India’s girls could use some help: In 2015, 3.7 million eligible girls are out of school. In rural areas, girls receive an average of less than four years of education. And, India has the highest rates of child brides in the world.

These metrics are indicators of the deeper issues that India faces, problems stemming from social and cultural norms. For India’s girls, education improvements will come by righting the wrongs of history. In order to solve the problems facing rural girls in India, an innovator needs a background in both education and an informed cultural perspective. Beginning in 2005, within the province of Rajasthan, an entrepreneur named Safeen Husain started to do just that.

Ms. Husain is intimately aware of the obstacles that face young girls in India, because she was personally subjected to some of those conditions growing up. Through perseverance and a devoted family, she forged a path past the adversity around her and ultimately went on to graduate from the London School of Economics. Since then, she has spent much of her career in rural and community developments throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Understanding the role gender plays in India’s education system:

Ms. Husain saw the endemic issues for rural girls’ education and decided upon three basic goals:

    • expanding the enrollment of girl
    • increasing student retention for girls
    • improving learning outcomes for all students.

Considering these goals, Ms. Husain appropriately decided to name her initiative Educate Girls. Between 2005 and 2007, Ms. Husain and her fledgling staff began testing various methods to achieve these goals. She settled on Rajasthan as her testing ground, a district in Northwestern India, which at the time had a 77% male to a 44% female literacy rate. She started her testing phase with 50 local schools and communities.

To fully understand why girls were not attending schools, Ms. Husain recruited young, local, female volunteers from across the district who formed Team Balika. The team spearheaded Ms. Husain’s program by visiting 1,067 villages in the district.

Team Balika found a number of different reasons for girls missing school, including: the necessity of a working daughter’s paycheck to her family, the fear of interference with marriage prospects, a pivot from traditional Hindu garb, and poor school conditions. After identifying these problems, the volunteers decided on a five-pronged plan to improve circumstances in Rajasthan’s rural schools.

The points included:

    1. Community Ownership of schools by parents in the form of parent-led school management committees.
    2. Training teachers in creative and child centric learning techniques.
    3. Recruiting and training volunteers for the Team Balika program.
    4. Facilitating community enrollment plans.
    5. Forging more young female leaders through Bal Sabhas, (with open dialogue meetings for young girls).

Educate Girls’s incredible growth and success through scaling:

Employing this five-point method over the next seven years, Educate Girls has seen its influence rise exponentially. After beginning with 50 schools in 2005, Educate Girls grew to 5,500 schools and influenced the education of over 500,000 children in three districts of India by 2013.

In 2012, after receiving investments from several firms in India as well as reaching agreements with the Indian government, Ms. Husain still felt she could do more. Ms. Husain and Educate Girls applied to the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, GSBI Online program through which they would be able to: strengthen their business model, receive Silicon Valley mentorship, and prepare for more funding. The GSBI Online participant emphasized the core benefit of having a mentor in particular, “The mentoring I received was important for my success. The constant interaction with my GSBI mentor helped me think out of the box and look at my organization as an external person.”

With aid from Miller Center and other sources, Educate Girls has continued to grow, marking a pivotal time in Educate Girl’s development. This past January, Educate Girls made headlines by being awarded the prestigious, Skoll Foundation award for social entrepreneurship , which includes a three-year core investment of $1.25 Million. This prestigious award is given to transformative leaders who have demonstrated disruption of the status quo and are driving large-scale change.

Educate Girls’ goal is to educate half of India’s gender gap districts and over 4,000,000 students by 2018.

For Ms. Husain however, her biggest hope is not just the growth of her organization, but also in the girls themselves, “Every single girl I meet wants to go to school, and that for me is my biggest, biggest source of hope.”

Educate Girls’ history and future by the numbers

  • 2011: 4,425 Schools within Operation
  • 2012: Educate girls goes through GSBI Online program
  • 2013: 5,006 Schools in Operation
  • 2014-15: 8,000 Schools in Operation
  • Expected Expansion 2015-2016: 9,000 Schools in Operation