Author: Gayatri Patel

Gayatri Patel is the senior policy advocate for gender at CARE USA. In this capacity, she leads the advocacy and outreach efforts of the organization on the gender priorities that cut across all of CARE’s work both in the United States and globally.

Over the last seventy years working with communities around the world, CARE has learned one central truth: effective international development is a two-way street. There’s no single solution that works for every community, but if you listen closely, the community will teach you what it needs. Every girl and woman we reach, every family and community we assist, and every advocate who raises his or her voice on our behalf is part of the give-and-take that informs and empowers our programs, partnerships, policies, and mission. Whether we’re in the field, in a country far away or in a Senator’s office in Washington, D.C, CARE and CARE Action are raising awareness of the needs and hopes of those living in poverty. We are mobilizing advocates, creating learning opportunities and delivering lifesaving information, supplies and services so that people in developing countries can live safer, healthier and more prosperous lives.

In disaster and emergency situations, like hurricanes, wars, famines, and earthquakes, CARE provides immediate lifesaving assistance, then sticks around to help countries recover and rebuild through sustainable development programs that may include health care, food, water, education, infrastructure, environmental and occupational support. Every step of the way, our interventions are informed by the individuals, communities, and countries we serve, who know better than anyone the kind of partnership they need. Over time, we share our cultures, values, and goals and together we learn what works and how to continue progress. That’s what it takes to elevate economies and eradicate poverty.

CARE also knows that development gains are multiplied by the investments we make in education. Through more than a thousand development programs in 94 countries, CARE has worked with girls and women in the poorest countries to eradicate global poverty, often by partnering with communities to make education and skills development a reality. We often build schools, but we also disrupt gender inequality and the social norms that keep young girls from enrolling in or staying in those schools. We often train teachers, but we also work with parents, community leaders, and local governments to create supportive environments outside of the school for girls to learn and grow. We work with girls themselves to define their aspirations and equip them with skills, services, and space to reach for them. What we’ve learned is that a focus on education – both creating meaningful access to education and improving the quality of the education received is critical to progress.

The World Bank just released a preview of an upcoming report about the impact of education on intergenerational economic mobility, titled, “Fair Progress, Education Mobility Around the World.” They focused on education and its impact on earning potentials from one generation to the next and defined mobility in two categories:

  • Absolute Upward Intergenerational mobility reflects the economic futures most parents hope for their children – that they’ll make more money and live better lives than they did.
  • Relative mobility reflects the individual’s hope that they’ll move up the economic ladder farther or faster than their birth circumstances might dictate.

The key to upward mobility in both cases is…you guessed it…education. This report addresses what the development sector has recognized for some time. When girls and women have access to educational resources and the support they need to stay in school, their lives are positively and overwhelmingly impacted. When they’re encouraged to reach for their own personal, academic and professional goals, the personal and economic returns for families and communities are profound. When educating girls is the norm, girls and women fly and their communities’ economic prospects soar with them.

The report emphasizes that “[f]or sustainable and inclusive growth, public policy must support a social contract that addresses people’s aspirations.” That means that before communities living in poverty can elevate their economic statuses; policies, programs, and structures must be in place at every level to promote girls and women’s rights to education and economic opportunities.

The World Bank identifies three requirements that must be in place for countries to reap education’s economic benefits. They write, “First, interventions early in life are critical, because gaps that emerge then are often irreversible. …Second, social norms and hierarchies can interact with aspirations (that are in turn influenced by perceptions of mobility) to limit mobility—and this calls for behavioral insights to be incorporated into policy-making. Third, how policies and investments are applied at the local level matters, from regions or provinces down to individual communities.”

What they’re describing is very similar to CARE’s approach to poverty eradication:

  • Start early so that children grow up strong, smart and capable. That means helping their mothers deliver them safely, guaranteeing solid nutrition and reliable healthcare and helping them go to school. The tremendous growth and learning potential that happens in early childhood can’t be underestimated and deficits can impact their economic prospects for life.
  • Address social norms that hold children back, like cultural norms that exclude girls from school or dictate what is or is not appropriate for girls to do. It’s not enough to say, “all children need educations” if, like in many communities, girls are expected to stay home, fetch water, marry early and start families. When communities begin to question and disrupt social norms that undervalue girls and women and instead, invest in their well-being, they learn that change can benefit everyone.
  • The way resources, policies, and programs are structured and distributed matters at every level, from the desks of top global leaders to the family kitchen table. When women and girls can advocate for themselves and on behalf of their communities, structural changes and power relationships can shift toward equity, stability, and prosperity.

If you want to be part of CARE Action’s mission to eradicate poverty, sign this petition to Congress to let girls learn and support foreign assistance programming.

This post is a part of a series on intergenerational mobility hosted by Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) in support of the World Bank’s #EndPoverty campaign. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FAF or the World Bank.