Strength Through Flexibility

Development experts have long known that educating girls is one of the surest ways to improve life for everyone in poor countries. Yet the path to school has not been smooth for many girls—especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past 17 years, however, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) has delivered high-quality education to millions of girls across 35 African countries. The secret to FAWE’s scale and impact, say its leaders, is its flexibility.

In June 1992, the five founders of what became the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) met at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center on Lake Como, Italy. Each woman was a minister of education in her home country (Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, the Seychelles, and Zimbabwe). And each lamented that only half of Africa’s school-age girls enrolled in school.

FAWE’s founders understood the obstacles that girls met on the way to the schoolhouse. Many parents simply couldn’t...

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