Investing in girls’ education is a cost-effective solution, and benefits boys too – it creates a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Lucy Lake, CEO, CAMFED, speaking at the Global Education & Skills Forum

The context within which CAMFED works to create social change was highlighted in this article in a special edition of TES magazine, curated for the 2018 Global Education & Skills Forum:

“I used to depend on my primary teachers. I would say, ‘Today we don’t have anything to eat,’” explains Sharifa. Orphaned at a young age, Sharifa and her disabled sibling were left in the care of their grandmother in rural Tanzania. Unless money arrived from the extended family, they would go hungry, and Sharifa relied on her teachers for food.

Nevertheless, she passed her primary school exams, and was offered a place at secondary school.

“I just need a skirt, shirt and shoes, and then I’ll figure out how to go to school,” she told her grandmother, who replied, “If food is a problem, how can I afford education?” Remaining at home while her friends went to school, Sharifa’s yearning for education grew.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 28 million girls are out of school.(1) 75% of girls start primary school, but only 8% finish secondary school.(2)

Poverty is the root cause. Children in the poorest countries are nine times more likely to be out of school than those in the richest. Yet if all adults had a secondary education, poverty would be reduced by two thirds.(3)

Child marriage, sometimes seen as the last best hope for girls, risks their health and well-being. It usually spells the end of education. Photo: CAMFED/Eliza Powell

Girls face more barriers to education than boys, including responsibility for household chores, younger siblings or ill relatives. The cost of school fees, stationery, uniforms, and especially menstrual hygiene products is often beyond reach. Long journeys to school pose the risk of exploitation. Many girls have lost one or both parents, and live in child-headed households or with frail elderly relatives. Families often see early marriage as the only means of securing a girl’s future. Yet this risks her health, her wellbeing, and her education. Deeply embedded gender inequity also leads to girls lacking a sense of entitlement to education — a psychological barrier to learning, compounding physical and financial hurdles.

The World Bank is saying it; the Global Partnership for Education is saying it; the UN is saying it: Educate girls, and the returns not only benefit them and their families, but their communities and nations.

25 years ago CAMFED established its community-led girls’ education program in sub-Saharan Africa. Decades later, the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals agenda, emphasising quality secondary education and gender equity, increased global momentum. The World Bank is saying it; the Global Partnership for Education is saying it; the UN is saying it: Educate girls, and the returns not only benefit them and their families, but their communities and nations.

Girls once supported through school by CAMFED, like Pearl (above), return to their local schools to mentor the next generation and tackle the barriers girls face. Photo: CAMFED/Eliza Powell

Some countries lose more than $1 billion a year by failing to educate girls at the same level as boys.(4)

Educated girls earn up to 25% more for each year in secondary school, are three times less likely to become HIV positive, and reinvest 90% of their income in their families.(5)

Educated mothers invest more in their children’s education. They have fewer, healthier children. Brookings research has established a vital link between girls’ education and climate change mitigation.(6)

Support a girl through school, and on to a life of independence and leadership, and you create a virtuous cycle that delivers dividends for generations, breaking the cycle of poverty that leads to economic instability and conflict, displacement and war.

It’s all about the ‘how’

Research shows that even when marginalized children attend school, many don’t learn there. February’s global education financing conference in Dakar shone a spotlight on this learning crisis, with over 617 million students not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.(7) And cost pressures mean that girls like Sharifa may be permanently left behind.

CAMFED, which by 2017 had supported more than 1.9 million children at government partner schools in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, and Tanzania, has also improved learning environments for nearly 4.5 million children. We invest not only in the material needs of vulnerable children, but work with schools, teachers, and our CAMA alumnae network (now nearly 120,000 strong) to develop life and study skills programs that drive up learning outcomes for marginalized students.

CAMA works with CAMFED-trained Teacher Mentors and their communities to strengthen psycho-social support structures that keep girls in school, while creating opportunities for young women to thrive as entrepreneurs and leaders, peer mentors and role models.

Sharifa’s story could have been one of millions left behind, had CAMFED not stepped in.

Her Teacher Mentor arranged everything from a stipend to help cover the costs of her special diet and support for her disabled sibling, to the glasses she needs to read, write and learn.

With the help of her school’s Parent Support Group, she could board at school and concentrate on her studies. She will graduate into a structured support network of women who share a similar background.

Sharifa with her Teacher Mentor, Regina Ngereza, who works with CAMFED, CAMA alumnae and local parents to create support networks around vulnerable children. Photo: CAMFED/Daniel Hayduk

Reaching the most marginalized can deliver big returns

Recently, the University of Cambridge REAL Centre analyzed detailed program and financial data from CAMFED. Its cost-effectiveness analysis of our program in Tanzania revealed that for all children supported, for every $100 spent, the impact is equivalent to an extra 1.7 years of schooling, increasing to an equivalent of an extra 2.4 years of schooling per $100 when explicitly taking equity considerations into account. Researchers concluded that whilst it may cost more to reach the most marginalized children, the impact per dollar spent provides greater value for money, meaning CAMFED’s program attains similar cost effectiveness outcomes to ones that don’t reach the most marginalized. Inclusive education systems will function for everyone if they function for the most marginalized.

“In today’s world, there is so much injustice, and most of the time the ones who are marginalized are missing their justice,” says Sharifa. With her incredible strength and resilience, she’s already a keen advocate of children’s rights, especially the right to education. “I want to be a lawyer because I want to fight for the rights of women, children, and the oppressed people in my community.”

Read Sharifa’s full story here.


(1) Source: UNESCO, 2016

(2) Source: Brookings, 2016

(3) Source: UNESCO 2017 Out of School Policy Paper

(4) Source: Global Partnership for Education

(5) Men re-invest 30–40%. Source: World Bank

(6) Source: Brookings, 2017. See

(7) Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2017

More news and stories

CAMFED Regional Scaling Advisory Committee Meeting TZ Nov 2022 780_6200_Kumi Media


Our journey to transforming education systems through youth-led innovation

CAMFED's close collaboration with government Ministries and research partners is looking at how we scale youth-led programs that drive up learning outcomes and post-school opportunities…



Passing the baton to Angeline Murimirwa

2023 is a milestone year for CAMFED: we celebrate our 30th anniversary, and we will see the membership of the CAMFED Association surpass a quarter…

Thank you to our generous recent donors

Together we are breaking the cycle of poverty


Steve Osman $100

Roe & Maggie Stone $100

Betty Schwab $25

Jonathan Brody $40

Bonne Mogulescu $150

William Wiedmann $150

Adrianna Timmons $360

Lizbeth Garcia $10

Niall Doherty $370

Nicola Riley €300

John Benson £20

Gareth Waldram £342

Greta Bonnaud £630

Benj Schneider £1600

Martha King $1000