How to Unlock Big Change is theme of Theirworld International Women’s Day event

Justin Van Fleet With Maysa Jalbout And Amrit Kaur Lohia At Theirworld Iwd 2020
Theirworld President Justin van Fleet with speakers Maysa Jalbout and Amrit Kaur Lohia at the International Women's Day event (Theirworld / Heathcliff O'Malley)

Girls' education, Sarah Brown, Theirworld

How we can all work together to Unlock Big Change for girls and women was the theme of an inspiring International Women’s Day event hosted by Theirworld today.

More than 300 supporters and friends of the children’s charity – most of them women – gathered in London to hear how education can be used as a lever to change systems and achieve gender equity for millions around the world.

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown talked passionately about overcoming the many obstacles that prevent lasting and meaningful progress for girls and women. 

She said: “Our vision at Theirworld is to end the global education crisis and get every child into school – taking on the education and skill crisis and recognising that by 2030 half of young people won’t have the skills they need to have any meaningful employment. That is the barrier standing in the way of women and girls.”

Theirworld’s sixth annual International Women’s Day breakfast event was attended by business leaders, authors, actors, academics, civil society leaders and philanthropists. 

It was hosted by Jamira Burley, Head of Youth Engagement and Skills at Theirworld’s Global Business Coalition for Education. She said: “International Women’s Day provides an opportunity for us to focus on the barriers that exist for girls and women, the systemic issues we still need to address head on, and crucially the intersectional nature of those barriers and systemic problems.

“Our theme is to look squarely in the face of how we unlock big change. That’s what we do at Theirworld. Why tinker on the edges of change when you can use education as a lever to change systems for thousands, if not millions?”

A special Theirworld International Women’s Day Award was presented to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – former Nigerian Finance Minister and Managing Director of the World Bank and currently Chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.

She said: “It is not often that I am moved to tears but to have a room full of women standing up for me – thank you so much, it’s such an honour.” Read the full story about her award.

A new film that showcases Theirworld’s global education advocacy, research and project work was shown. Watch it here.

The event also featured a discussion with four female change-makers talking about how to unlock big change. 

Maysa Jalbout of the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Theirworld on refugee education in the Greek Islands recently returned from a visit there to see new education centres for refugees. She is about to publish a report on the situation for Theirworld.

“I am amazed at how Theirworld is able to put their finger on the exact thing that will help refugee children and youth,” she said. “Theirworld realised that there is so little support and a real chance to unlock big change for the thousands of children caught in that crisis.”

“I have been to a lot of emergency situations and the humanitarian situation in the camps there is one of the worst I’ve seen. We are proposing very direct and urgent support for the children stuck on the islands. We need to get them into school.”

Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever, said: “I am a passionate believer in education being a fundamental enabler in equality. Businesses have to be a force for good in the world. In my time with Unilever, I have seen every day how you can do well and do good at the same time. Making a difference in society has to be at the centre of a business plan.”

Amrit Kaur Lohia, musician, singer-songwriter and a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, talked about the power of culture. She said: “Culture is about community and joy – things that bring people together. It’s such a powerful tool that we can use. Music can encourage people to learn. It’s about making it cool to care.”

Unjoo Moon is a film producer and director of the upcoming movie I Am Woman, about the singer and activist Helen Reddy.

She said: “Telling stories about strong women is incredibly important to future generations of women. It shouldn’t be something special. I hope a generation of younger women will come out of the cinema singing the words that Helen Reddy wrote – I am strong, I am invincible, I Am Woman.”

Guests – who included comedian Sara Pascoe and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick – were also asked to consider these two questions and give their thoughts.

  • Collectively, how can we work together to Unlock Big Change in support of education and opportunity for marginalised girls and young women?
  • How can each of us work to Unlock Big Change for others in our day-to-day lives? 

Among those presenting the ideas from fellow guests was Rosemary Leith Berners-Lee, who with husband Sir Tim Berners-Lee founded the Worldwide Web Foundation. She said: “We should prepare girls and women with skills and aspirations – ensure they are educated for jobs of the future.”

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