go To School but, Which School Will I Go To. Knowledge is a powerful tool and can truly change the world community by community. I'm excited about this program and know that it will make the difference in many women and children's lives.

Posted by: Flyygirl3 | March 12, 2008 9:49 AM

Actually on my mother's side of the family, women have been formally educated for generations. I too grew up asking myself what college I would go to. But it was a matter of retaining a social class versus trying to move up the social ladder. I think education is the surest way out of poverty. It may not make you rich but it gives you a heck of a lot of options. On my father's side of the family, only the men got educated till my generation. But I still see them as encouraging education and instilling a strong work ethic. Educating half the population could yield amazing results. Bravo to this program.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 12, 2008 9:53 AM

Ditto to everything. My mother's mother got her Ph.D. at Columbia University in the 50s, and she was a head librarian at the Library of Congress. She set an excellent example for my mother and me. My father's mother and my own mother both have master's degrees and their own careers. For both my mother and grandmother, having that education meant the ability to survive economically after their husbands died at a young age. My grandmother lost her first husband when he was only 26, and she had two young boys. She lost her second husband when she was in her 50s and she had four children of varying ages. She was an elementary school principal and was able to provide for all of her children, all of whom went to college, and most of whom also have graduate degrees. My own mother was very glad for her education and career when my father passed away in his 40s. I was 17, my brother was 14, and her job kept the family relatively stable despite the fact that he was the primary "breadwinner" for my entire life. Education, for women everywhere, means being economically viable. It means being able to be a strong survivor, whether it's the death of a spouse or an abusive relationship. Education also translates into a longer life span for women (according to recent research).

When it came to my education, not going to college wouldn't have been an option. It was pretty much expected that I would go to graduate school as well (I am an attorney now). I'm so incredibly thankful for the women in my family and the example they set for me.

Posted by: plawrimore1 | March 12, 2008 10:20 AM

Last year UNICEF released its 2007 report on the Status of Women and Children worldwide. (Here's the link for those who are interested

The main idea expressed in the report is that pressing for gender equality, of which full educational opportunities are a cornerstone, enables women to have influence in the decisions that shape their lives and those of their children. Pressing for gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development as women's well being directly affects the well being of their offspring.

Why is education of women and girls in developing countries so vitally important to the cause of women and the children they eventually have? Girls' enrollment in secondary schools is singularly effective in delaying the age at which young women first give birth. When young women delay motherhood they significantly increase the bargaining power they have in the household which means their children have better access to health services, improved nutrition, and educational opportunities of their own.

To repeat the statement of a previous poster regarding the value of education to women, be it in this country or across the globe, education does means everything.

Posted by: rlcooperman | March 12, 2008 10:28 AM

Let me just throw out some ideas. People say men are being left behind these days, that all the emphasis is on educating women. What I wonder though, is why, when the emphasis was on educating men, as it has been for the past several millenia, why didn't that produce change in society the way these kinds of women-focused programs do? Why aren't men passing on their knowledge to their children? It makes me wonder why men have been so privileged if educating and empowering women is what improves society. Are there microlending programs to men? Are they more or less successful? Does anyone know why, on a global level, men are failing so spectacularly and women are rising to this new prominence? (I won't say women are there yet, but the shift has started) And if women are so great at business, why has it taken so long for capitalist societies to let women into the business world?

Posted by: danielle.todd | March 12, 2008 10:52 AM

This is a great idea, both on its own merits (the motto of Faber College is, "Knowledge is Good") and because it furthers The American Way, i.e., the proposition that smart, hard-working entrepreneurs, as opposed to socialist philosopher kings & bureaucrats or 14th-century ayatollahs, make the best, most successful, longest-lived society (has anyone noticed what 70 yrs of communism did to life expectancy in Soviet Russia?). Generations of hard-working immigrants have built up The American Way from its New England origins; see "The American Way The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism" by George McKenna (Yale University Press). In the economic arena, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have flourished because of the Protestant ethic.

"Why aren't men passing on their knowledge to their children?"

Posted by: danielle.todd | March 12, 2008 10:52 AM

Of course they are, and they've been doing it for centuries. Even in the least mobile societies, a shoemaker taught his son to cobble shoes, a blacksmith taught his son to shoe horses, a caravan robber taught his son to rob caravans, and a farmer taught his son to farm. Meanwhile, mothers taught their daughters to do housewife and child care because those were the only occupations open to women. What this $100M program does is educate girls so that they can break out into the larger, capitalist world just like their brothers.

"And if women are so great at business, why has it taken so long for capitalist societies to let women into the business world?" (Danielle Todd)

In the early 1920's, the famed horror fiction writer, H. P. Lovecraft, moved from his beloved Providence to New York City to marry Sonia Haft Greene. Mrs. Greene was an immigrant who made herself into a businesswoman in the millinery business (that's "the hat business" for you folks out in Rio Linda) who was making ten thousand dollars a year -- in 1920's dollars. Around the same time, my own mother (born in the same year as Mrs. Greene's daughter Flora), with no more than a commercial high school education, was starting her own incorporated business as an insurance broker. By the end of the decade, while women were starting their own businesses in capitalist America, the land of opportunity, Percy Dearmer was reminding us of those not so fortunate as to live in America or Britain:

"Remember all the people
Who live in far off lands
In strange and lovely cities
Or roam the desert sands,
Or farm the mountain pastures
Or till the endless plains
Where children wade through rice fields
And watch the camel trains.

"Some work in sultry forests
Where apes swing to and fro,
Some fish in mighty rivers,
Some hunt across the snow."
-- Percy Dearmer, 1929

Women started businesses in America because America has been free, whereas outside the First World, barbarism, primitivism, latifundism and Communism have kept everyone down, and Mohammedanism has kept women down. Villages in Perú and Pakistan may be 150 years behind the industrialized world. Villages in Africa may be four thousand years behind the industrialized world. Funding education for women will help spread free capitalism, the American Way and the Protestant ethic to all of Mr. Dearmer's people who live in far off lands so that they can live as well, and as long, as we do.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | March 12, 2008 10:54 AM


"What I wonder though, is why, when the emphasis was on educating men, as it has been for the past several millenia, why didn't that produce change in society the way these kinds of women-focused programs do?"

It did change society. Consider society today as compared to that around 500 BC, the year 1, 1066, 1600 and 1900. Significant changes, due to educating men. Fewer changes than if men AND women had been educated all that time, and we're worse off for the fact that only a few privileged white males were educated, but significant changes just the same. (And don't forget that during those millenia the vast majority of white men weren't educated, either.)

"Why aren't men passing on their knowledge to their children?"

They are. (Okay "we are".)

"It makes me wonder why men have been so privileged if educating and empowering women is what improves society."

Educating ALL people is what improves society - all people regardless of gender, race, creed, etc. The changes cited are happening because all people are being educated - those formerly left by the wayside are now being included. (Okay, it's not perfect but it's a lot better than it used to be.)

"Are there microlending programs to men? "

Yes. From http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/061013-nobel-peace.html
"By the end of 2004 some 3,200 micro-credit institutions reported reaching more than 92 million clients, according to the report."

"Does anyone know why, on a global level, men are failing so spectacularly and women are rising to this new prominence?"

Your hypothesis is false. Men aren't failing spectacularly as compared to women. They're just not so far ahead of women because women aren't being held back.

"And if women are so great at business, why has it taken so long for capitalist societies to let women into the business world?"

Several thousand years of cultural history to overcome. Overcome, I might add, primarily by education.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 12, 2008 11:02 AM

Did the WaPo clocks jump two hours ahead? (Or maybe just jump the shark?)

It's 11:44 am EDT, and there are messages posted time-stamped 12:37 PM, 11:58 AM, 11:51 AM, etc. On Parenting appears to be having the same problem, and it's causing posts to appear out of order.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | March 12, 2008 11:45 AM

Due to her education, my grandmother was able to support herself and three children as a teacher when my grandfather became an alcoholic and left the family.

Due to support from his public school teachers, my father was the first in his family to finish high school. His mother, who was fanatically religious, told him he was joining the devil when he went to college. Education was his ticket out of poverty and away from an abusive mother.

Due to my education, I was able to leave my abusive first husband without fears of my financial future.

As Chitty said, "everything."

Posted by: leslie4 | March 12, 2008 11:51 AM

That's "The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism," by George McKenna. Sorry for the typo.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | March 12, 2008 11:58 AM

Ditto, Chitty!

Great topic today. Finally, something we can all agree on.

Posted by: jaxom | March 12, 2008 12:37 PM

sharonw- I don't understand this. Why "couldn't" you go to college?

Posted by: atb2 | March 12, 2008 1:23 PM

There were six kids in my family so I didn't have the opportunity to go to college. I have always stressed to my daughter that college is important so she plans on going to college when she graduates this year.

Posted by: sharonw | March 12, 2008 1:33 PM

I spent a summer in Costa Rica working on environmental education. One of the projects was working with pesticide education-- not only how to apply it safely, but the precautions that should be used to protect people.

After discussing it with the local environmental organization, we decided to target the mothers/wives of the farmers. Some of them were bathing their babies in the used, rinsed pesticide tubs (ack!) and they also were more ready to believe and understand the risks of pesticides. Their teenage/early 20s sons were the ones usually applying the pesticides, and they all believed they were immortal. Their mothers could encourage them to be safe, and be a lot more convincing than we could be.

Posted by: mlscha | March 12, 2008 3:03 PM

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