Kenya: How the private sector is supporting opportunities for girls' education

Students from Class 8 study in the computer lab at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central, on July 19, 2022, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Story highlights

  • Girls face many barriers in getting an education, including child marriage. In Kenya, 23% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4% are married before the age of 15.
  • GPE brought together private sector partners Ecobank Foundation, Avanti Communications and the Rotary clubs in Kenya, as well as the government of Kenya, to address some of the challenges that affect girls’ access to education.
  • The result is a dynamic partnership that is giving girls a chance of a brighter future.
Map of Kenya

This story was written in collaboration Avanti Communications, Ecobank Foundation, Rotary clubs in Kenya and the Ministry of Education of Kenya.

Addressing key barriers to gender equality

Although more girls than ever go to school today, 129 million girls worldwide are still denied an education. This is in large part due to the numerous barriers that girls face in getting an education, such as distance to school, cultural norms and practices, school-related gender-based violence and early or forced marriage.

In the past decade, Kenya has made great strides in expanding access to primary, secondary and tertiary education for girls, yet dropout rates are much higher in rural areas, particularly following school closures during the pandemic.

  • Students from Class 8 participate eagerly during a lesson in the computer lab at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • A group of students react while watching others play volleyball with renowned international rugby player and Kenyan Olympian Collins Injera at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central, Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

According to UNICEF, over 17 million children in Kenya are recovering from up to 9 months of lost learning due to COVID-19. Moreover, the latest research by the organization Girls Not Brides shows that 23% of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday and 4% are married before the age of 15.

To move the needle on these important issues, GPE teamed up with private sector partners Ecobank Foundation, Avanti Communications and Rotary clubs in Kenya to find new and innovative solutions to this challenge.

Together they are helping the government of Kenya address key barriers to gender equality in education so that more girls have a chance of a brighter future and can make an impact in the lives of their families and communities.

Cynthia Nyongesa
“The private sector has a lot of expertise, resources and networks that can be leveraged to tackle some of the most urgent problems facing education systems in lower-income countries, so it is important to work with them as partners.”
Cynthia Nyongesa
GPE Youth Leader for Kenya

Why educating girls matters

Educating girls generates huge dividends for economic prosperity, gender equality, climate resilience, public health, and lasting peace and stability. Just imagine: if every girl received 12 years of schooling, child marriage would plunge by two-thirds, and girls’ increased lifetime earnings would grow economies by as much as US$30 trillion!

Sereti Matipei
"It is important for a girl to get an education. Some people create limits for girls and say, ‘There's no need for girls to go to school or to learn’ because they think they will just get married... but they forget that girls can be educated and can become important people in society."
Sereti Matipei
Student, Marble Quarry Primary School

Investing in girls' education can help break the cycle of poverty, rebuild communities and bring about lasting change. This was case for Selina Nkoile, GPE Youth Leader for Kenya, who believes that education was the key to unlocking her potential.

Selina Nkoile
“As a child, I escaped marriage a few times. I really worked hard at school and in the end I became an empowered woman.”
Selina Nkoile

The Girls’ Education Awareness Program

Dr. Geeta Manek
“Educated girls become empowered women. Empowered women are the key to more inclusive, peaceful, and healthy societies. Rotary is committed to bringing this message to communities and families and to taking action that helps build their capacity to support quality education for girls.”
Dr. Geeta Manek
Trustee, The Rotary Foundation

To help more girls get a chance at education and a better life, GPE created the Girls’ Education Awareness Program.

The program builds on studies that show that information sharing and messaging that is contextually relevant can be effective in improving learning outcomes. It leverages business and foundation expertise in marketing, communications, advocacy and related areas to deliver context-sensitive messages to community leaders, girls and their families.

To address some of the challenges that affect girls’ access to education and forge new areas for collaboration, GPE brought together public and private sector partners—Ecobank Foundation, Avanti Communications, the Rotary clubs in Kenya, and the Kenyan government—which has proven to be a dynamic partnership.

  • A student from Class 8 takes part in a math class at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

 Martha Ekirapa
“GPE was able to bring partners together with the government of Kenya so that we could highlight some of the challenges that affect girls’ access to education. Our engagement with the private sector has been very fruitful."
Martha Ekirapa
Deputy Director Education of Kenya’s Ministry of Education

This innovative initiative includes a series of events, targeted campaigns and social marketing drives that aim to increase awareness and help bring about change in the norms and behaviors that keep girls from school.

Breaking the bias

Sharon Wawira
"There is a future in technology and I believe girls are part of it."
Sharon Wawira
22-year-old graduate student

As part of the program, the Ecobank Foundation organized a webinar on the International Day of Girls on information and communications technology (ICT) as part of its ’Break the Bias’ series, aiming to empower young women and girls and encourage them to follow their education and careers in the fields of ICT, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

  • Attendees follow the Girls’ Education Awareness Program webinar in a meeting room at Ecobank Kenya HQ in Nairobi, Kenya on April 28, 2022.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • Attendees follow the Girls’ Education Awareness Program webinar at Ecobank Kenya HQ in Nairobi, Kenya on April 28, 2022.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • Other attendees at the Girls’ Education Awareness Program webinar.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

Participants like software developer Bratipah Kioko, who attended the live screening, were inspired and encouraged to do more for their community.

“Thanks to initiatives like this we will definitely see the issue of the underrepresentation of women in ICT and STEM being addressed.”

The aim was to help raise awareness about the amazing potential for girls to lead change and to break stereotypes.

"I can be an agent of change,” said Sharon Wawira, who volunteered to take part in the program. “I can encourage other girls to take these courses, to pick up skills in tech without feeling discouraged.”

The event was part of Ecobank’s desire to play an active role in the empowerment of girls and young women. In addition to 100+ participants on Zoom, a group of young female leaders and members of the community viewed the livestream from the Ecobank offices in Kenya. 

Cheikh Travaly
"We want to raise awareness in society at large and we want to increase the number of advocates for the vital cause of girls’ education. Ecobank is proud to have partnered with GPE on the Girls’ Education Awareness Program and we want to continue using their platform to advocate for girls’ education.”
Cheikh Travaly
Ecobank Regional Executive, CESA and Managing Director, Ecobank Kenya

Communicating change

Similarly, GPE partner Avanti Communications champions girls’ education by supporting primary and secondary schools across Kenya.

As part of the program, Avanti is releasing a series of videos and blog posts commenting on education featuring Avanti staff, GPE youth leaders and various partner organizations.

The video was promoted via social media and company handles and was disseminated to Avanti-supported schools via tablets and WhatsApp groups, reaching over 125,000 users across multiple platforms.

Findings from Avanti’s research show that most girls want to go to secondary school, particularly when they have support from their parents.

The campaign will encourage them to find support, keep studying and know they are not alone.

Kyle Whitehill
"Education can have a transformative impact on individuals and communities, which is why Avanti is dedicated to providing connectivity that will improve access to quality education across Africa."
Kyle Whitehill
Chief Executive Officer of Avanti Communications

The initial phase of the program is focusing on Kenya and will then expand to other African countries such as Ghana and Zimbabwe.

Why role models are so important

The Girls’ Education Awareness Program is also bringing together leaders and changemakers to encourage more girls in Kenya to stay in school. As part of the program, Collins Injera, a Kenyan rugby legend, went to visit Marble Quarry Primary School with a clear message in support of girls’ education.

  • Students listen to an inspirational talk from renowned international rugby player and Kenyan Olympian Collins Injera at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • A group of students plays volleyball with renowned international rugby player and Kenyan Olympian Collins Injera at Marble Quarry Primary School.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • Students celebrate with renowned international rugby player and Kenyan Olympian Collins Injera at Marble Quarry Primary School.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

The superstar is adamant about the importance of girls’ education for society.

Collins Injera
“When you educate a girl, you level the playing field and help the girls to make wiser choices for their future. Society becomes healthier. It helps to reduce child marriages and helps to eradicate harmful cultural practices like female genital mutilation.“
Collins Injera

The partnership with Injera is another example of the impressive impact that the private sector can have on girls’ education.

Collins Injera
“The private sector can play a big part in addressing educational challenges. They are really supporting the government and filling the gap, helping to communicate to those hard-to-reach places.”
Collins Injera

The power of communities

Community action is critical to creating any concrete movement on harmful social and cultural norms. This is where a partner like Rotary plays a powerful role. Members of Rotary are community leaders, who have been able to build trust, understanding and credibility with members of their communities.

Through their expansive network of volunteers, Rotary members are carrying out outreach campaigns, speaking to girls and their parents about the value of education in their lives and sensitizing young girls on menstrual hygiene and sanitation to ensure their safe and healthy participation in schools.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, so the outreach campaigns also include communications on these topics with boys and their communities.

Bringing partners together

  • Student leave school at the end of the school day at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central. Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

  • Students from Class 8 take part in a math class at Marble Quarry Primary School in Kajiado Central, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.
    Credit: GPE/Luis Tato

The program is a clear demonstration of what is possible when stakeholders across public, private, civil society and the youth work together, said Dr. Julius Jwan, principal secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Education.

Dr. Julius Jwan
“We are committed to actively working with our business community partners and other stakeholders to raise awareness and change perceptions so that girls can have equal access to education.”
Dr. Julius Jwan
Principal secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Education

Thanks to Ecobank Foundation, Avanti and the Rotary clubs in Kenya, the program is playing an active part in the Ministry of Education’s drive to help more girls access education.

It’s a win-win for everyone. By empowering girls to make smart decisions when it comes to their education, the private sector is setting them up to make an economic impact in their communities in the future and is promoting a fairer society.

Harbey Haramu
“My Iife would have been different if I had not been educated today. I am in charge of my life and I’m able to make decision for myself and by extension, I am able to inspire other young girls…To any young girl out there who is thinking of giving up and who is doubting the fruits of her efforts in education, I’d like to tell you that the future is bright with education.”
Harbey Haramu
Advocate, High Court and Volunteer at Rotary in Kenya