Her Education is Her Right

Photo of Hannah and Zoha
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www.her-education.org Facebook: @HEReducation Podcast with Smart Women, Smart Power: https://soundcloud.com/csis-57169780/her-education-her-right-promoting-girls-education-globally

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

Three years ago Zoha and I became friends. On long cross-country runs, we talked about Zoha’s family. Both of her parents were immigrants from Pakistan. Her aunts, Sadaf and Fatima Khala, had been deprived of a basic education and were raising children but lacked the necessary skills to give them a successful lifestyle. We talked about our opportunity of a private education - how our education was a gift and with that gift came the responsibility to give back. Moved by stories of girls like ourselves - excited about learning, but with no resources to go to school, no access to books, no safe reading spaces and no supportive environment to explore ideas and dreams–we discovered a shared passion. We wanted to help girls overcome these challenged and we shared the belief that all girls deserve a quality education and all girls deserve access to one of the most basic educational tools–books!

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

There are 62 million uneducated girls in the world; most have no access to books, safe reading spaces, or learning material. Access to libraries improves literacy. Literate girls live longer, provide better nutrition and education to their children, earn higher wages, and raise their country’s GDP. Improving girls’ literacy rates not only improves the lives of girls, it improves the quality of life of families, communities, and nations at large.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our solution… libraries! The mission of HER is to: (1) build sustainable libraries with quality learning materials for underfunded girls’ schools in developing countries, and (2) to educate others about the educational needs of girls. In addition to providing access to books, we chose to build libraries because: (1) they are sustainable - the teachers and students are trained how to manage the library; (2) they are cost-efficient - they require minimal resources to build and maintain; in Pakistan one library costs approximately $1000 to build; (3) they are accessible to all students and teachers, and (4) they have a large impact on the communities they serve. In the U.S. and overseas, our mission is supported by a network of HER student clubs, established in schools from Washington, D.C. to Casablanca, which collect books, conduct fundraising events, and assist with transporting books to country. In the host country, we hire local carpenters to design and build bookshelves, desks, and chairs, and we recruit professional librarians to train the teachers in the schools how to catalog and maintain the books. How do we measure success? A girl with a book and a dream!

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

There were no bookshelves, no desks, and no chairs. The girls had to sit on dirty mats on the ground and all 1,600 students in the school shared the same 50-100 books available. So began the story of our first in library in Hair, Pakistan; a collaborative effort between committed students working in the U.S. and supportive partners working overseas. Locally, HER student clubs raised $2,500, collected 3,000 books, and arranged shipping. In Pakistan, we collaborated with a local NGO to identify the library location, facilitate construction of bookshelves, desks, and chairs, and train the teachers how to maintain the library. To celebratory cheers, we opened the library in March 2016. A few months later we skyped with the girls and here is what they had to say: “We love the books,” “The library is a good idea,” “We like to sit here,” “Our favorite books are the Spiderman books!”

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Due to security concerns and cultural prejudice towards girls’ education, we are one of the only organizations successfully building libraries in Pakistan and Morocco. Integral to our success, and what makes us unique, is the network of student HER clubs that provide support to HER initiatives and promote girls’education in their local communities. While we are not the only organization building libraries overseas - “A Room to Read”, “Global Libraries”, and “The African Library Project” share similar goals - we plan to explore ways to collaborate with these organizations in the future.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Over the past two years, we have opened seven libraries in impoverished schools in Pakistan. Four libraries are located in girls’ schools in Hair, Lahore, Swabi, and Swat, and three serve co-ed schools in Sargodha. Through these libraries, over 8,000 children have access to quality learning materials: thousands of books in all genres for grades PK-10, arts supplies, and textbooks for classroom use. To ensure effective use of resources, we work with the schools to implement weekly library periods and we maintain correspondence with the teachers running the libraries. In addition to quantitative measurements on how many students we impact, we pay close attention to the depth of our beneficiaries’ experiences as noted by the girls’ comments above. Through these libraries, we can empower generations of girls to become their own superheroes--as doctors, fashion designers, engineers, and more.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We are currently collaborating with the Atlas Cultural Foundation to build a library in the village of Amzeray in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The region has a population of more than 10,000 people, yet only 11 students have graduated with a university degree. The library assists existing education efforts to improve test scores and increase education levels and economic development in the region. We will open this library in August 2018! We also plan to open a library in Islamabad, Pakistan in December. While our efforts are largely concentrated in Pakistan, our goal is to expand to other countries over the next five years, such as Kenya, where we have formed a relationship with the local organization Kenyan Educational Service Trips.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

The largest difficulty we have faced over the past two years is our inability as minors to apply to the IRS for 501c3 status, a tax-exemption code that applies to organization’s expenses and monetary or in-kind donations. Alternatively, we are in the process of seeking 501c3 fiscal sponsorship from a larger, trusted non-profit organization. The required documentation and legal oversight is difficult and has significantly slowed our intake of donations. Nevertheless, we continue to fundraise and pursue other means of financial support. The Ashoka and T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge is an incomparable opportunity to receive this financial support as well as the mentorship to help us continue our journey.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

Our mission depends upon, and benefits from, collaborating with others. As it says on our website, “Every person regardless of background or circumstance has the potential to make change for others." We believe anyone can start a book drive, organize a fundraising event, or make a small donation to support a library. Through the activities of our local HER clubs, we have created a growing community of people who are passionate about girls’ education. In addition, as young social entrepreneurs, supported by experienced mentors, we have learned how to develop business plans, budgets, and grant proposals, how to market our venture to donors, and how to incorporate feedback. Most importantly, as cofounders we have learned to work well together by listening to each other’s ideas. Suffering will not wait to be addressed, so youth like us should not wait until we ‘grow up’ to use our privilege in the service of others. Letting age become an obstacle to higher achievement will only prevent global equity from becoming a reality. We are honored to be considered for this challenge among such inspiring youth and we aim to use this opportunity to forge relationships and make a deeper impact.

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Presentation given at the World Series of Entrepreneurship. Received Award of Excellence and $500 seed money.


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Photo of frank smith

Great work

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