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Get to Know Global Education Activist Sarah Brown

Get to Know Global Education Activist Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown is a passionate advocate for global education and health issues and her work brings together the worlds of business, philanthropy, social media, and charity campaigning.

She is the Founder and President of the children's charity Theirworld and Founder and Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education.

Learn more about her in her exclusive Q&A with MAKERS below.

Q: Tell us about Global Business Coalition for Education and how you got involved in it.
A: I have run a children's charity called Theirworld for over 12 years that started with small projects in the United Kingdom where I live. Over the last five years, we have focused a lot of our work on the drive to get every child into school especially the 59 million children who miss out entirely. Giving a child the best start in life and an education to unlock their potential seems to me to be the best thing we can do. GBC-Education was set up by Theirworld three years ago to create a space for businesses to come together to work out their role in giving every child the chance to go to school and learn. Business has such an amazing role to play, working alongside governments and non-profits, using not just their money but the skills of their staff, their distribution channels, communications, technology and more. We were the first organization to bring the business community together to accelerate progress for global education, and there are now well over 100 large multi-national companies contributing in innovative ways to support the most vulnerable children.

Q: How is the GBC-Education helping to locate and solve the root of systemic gender inequalities in the education system?
A: Our members are committed to tackling all the barriers that prevent girls from getting an education. By talking to NGOs, Governments and civil society groups they are learning what they can do to support these groups and help girls learn. We have seen terrible things happen to children in war zones, disasters and those caught in terrible poverty. Girls are vulnerable to physical attack, trafficking, and early marriage. Some of the solutions are practical ‘how can we get girls to school safely' and some are cultural ‘how can we show that investing in a girl's education is a better economic decision than getting her married at 16'. GBC-Education companies have addressed these issues head on using their contacts and expertise to help find solutions to these big issues.

Q: How do you think the fight for ending gender inequality differs from country to country?
A: If girls are discriminated against in any country, it is unacceptable and needs to be tackled whatever the reason.

Where poverty exists many girls are forced into labor, may be married off very young, and their own health can be compromised with early pregnancies, poor nutrition and lack of access to affordable healthcare. If families can only afford to send one child to school, it is rarely the girl who is chosen. Free universal education is the only way to ensure that this cycle of discrimination ends.

In countries where there is conflict girls are also vulnerable to physical attacks, and terrorists act to keep girls out of schools. We must not forget the Chibok girls, who were abducted over a year and a half ago. GBC-Education was the first to act and launched the Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria bringing together many partners.  Since the program began 50,000 girls have returned to school in North East Nigeria now that the schools have been made safe.

Even in wealthy, developed countries, girls who grow up in the poorest families suffer disadvantages in their education and are limited in their access to healthcare. For all girls and women, we must keep up the fight everywhere to tackle the pay gap and to see women leaders in equal numbers at the top of all professions and careers.

Q: Has Theirworld partnered with any trailblazing girls or young women
A: We have over 500 Global Youth Ambassadors (age 18-25) as part of our A World at School campaign to get every child into school and hundreds of these young education advocates are girls. In 60 different countries around the world they work tirelessly to lobby their governments and local communities to allow every child to reach their potential. Helen Griberg for example, an education activist who was born in Zambia and adopted and raised in Norway persuaded the Prime Minister of Norway and the former Prime Minister of Australia to sign the #UpForSchool education petition and join the movement!

We have been really lucky to have great women backing our campaign around the world. Our #UpForSchool petition was launched in the Kibera Slum in Kenya with young activists, and in just 12 months gathered over 10 million signatures. Last month Shakira, one of our supporters, presented the petition to the United Nations for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's attention. Actresses Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith in "Downton Abbey") is also one of our ambassadors and went to Lebanon for us to visit schools where Syrian refugee children are learning after having to leave their home country.

Women champions for education are everywhere from Lisa Russell of I Sell the Shadow using performance platforms in New York to Evelin Weber leading the Ako Si Daniel campaign in the Philippines, to 16 year old Lulu Cerone of the West Coast's Lemonaid Warriors speaking up for the Global Youth Ambassadors at the Town Hall event.

Q: In your opinion, what is the power of the adolescent girl?
A: You can see in all the initiatives for girls how the world is waking up to the biggest untapped resource in the world. Way back in 1993, Larry Summers said: "The education of girls may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world." It took a while for others to catch up but we now have an abundance of empowerment campaigns for teenage girls and for good reason. While we are pushing for equality in education, if we continue at our current rate it will take until 2086 for the poorest girls in Sun-Saharan Africa to complete their schooling. This is unacceptable. So more power to the adolescent girl – let's fast forward to equality as quickly as we can.

Q: There's been a lot of talk on girls pursuing STEM lately. How is GBC contributing to this conversation?
A: Theirworld and GBC-Education are working now on a new project to create safer spaces for girls to learn in. But it is not enough to just make things safe, we need to provide the opportunity for girls to keep learning and thriving. We have started our first Girls Tech Hub for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and next year – working with organizations like Africa Gathering, Kano and Codeacademy – we are piloting a series of Girl Tech Hubs in Africa. Follow us on or @theirworld for more information as they come on stream.

Q: What is the number one contributing factor to economic empowerment that takes place outside of school?
A: Outside of school, the investment in Early Childhood Development is the most important thing we can do to help young people have the best possible chance in life. The crucial early years should be packed with learning and the results will show later in life.
Also as a champion of the White Ribbon Alliance who led the successful maternal mortality campaign, I also feel passionate that we must work to end early and enforced marriages, and instead enable girls to grow into healthy, educated, economically empowered women.

Q: What have been the biggest successes in your career thus far?
A: I have run my own business, served in government as the Prime Minister's wife, and lead a growing international charity. I count as my greatest success learning to speak in public. I managed to get far being the person in the back room working quietly but when I wanted to champion the causes that I was so passionate about, things had to change. I was so nervous when I gave my first public speech that I actually fainted at the end of it. Since then I have spoken at many events large and small, and over the years I have got better. I have addressed the World Health Assembly in Geneva and I have chaired a meeting at the United Nations where 16 countries agreed to provide free healthcare for pregnant women. I have addressed big crowds in an arena and done one to one TV interviews. The important thing for me has been to learn to get my message across. If you have a voice and are not afraid of using it, then you can make a difference. That I have managed to do this is my biggest personal success.

Q: You have two sons. What would like them to takeaway from your career advocating for women's rights?
A: My grandmothers stopped working when they got married. My mother studied at university but found it hard to build a career raising small children — but rose to become a head teacher and later in life to get her PhD. I am fortunate now that I have been able to develop my career and share with my boys that everyone has the right to equal opportunity. My boys would call themselves feminists and would think nothing of that. I want them to stay sharp to the notion that inequality needs to be tackled wherever it is found.

Q: How did you go about putting together a lineup of key power players for the GBC-education advisory board?
A: One of my first bosses gave me some advice, "Never be afraid to ask for advice. No one ever seems to mind being asked for their expert option." When we started GBC-Education, I reached out to the leading CEOs (as it happens nearly all men!) to ask for their steer on how to create a coalition that would ensure businesses could help get children into school. By using their expertise and networks, we have built a powerful coalition that is achieving great progress, and would welcome more women business leaders to join us too!

NEXT: Women in Leadership »

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Photo Credit: Sport Relief