Unlocking Possibilities: A Q&A with Erin Ganju, co-founder and CEO of Room to Read

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March 13, 2013


1. How has becoming a mother to a daughter changed your perspective on global development issues surrounding literacy and particularly girls’ education?

Education brings hope and as a mother and the Co-Founder and CEO of Room to Read, I am committed to bringing this hope to children throughout the world. Although I have always been passionate about the right of every child to be educated and the importance of fighting gender disparity in education, becoming a mother has further strengthened my resolve to make a difference. Children are the same throughout the world. They share the same wonder, curiosity, desire to learn and excitement about their future. And they deserve to have the same opportunities.

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Currently 61 million primary school aged children do not attend school. 42 percent of girls in the Global South are not enrolled. We ensure each girl in our programs gets the material and emotional support she needs to succeed in school and beyond through an enhanced approach that includes academic support, mentoring and life skills training.

2. How has living abroad impacted your work?

Ensuring a quality education for all was made particularly evident when I worked as director of operations for Unilever in Vietnam in the mid-1990’s and saw the need for a greater focus on educational programs. For every year that a girl is educated beyond the average, her wages increase by 15 percent. In addition to higher wages, the completion of secondary school leads to healthier families. Educated women are also more likely to educate their own children, ending the cycle of illiteracy in one generation. If every child received an education, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. Just think how the world would change if we all worked together to make this possible!

3. Tell us about how Room to Read is expanding.

We launched our tenth country of operation, Tanzania, in 2012 and we are putting the groundwork in place for our next expansion into Indonesia. One of Room to Read’s fundamental operating principles is community participation, so our local teams take great care in identifying each project site. There are three non-negotiable requirements:

    1. Needs assessment: we ensure that there is a genuine need for Room to Read’s support and that our programs can have a significant positive impact.
    2. Widespread community support: each community commits to assisting in project implementation and maintenance, both of which are essential to the sustainability of Room to Read’s programs.
    3. Government approval: the Ministry of Education at the local or national level (varies by country) must approve project locations before we can begin work.

4. What do you consider the Room to Read “secret sauce.”

We don’t provide a ‘hand out,’ but rather a ‘hand up,’ by ensuring local communities are empowered to do this work. We establish libraries and provide educators with a solid foundation in library management. We give our teachers training so that reading and writing can be taught in the most engaging and effective manner. As part of providing materials that will inspire children to read, we develop the talent of local authors and illustrators.

We partner closely with communities to construct bright, safe, child-friendly classrooms and communities help manage the projects on the ground. We recognize that many of the girls we work with are among the first in their families and communities to finish secondary school. To help them meet the challenges they’ll face along the way, we facilitate life skills camps and workshops that help each girl develop the skills she’ll need to succeed in school and after graduation, such as self-awareness and empathy, communication and interpersonal skills, decision making and problem solving, critical and creative thinking, and coping with stress and emotions.

Helping people to develop their own solutions to their challenges is the key.

The Take Action Challenge
Education means more than a chance to earn a diploma. It unlocks a world of undiscovered possibilities—allowing a girl to imagine a better life for herself and her family, and to develop the skills necessary to turn that dream into reality.

You can give a girl the freedom to dream by investing in Room to Read. Room to Read is a partner in the ground breaking film, Girl Rising which is raising awareness and funds for girls education and empowerment.  Your investment toward this campaign will be matched thanks to generous donors (up to US$850,000).

Photo Credit: 10 x 10 Girl Rising

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