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'The Most Important Resource for The Future of Humanity' May Not Be What You Think

Right now, 131 million girls are out of school. Many of these girls are forced into marriage and labor arrangements with the assumption that doing so makes financial sense.

And yet, a good education has the power to transform not simply the life of the girl who is educated — protecting her from violence and empowering her to achieve economic success — it also lifts up communities: a one percentage point increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product (GDP) of a country by 0.3 percentage points. In other words, the world has work to do.

“This is not easy work,” Allison Tummon Kamphuis, Gender Equality Program Leader at Procter & Gamble, told the audience in New York City’s Skirball Center in her opening remarks at the Movement Makers event on September 19. “And it’s not work that any individual, NGO or company – no matter how large and committed – can tackle alone.”

Sophie Trudeau.pngMadame Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Photo Credit: Bryan Anselm for Global Citizen

Procter & Gamble and Global Citizen co-hosted the event during Global Citizen Week to demonstrate how all of us working together can create a better world that values girls’ education. Speaker Mme Sophie Gregoire Trudeau captured the spirit of the night when she said: “When human beings are linked instead of ranked, everybody wins.”

The evening centered around a few core themes to inspire and facilitate change: how education is everyone’s responsibility, the complex barriers facing girls’ education, and why girls’ education is the key to fixing the world’s problems.

If these seem like lofty topics, the people gathered to discuss them were up to the task: Mme Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Executive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey and Mari Malek, Model/Activist and founder & CEO of Stand for Education, Inc.

Read more: These 18 Inspirational Activists Share Their Secrets to Building Movements for Social Good

There were a lot of impressive highlights throughout the night, but one in particular stands out for the dose of levity it brought. Muppets, it turns out, are taking up the mantle of girls’ education. Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Tara Hogan-Charles, Associate Director of Global Relations & Public Policy at Procter & Gamble, discussed how their partnership is raising awareness about the need for girls’ education.

It was hard not be charmed by Chamki, a muppet who came all the way to the New York event from her home in India. Chamki and her adorable friends do more than elicit giggles, they play a crucial role in breaking down the cultural barriers to girls’ education. This was clear from the case study Westin shared where fathers in Afghanistan have changed their minds about permitting their daughters to go to school after watching the show.

The evening also explored the many challenges that keep girls from staying in school. Another conversation you can catch again below covered just that. Vera Papisova of Teen Vogue moderated the panel of experts including Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director of Equality Now, Joyce Adolwa, Head of Girls' Education, Empowerment and Adolescent Programming at CARE, and Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children. They discussed barriers ranging from laws that hold women back and enable harmful norms and practices (such as child marriage) to the complexity of poverty.

Challenges like these can be overcome, those gathered agreed, and the evening explored many ways that activists can drive change. It did what all events must do to spark action, and connected with the audience emotionally.

UN Women’s Executive Director, after announcing that this was her 7th speech during General Assembly week, decided to do away with her notes, and address people on a topic that she said “she can speak on from the heart.” And indeed she did. “Girls are the most important resource to humanity,” her powerful words reverberated around the auditorium. “An inability to invest in girls, especially girls’ education, by all of us, is not just a tragedy for girls, it is a tragedy for humanity.”

ExecDrUNWomen.pngExecutive Director of UN Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Credit: Bryan Anselm for Global Citizen

The evening ended with Mari Malek sharing her personal story as a young child fleeing her home country of South Sudan, declaring herself “one of the lucky ones.” Through the power of education and a new life in the USA, she has achieved all that she has.

Her closing remarks will no doubt stay with many for some time:

“What is Education? It is an experience, an opportunity. It is the gateway to peace and a sustainable future. It is life.”