As founder and Trustee of CAMFED Ann Cotton has been focused on improving opportunity for children at the margins of education for more than three decades. She began her career in a London school by establishing one of the first centers for girls excluded from mainstream education. Her commitment to girls’ education in Africa began in 1991, when she went on a research trip to Zimbabwe to investigate why girls’ school enrolment in rural areas was so low. Contrary to the common assumption that families weren’t sending girls to school for cultural reasons, Ann discovered that poverty was the main roadblock. Families couldn’t afford to buy books or pay school fees for all their children. Instead, they had to choose which children would receive an education. Since boys had a better chance of getting a paid job after graduation, daughters were rarely selected.
Ann knew that educated girls were less likely to contract HIV/AIDS, would marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and would support the next generation to go to school. She understood that poverty and exclusion affects girls both psychologically and economically, and if girls could be educated, supported by their communities, and empowered to shape their own destinies, they could change their communities and nations forever. In 1993, after grassroots fundraising that supported the first 32 girls through school in Zimbabwe, Ann founded CAMFED.
Ann is an Honorary Fellow at Homerton College, and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Cambridge University Judge Business School. She is a noted speaker on international platforms, including the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Skoll World Forum. In 2014, she addressed the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit hosted by the White House, George W. Bush Institute and U.S. State Department. In 2016, Ann shared insights and experiences at The United State of Women White House Summit. She has won numerous awards for her work, including an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Cambridge University; an OBE in honor of her advocacy of girls’ education in Africa; the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship; Woman of the Year in the UK; and UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year. In November 2014, Ann was awarded the WISE Prize for Education, becoming the fourth WISE laureate alongside Vicky Colbert, Founder of Escuela Nueva in Colombia, Dr. Madhav Chavan, co-founder of Pratham in India, and Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC in Bangladesh.