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Many of the girls have to work, care for family members, or marry and have children while they are still children themselves. The problem is particularly acute in conflict zones, poverty-stricken regions, and countries with legal or cultural barriers to girls’ education.

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was the target of an assassination attempt by the Taliban because of her public campaign for girls’ education in her province in Pakistan. After extensive medical treatment for life-threatening injuries, she made a full recovery and resumed her advocacy from her new home in Britain. In her first public speech after the attack, she addressed the United Nations with a call for worldwide access to education. The date of that speech—July 12, 2013, her 16th birthday—was subsequently celebrated as Malala Day.

With her father Ziauddin, an educator, Malala sought to build on the public’s outpouring of support to continue the struggle for girls’ education. The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, asked McKinsey to help Malala with this mission. The Malala Fund was set up in 2013, and we immediately set to work to help define its founding vision, develop its strategy, and prepare its plan of action for the first few years.

The new organization sought to translate the worldwide interest sparked by Malala’s story into tangible improvements in girls’ lives. “When Malala established her fund, she had a lot of choices about the direction it would take,” said Lynn Taliento, the lead principal for the work. “We spent our time mapping the existing education landscape, identifying the gaps, and debating where and how she could best deploy her unique voice and influence in the world. In the end, we all agreed that the Fund should be an inspiring and bold advocate of girls’ education that actively supports and spotlights some of the most promising leaders and programs around the globe.” It decided to focus on the least-developed countries and organize its activities using three pillars:

  • Advocacy. Malala’s experience, courage, and articulacy make her uniquely qualified to raise awareness of barriers to girls’ education and act as a force for change.
  • Direct action. To achieve maximum impact, the fund offers grants and support to empower local education leaders and strengthen programs already in operation.
  • Amplifying girls’ voices. The fund provides a platform for girls to connect with one another, provide mutual support, and build a global movement.

First published by McKinsey (2017)

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