The following is a conversation between Angeline Murimirwa, the CEO of CAMFED, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: CAMFED, also known as a Campaign for Female Education, is an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to eradicate poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. The organization has gained global recognition for its work, including the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award, and most recently, The Audacious Project.
And here to tell us more about this remarkable organization is Angeline Murimirwa, the CEO of CAMFED.
Welcome to the Business of Giving, Angie.
Angie: Thanks so much, Denver, and thanks for having me here.
Denver: It’s my pleasure. CAMFED is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Congratulations!
Angie: We’ve come a long way.
Denver: You have come a long way. Well, tell us how far you’ve come. Give us a little bit of your history and the founding of the organization.
Angie: Well, as you said, CAMFED is 30 years young and going, and CAMFED started in Zimbabwe years back ’93, and the agenda from that time has been keeping girls in school; we still do that. So, as an organization, we help girls get into school, we help them to learn, we support them to succeed and unlock their power to be able to lead. We’ve been doing that for over 30 years. I’ve come through the program, so you’re talking to somebody who’s among the very first girls to be supported through school by CAMFED.
My story in CAMFED is very intertwined, so it’s a privilege to be the CEO for the same organization now.
Denver: That is proximity, having come through the program. You mentioned Zimbabwe, where else do you operate, and what are the ages of the girls in the program?
Angie: We are working across Sub-Saharan Africa, so we’re in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Ghana.
And for us, we support girls from as early as from primary school through secondary school, transition into livelihoods and leadership. We have a broad range of young women, but we mainly focus on ensuring that at least girls, at the very basic level, get to complete their high school, which is also the secondary school.
Denver: Let’s dig in a little bit deeper what you were talking about because I know CAMFED believes education could be a powerful catalyst in transforming the lives of girls. And as you just mentioned, you were one of those girls. Tell us a little bit about that journey.
Angie: Where do I start? So, Well, my story starts at almost the same time that CAMFED started.
So, when I was around 10, 11, that’s when CAMFED came to my community. At that point, I had just completed primary school, and I’d come with the very best results possible, straight A’s, but one of the things that, when you’re coming from a very poor family, is that that’s basically the end of the journey, because when you go to high school, you need a bit more both in terms of just the cost of going there, the decent clothes; at times, itt comes in the form of uniforms, but the stationary that’s needed becomes more. You are an adolescent, so you become even more aware, but it’s also just the school going costs, the fees, and the labors that are needed there.
So, I knew, personally, that that was not a path I was going to go through. My parents were too poor. They call them peasant farmers, subsistence farmers. We just grew enough to eat and when drought hit, we didn’t have enough. So, talk about raising the money that was needed to send me through school.
But it was at that time that CAMFED was just coming through to my community, and I was selected by my community for support. That’s how I joined the CAMFED family; and from that, the rest is history.
CAMFED supported me through secondary school, provided me with financial and material support to go to school. I got, for the very first time, my first pair of shoes. There’s a whole story there, and I had my decent clothes, new uniforms to wear; I had food, but also most importantly, I had a community around me. I had a few more teachers that supported me, my mom, bless her, and everybody was just rooting for me because I was among the very first to be able to go that far.
“For my mom, that was huge because she had dropped out of school herself when she was in grade 6. CAMFED basically gave her the opportunity to see her dream come true through her daughter. So, it’s respect.”
Denver: Yeah. Well, I know CAMFED believes in paying it forward, and you are the epitome of just that. You know, the way CAMFED delivers girls’ education, it’s amazing. What makes it so exceptional and so unique to get the results that you get?
Angie: Well, let me just start with, you said to me, “You’re so exceptional” “pay it forward.” I’m not alone. As I’m speaking to you now, we’ve got the CAMFED Sisterhood.
So, in around ’98 when 400 of us had been supported through school by CAMFED, we came together and decided to launch what we call the CAMFED Alumni Network, so it’s a sisterhood. We have 250,000 members now, and these are young women we have deliberately chosen to pay it forward.
So, you ask me, what is it about CAMFED that makes this possible? I’ll tell you from my own personal experience, not just as the CEO, but also from having lived and across this journey. It’s the very fact that CAMFED is very respectful from the word “go” to communities. My mom did not feel less than because she could not afford to send me to school. CAMFED from the word “go,” it was a clear partnership. “We are going to do what we can; you do what you can. We will support you.”
It had never been about, “Let’s take your child away from you. You can’t pay school fees.” It was, “We would want to support you to make this dream come true.” For my mom, that was huge because she had dropped out of school herself when she was in grade 6. CAMFED basically gave her the opportunity to see her dream come true through her daughter. So, it’s respect. It’s respect to communities; it’s respect to the very fact that communities believe and want the best for their children.
So we come in, and we harness that. And we don’t come in there as rescuers, messiahs, saviors. We come there and say, “As a community, what is it that you can also do for each other?” So, we’ve got community groups that come together that provide school meals to children, that build safe toilets for children. We’ve got now young women that are coming in and accompanying learners through school. So, I think for me, I know CAMFED’s success comes from the very fact that from the word “go,” we are about partnerships, and we realize that it takes a village to raise a girl, and we live that.
Denver: Yeah. You also have what you call the gold-standard system of accountability? Tell us about that.
Angie: Well, for us, accountability, we are boldly and unapologetically accountable to the most marginalized girl.
For us, in a context where people can be so obsessed about who gave us the money? We need to make sure that they see us as good. For us, we believe that when you account to the child, you can account to everybody else. To that child to whom we are set up to serve, what does this child need? What are their aspirations? Who do they want to engage with? How do they want the support provided? For us, that’s our accountability. We account to the child in the manner that we make decisions, in what we do, in how we work with them, in how we measure results. How do we make sure that her experience with us is unprecedented? We talk about the young women that we support as our clients.
Denver: Yeah, when you keep the child at the center, everything makes sense after that in terms of your decisions.
Angie: Everything changes.
“The very fact that 95% of the girls that enter primary school don’t get to complete high school in Africa, tells you just that it’s not a walk in the park; it’s tough.”
Denver: It really, really does. Angie, what are some of the major barriers that girls face in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of accessing school?
Angie: Well, that’s the tragic story of my life. For me, so many years later, we’re still talking about girls thriving in school because of the challenges they’re in; it’s tragic on its own.
The major challenges that we’ve got are often financial, where parents cannot afford, not just the cost of education, but even the indirect cost of it, because it takes money to get a girl to school. We’re talking about uniforms; we’re talking about stationary; we’re talking about such basic things as pads or menstrual products. So, just to think that one month’s supply of menstrual products can cost as much as 20 meals for some families is huge. So, that puts it in a context, I just wanted to clarify the issue around cost.
There are challenges around long distances as well. Girls travel so long, phenomenal distances, to go to school, and we’re talking about not just in the heat, it’s in the rain through always and all times, and when you don’t have the right clothes, that’s torture, that’s painful. That’s not enough.
But also I think for me, one of the things that I think about quite well when I was growing up is issues of role models. When nobody like you has gone as far as everybody’s telling you you can go, at times, it is very difficult to internalize that.
So, there is a challenge around relatable role models that are there, and that’s why I’m excited about our Alumni Network, of all these 250,000 relatable role models that everybody knows and have seen grow.
But there are also other challenges around inadequate qualified teachers, and the ones that are there usually don’t want to go to the remotest rural areas because there aren’t sufficient facilities there.
So, it’s a whole complex of problems there, but I just want to be able to say that the very fact that 95% of the girls that enter primary school don’t get to complete high school in Africa, tells you just that it’s not a walk in the park; it’s tough.
Denver: Yeah, yeah. It sounds that way, man. That’s for sure. Do the traditions and the culture of gender equality have a lot to do with it? I mean, are there those institutions that don’t believe girls need to receive a full education?
Angie: You know, I keep saying to people, I’m yet to see a culture that says we don’t want the best for our children. I’m yet to see a culture that says we don’t want our daughters to be doctors and lawyers. And, there’s a popular saying from one woman that I respect that says that, “It’s not the poverty of culture, it’s the culture of poverty.”
A family that grows from year to year, you don’t have enough to eat, at times, it’s like that choice is already made for you before you even have to make it.
And for me, yes, there are definitely gender issues we need to navigate there. Because I’ll give you an example of excellent gender challenges there, where parents say that if a girl is going to travel 10 kilometers when they’re going to school, is she safe? So, issues around gender usually manifest in safety, where parents then say, “I would rather keep my daughter in my home safe.” When there’s a school that’s local that’s available, parents send them to school.
In all of our 30 years of working, we have never had a family or a community say, “Please don’t send our girls to school in this community because our culture doesn’t allow it, or our tradition doesn’t.”
No, whenever we have provided the financial material needs that parents need, communities have rallied around us and made that possible for their daughters. So yes, there are negative cultural practices that need to still be tackled, but I feel that at times, it’s given as an unfair excuse.
Denver: I got you. And you also deal in a lot of rural areas, so I think to your point, these girls really do have to travel. It’s just not down the street very often; it can be a longer distance than what we might think.
Angie: Yeah, actually, for me, I don’t just deal with rural areas. I’m a rural girl to the core. I grew up there. I was bred there, raised there, lived there. That was my home through my entire life. The very first time I came into an urban area and stayed there, I was shocked by a tripping plug. I didn’t realize that thing was so small because I knew it theoretically from a science book that the tripping plug is the yellow/blue. I was so surprised, this thing was so tiny.
So, I’m a rural girl to the core, and one of the things that I experienced in the rural areas that shocked me later was just how we make do. You know, we survive. We do everything that we can with limited resources that we have got, but the sense of community is unprecedented.
But at times, you also have a sense of community in your poverty. If you don’t have much, you recycle what you have until you have nothing else to recycle. But that’s the beauty of bringing resources. I love it now that we’ve got our young women that CAMFED send through school that are starting businesses, because when you start a business in that economy, it means that’s shared as well.
The sense of community means that that’s shared, the resources available, its opportunities. So, unfortunately, you distribute opportunities, you also distribute poverty in a rural community; so you choose what to put in.
Denver: You know, when I do these podcasts, Angie, I’m always looking for a headline and I think “I’m a Rural Girl to the Core” is going to be mine for this one.
Angie: I am, I am. You should hear this up. So, let me share with you one incident that I had when we were expanding our work. So, I was part of the team that was leading this work in Malawi. So, I went to rural Malawi, and we’re talking about: What are your aspirations for your girls? What would you want your girls to be? And everybody had wondered that the culture won’t allow girls to go to school. I knew that. I knew that people would say that about my mom, so I didn’t believe it from the word “go.”
So, when we’re this rural village, the village has the name, Mangochi. So we’re talking about this, and I was just talking to these parents: What do you want your children to be? Some of them are like: doctor! lawyer! all of this. And some of the parents even said, “I want my daughter to be the deputy director for basic education in Malawi.” Turned out that actually the then deputy director was a son from that village, but they wanted that for their daughter. So anyway, we’re discussing this and everything, and I kept saying to them, “That’s possible, that can be done.” So, they were looking at this rural girl, and they were like, “There’s no way.” So, I was like, “No, you can do that.” So, I say to them, “Do you know that I’m a rural girl?” They’re like, “No way, you can’t be.” I was like, “Really, so my rural girl status is not flying here?” So they say to me, “We want to challenge your rural identity.”
There’s this what we do, where we pound with mortar sticks and everything. So, I said to them, “I can do that.” They said, “Can you?” I said, “Yeah, I can do that.” So you can only be a rural girl to do that right? So you can do it on your own, but when you have to have a second party and a third person doing that with you, you have to know how to do it, and it’s only a typical rural girl. So, I passed my rural girl status in Malawi, but this for me was kind of like really refreshing that they couldn’t see the rural girl in me? Transformation is real. It happens.
Denver: So, you’ll show them. Well, you know what? You can’t fake the rural girl, and even if you do that when you’re older, it ain’t the same as when you do it when you’re younger. When you learn it as a kid, it’s kind of like: It’s in the bones, you know?
Angie: I agree. Rural is in my DNA now.
“So, that whole accompaniment role modeling is around us helping young women to thrive within the school system. What we were given, we are giving it and passing it on, but also making sure that they don’t have to walk on that path alone.”
Denver: That’s really funny. Let’s talk a little bit more about mentorship, and tell us about My Better World, that program that you have.
Angie: Oh, I love that one. I love My Better World, not just the naming of it, but because it’s so relatable.
After some years of us working with young women and everything, so I told you about my own experience of going through school and just going there and feeling like you’re an imposter. You don’t belong, because you are the first of your kind in that classroom. People are so used to that girls from families like yours don’t go to secondary school; so in secondary school… and you’re trying to cope and there is nobody relatable to be able to say, “It’s possible.” So, at times you’ve got your good days and your bad days.
It wasn’t just my unique story for all the young women that had gone through that journey at that time. One of the things that we recognized was that we needed somebody to talk to us, and one of the commitments we made was: We need to go and talk to the others who are walking the same journey. We need to say to them, “We hear you, we feel you, we know this.” We need to bring that out in the open and say, “You are not all of a sudden bad that you feel like, ‘I can’t cope.’ Yes, we also felt like it. We wanted to give up.”
So, what we did with My Better World was we basically just approached all the young women that we’d worked with and young women that were in school and said, “What is the one thing that you’ve wanted to learn when you’re at school?”
And our My Better World curriculum is a whole collection of all of that, so there were issues around self-esteem— I wanted to know how to feel better about myself. I wanted to know about how to be more assertive. There were times when I should have said no, but I felt maybe I couldn’t identify the power. How do I say that? And issues around resilience— how do you come into the classroom on an empty stomach and be confident that there is a future that’s possible? But also, how do I relate with others that don’t really look at me? How do I ask for help?
So, all of those topics are what My Better World is, but the beautiful thing about it, it wasn’t just topics and stories from young women. We also went with curriculum experts to be able to say, How do we make this accessible to the world over? So, our My Better World curriculum is basically all of that, what high school students said they would’ve wanted to learn when they were in school.
It’s so ridiculously relatable that when we had our My Better World book, the handbook, the very first time we went with it to Tanzania, I was part of the team that was there. We got into a classroom with students, and one of the students said, “I want to know: How did you know about my story?”
And I was like, “What?” She said, “This story, I know you changed the name, but this is my story.”
And coincidentally, I knew the girl. It was Patricia’s story. So, this girl in Tanzania related with this story; that’s Patricia’s story in Zimbabwe that I knew.
And she said, “This is all my story, but now I realize that she’s got a better job and everything. I’m not there yet, but all of this, all of this is exactly what’s happening to me.”
Angie: So, I’m just saying, My Better World is relatable, but it’s not just about stories; it’s then about talking to children about:How do you go through it?
But then the role-modeling aspect, this is the beauty of what we do. So, there is this curriculum, and then there are all these young women, members of the CAMFED Association that are trained as learner guides to be able to use that curriculum. So, you’ve got the curriculum, and you’ve got the young woman who is living, breathing, talking, rural to the core, but also transformed, who is now making this make sense.
So, you’ve got a curriculum and somebody who gets into the classroom and relates with students and others. Can we reference this? So, these are reference books they can use on their own, but there’s a person they can talk to… and these young women that when you talk about role modeling and accompaniment, these young women, when somebody’s not turned up to school, they make them home visits— visit home and talk to the parents, to the guardians, to the child, and navigate what’s going on… but also even talk to the teachers: Yes, we realize that she has not been participating very well, and sometimes some the teachers would say, “Oh, she’s not attending school regularly.” Or “She’s coming late,” and then this young woman bridges that and says, “Do you realize that she’s been taking care of her sick mother for the past two weeks? It’s amazing that she can come to school.”
Because we also know from personal experience what it means for a teacher to not know what’s going back at home, but also to feel like that’s too private for me to share, but then realize unless you share it, you don’t get the support that you need. So, that whole accompaniment role modeling is around us helping young women to thrive within the school system. What we were given, we are giving it and passing it on, but also making sure that they don’t have to walk on that path alone.
Denver: Yeah, yeah.
Angie: They’ve got sisters that are rural to their core, but also being very firm and loving as we go.
Denver: Well, clearly if one girl reads a story and thinks it’s about her, and it’s about somebody in a different country, you have hit the mark.
Angie: Exactly, and you know, I’ve heard a lot of people within and outside of Africa, who are like, “Can you also give us copies? Can we do this? We have got teachers that, you know, keep saying I wish I had these ministers of education,” who are like, “We should have had this when we were at school.”
And this is why, right now, as we’re speaking, across the countries that we are working, the international programs that are looking into: how do we bring this My Better World to every girl in secondary school, and how do we have learner guides for every child because they’ve seen that in context that we work, girls are three times less likely to drop out of school. From having an accompaniment and a mentor and just having somebody who gives them, sees them, hears them, and she was there with the support that they need to be able to thrive in school.
Denver: That’s one of the shortcomings of education, I think, around the world. We teach them subjects, but we don’t teach them how to live their lives and teach how to maybe address some of the questions that are just swirling around in their heads, and they find out, and that’s the thing that can stop someone’s education.
You know, you also incorporate sustainable development principles into your work. How do you go about doing that, Angie?
Angie: Ownership, ownership, Ownership. It’s from the word “go” recognizing that people have latent inherent potential. At times, it’s the lack of opportunities to be able to unleash that that leads them where they are. So, how do you ensure that communities own, not just the problem, but the potential, and they’ve got the resources to unleash that?
So for us, from the word “go,” it’s your children. You know, we come in to work with you to support your children, to support the next generation, but from the word “go,” there is nothing that you put into this that’s too small. So bring everything and anything that you’ve got to make this better world possible.
So, from the word “go,” I talked to you about respect earlier. It’s also about that ownership, and it’s about recognizing that people are not less people or less ambitious because they don’t have. So, for us, as an organization, we recognize that from the word “go,” and we look into how do we build from what people have got, not necessarily, “Oh, you need fixing, you need addressing.”
No, it’s, I think, some people are now calling it asset framing. There are all these big words that are going on. For us, we keep it very simple. It’s how do we start from what communities have, and this is what they have in terms of aspirations for their own children, but even the limited resources that they’ve got, what resources do they have, the relationships, the social capital that are in those communities. And we co-create with them, so what is it that we could do together to support the next generation of learners in your community?
And communities come in, they’ve got some of the poorest mothers who run school feeding programs across Africa. But if you’re getting to their community, and you think, “We need to bring you trucks of food… you can’t do it,” then you actually are incapacitating them. That’s not sustainable.
Angie: For us, we start from what communities they’ve got. What else do they need? And they own it from the word “go.” That’s why if a girl drops out of school, at times you get the community say, “Oh, you know, she’d been missing school and she dropped out. We’ve gone there and this is how we’ve addressed it.” She’s back in school because they own that. If they didn’t own it, they would phone you and say, “Oh, you know that client of yours, she’s no longer in school.”
So, for us, it’s about building systems, understanding and pride in communities for them to realize that just that they couldn’t do it before, doesn’t mean that they can’t do it… but also pride in the results.
For us, we have got what we call shared investment. What is the evidence of your investment? What if you invested as a community? So even in terms of how we count what we have done collectively, we say: How many children have you kept in school as a community? How many children? So, it’s not just about what resources we bring. It’s about resources that we’ve unleashed, the relationships, the capacity.
So, for us, when you talk about sustainable development, it’s about that place of pride for the community, where they call it, “We’ve done it ourselves.” So, you go to communities we work with, and you say to them, “So what has CAMFED done?”
They’re like, “Who is CAMFED?” Because as far as they’re concerned, they are CAMFED. CAMFED, they call us like secretary. They call them national office, secretariat staff. They don’t call CAMFED people that come in. They are CAMFED. “As CAMFED, we’ve done this, we’ve built toilets; we have kept this number.” They are CAMFED.
For us, for me, as an African child, as somebody who came through the program, that’s pride. It means that we have said to achieve what we wanted to do. Pride in community, but also making sure community is on the education of their own children.
Denver: Absolutely, and as you said too, I think it all starts with the belief in the girl. She’s like the seed of an oak tree. She doesn’t need any help; she just needs some water and some nurturing, and the answers are all within her herself if we just help her unleash that great potential.
Angie: Exactly, exactly.
Denver: What are you doing in the world of advocacy trying to influence policies and influence systems that affect girls’ education?
So, for us it’s not enough for CAMFED to be doing and for communities to be doing, make doing, and thriving. We believe that systems need to change and transform to enable the most marginalized to go to school. And for us, there are multiple areas of policy that we look at. There are issues of policy enactment. Is there a policy position that enables girls to go to school?
So, for example, there was an issue around reentry for teen mothers, it’s an issue. So, it’s policy enactment, but there are also issues around policy interpretation. So, the policy can be there, but the manner in which it’s interpreted is such that it excludes other children from school. So we look into that.
And then there’s the issue around policy implementation. People know it exists; it’s been interpreted well, but people are just not doing it because they’re so used to doing things in a particular manner. So, for us, it’s implementation. To what extent are you implementing this, and how can this be implemented better?
So, for example, in context where there are limited places in secondary school, you might have a policy that says teen mothers can come back to school, but the way for implementation, there are not enough places for learners from the word “go,” so how do they get back into the school system?
So, for us, issues around practicality, around implementation, but also then look into issues around measuring. To what extent does this work? To what extent is this improved? So, enforcement of that policy is also something that we look at.
So, for us, we are big on not just talking about it, engaging government with it, and all of that. We also bring:How are communities, girls, families living that policy? So we bring that to the national table and say, “This policy is good and whatever, but this is what it has meant to people. This is how it has excluded or included them.”
And the beauty of it is: we’ve got this huge constituency of young women, of girls, of schools, of champions that we work with that can speak to it. So, it’s not just data; it’s also stories, it’s inspiration. So we convince, we inspire in our advocacy. So, we are big on doing; we don’t just say, “Oh, can you do this better?” We actually say, “Do you know that you can reduce dropouts in the hardest hit rural communities?” Our work demonstrated this, and we have got the evidence. So, these are the young women… these are the communities. They can tell you how they did it.
So, for us, our advocates are very action-oriented, but in fairness, we are also really grateful to others that you mainly talk about it, getting platforms, because we’ve had huge platforms to be able to demonstrate what works in our model. So, I think it’s a coexistence of all the talkers and the doers, the campaigners, policy changers, and all of that.
We need everything to be able to do that. But we are big on, you know what we need to focus on getting this generation of girls in school, but also ensuring the system is available to enable more to go into the future. That’s our advocacy lens.
Denver: Yeah. Well, you know, for a lot of organizations, advocacy ends when the policy is passed. And it sounds like for you, the advocacy begins when the policy is passed.
Angie: Well, that’s just the warm up.
Denver: That’s just getting the field set for the game. Now, we’re about to play the game.
Talk a little bit about data because I know you use it in your own work very, very carefully. You have monitoring mechanisms to assess your impact and help your decision making. Tell us about the role that data plays in the way you run CAMFED.
Angie: Yeah. For us, we say if you don’t measure it, it didn’t happen. I think you can tell that there is no end in inspiration for our work, that not only are we inherently inspired, motivated, inspired to do our work, but we also believe that it’s important for data to tell the story on its own. Not just for me to say, “Oh, education worked for me,” but for you to be able to say, “Okay, so how many girls to date have you been able to support through school?”
So, to date, we have supported over 6 million, boys, girls, vulnerable children to go to school as an organization, and over 1.6 million girls through secondary school because like I said to you, we support the whole spectrum, but the biggest challenge has been in completion.
But for us, data is at the center, so there are three areas that we are working on as an organization as key strategies.
The first one is completion of secondary school. So, completion means that you have to gauge retention rates; you have to get performance rates, you have to check year to year transition, and of course how many get to successfully complete. So, we are very big on data, our own data, but also the secondary data within that. To what extent are we doing, not just better as an organization, but how is the system improving? Talk about sustainability.
But we also then look into livelihoods, transition into livelihoods. Unfortunately, graduating from high school or having a diploma doesn’t mean you automatically then have a paycheck. So for us, we look into: What is the significant difference that education has meant? How much income does this young woman have?
Plus, we celebrate the multiplier. The very fact that for every girl that is a member of the CAMFED Association, they support at least three other girls to go to school from their own income. So, for us, when we talk about the multiplier, we are big on that, to be able to show that, we educate one; three graduate, those three that graduate then will multiply.
Denver: Oh yeah, exponential, the power of compounding.
Angie: Exactly. We are very big on: what is the data telling us? But as we do that as an organization, we look into: How do we increase that multiplier, for example? And we look at all those areas around businesses. What kind of businesses are young women running? What kind of further education opportunities are there? What employment opportunities are there? But also looking to leadership because we work in the hardest hit communities where girls like Angie don’t get to all of a sudden be a CEO of a global organization.
Talk about just being a leader of our village group. We also look into leadership. How many of the young women from these most marginalized communities are now sitting in leadership positions? By the end of last year, it was over 23% of our Leadership Alumni Network were occupying leadership positions. This was from the village, national, local, and international. So, to be able to have this constituency of young women in leadership is big.
So, just talking data for us, we are big, yes, on monitoring data, but external, independent evaluations to be able to look into how well we are doing. But also we look into: What is the impact? What is the population level change we are bringing in as an organization? So just to say, we don’t just do, we also measure, and we look into what is making the most difference, and how do we magnify and multiply that.
“Money in an envelope does not get a girl into school, but money in an envelope, supported and anchored by the community, makes sure that girl completes successfully school experience and all of that.”
Denver: Absolutely. Very cool. Let me pick up on two things you just talked about. One is your business model. Here you are, you know, these girls are going to school for free. But then you indicated all these wraparound services too in terms of uniforms and books and sanitary pads and everything else. How do you finance all this? What’s your revenue model look like? What are your funders? Who are your donors? How do you make this all work, Angie?
Angie: Well, we have got an amazing consortium as an organization, so we are a consortium of nine entities. So, I talked to you about our work in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Ghana, but we also have got consortium entities in the USA, in Canada, and in the UK, and Australia. And for us, we work together to be able to look into: How do we resource the mission? How do we make this funding possible?
So, just to talk about the breakdown, I’ll give you the 2021 figures as approximate as I can give you. So, over 50.4 million pounds was a budget for 2021, and close to half of that– more than half, 26 million– was from trusts and foundations that funded our work. We had I think around 18.7 million was institutions, and this includes governments, statuatories, and all of that.
Public donations were around 7.2 million pounds of that, and we’ve got corporate donations, legacies, gifts-in-kind, and all of that. But like I said to you, we have got huge funding and huge support from the very communities in which we work. We make all of this wraparound and all of this work because money in an envelope does not get a girl into school, but money in an envelope, supported and anchored by the community, makes sure that girl completes successfully school experience and all of that.
But I also just want to say that for us it’s: how do we make these two coexist, right? Global financing. We’ve got champions and friends of CAMFED from across the world. I’m not going to mention any individuals, otherwise I leave some, but it’s important for us to be able to talk about people that have supported us to date.
But we also have got local philanthropy, mothers that keep children in school. I talked to you about the CAMFED Association young women that also support at least three other girls to go through school, so we are grateful for where we are. We wouldn’t have been able to do what we do now without the support and people that believe, not just in girls’ education, but in CAMFED as the organization to support girls’ education through.
Denver: The other thing I wanted to pick up on, Angie, was leadership. You just indicated that 23% of your girls are leaders in some capacity. What is your philosophy? What is your approach to leadership?
Angie: Oh yeah, and I’ll start with like, we still need more money, you know that, right?
Denver: Yeah, yeah.
Angie: Millions of girls that are still out of school in Africa as I speak, I say to you, that’s my heartbreak, that’s what keeps me awake because I know personally the value of that.
So, just my philosophy and approach to leadership. First and foremost, I count myself very lucky to be where I am today, and I mean that in every way because when I was at primary school and when I got CAMFED support to go to secondary school, there were girls and boys who were equally good, if not better, that did not get the same chance. And I have seen how different our lives are because I got a chance that they didn’t.
So I count myself very lucky to have gotten the opportunity that I’ve got and for that, I owe the world rent for that opportunity in every way. Every time I say there’s a reason why I got the opportunity that I got and how do I, not just pay it forward, but pay it big? How do I honor my friends, colleagues, and all the other millions of girls who didn’t get the same opportunity? How do I do that? So, I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I got, and for me, I take it as a challenge to be able to do that big and better. So, every single day I’m just looking at: How do I do bigger, better, faster?
But not just that. I’m very conscious of the very fact that our life on earth is very limited; we’re not here forever, but there’s so many things that need to be done. So I’m big on collaboration. I’m big on networks. I’m big on: If this matters so much, it shouldn’t be just about me, it shouldn’t just be about CAMFED, it shouldn’t just be about the few people that do it. How do we get as many people as possible on this so that we can get as many millions of children as possible to go through this?
For me, the most tragic thing is when people say to me, “Angie, you’re amazing.” And I’m just like, “Do you know how many hundreds, thousands of my colleagues that could be amazing, but they didn’t get that opportunity?” But you know, I could wallow in that. But also it’s recognizing that we have an unprecedented opportunity just by breathing in this time, in this season, to be able to do the best that we can with what we have while we can, and to collaborate.
I tell you for me, I’m like, “You know what? Because we care about this, we should be able to engage, navigate, and thrive for the sake of every girl. You should partner with people that you would not normally want to partner with for the mission for the girl.” That matters.
So, my philosophy of leadership is I think it’s a privilege to lead. When you’ve got an opportunity others didn’t get, don’t get your head too big.
Denver: Well, you know, one of the things that I like in what you said: anybody who attributes a large part of the success to luck, really it keeps you humble because when you begin it was you, then you begin to lose your humility. But when you realize, “Hey, some of this was being at the right place at the right time, with the right opportunities” that keeps you humble.
And I love what you say about collaboration because if we’re ever going to solve the problem that we’re all looking to solve, and in your particular case, girls’ education in Africa, to think you can do it by yourself is just a pipe dream. You have to bring numbers in. Otherwise, if you try to do it yourself, really all you’re concerned about is building your organization and not solving the problem. And if you want to solve the problem, you have to do it with others. There’s no question about it.
Angie: It’s the humility of realizing that… actually, I’ve always said this… I didn’t get to vote for my parents, right? I didn’t choose the parents I was born to. Neither did I choose the context in which I was born in. So, when I talk about luck at times, it’s as basic as that, you know?
Yes, you then bring your whole self into it. You do the best that you can with the opportunities that you’ve got, but just to recognize that… Come on, you did not get to choose the parents that gave birth to you or the context. So, a child who is born, for example, in Malawi, you know that actually there is around 40% chance you will go to secondary school just because I was born there.
Just because I was born there. I didn’t do anything, just because I was born there; already my chances are limited.
So, I think for me, I look at that quite broadly and say, “You know, we are fortunate to be alive in this time, in this season. You have the opportunities that we have got, and it shouldn’t get into our heads. But at the same time, make sure that you tap into the gift that you are, and do the best that you can while you can.
Denver: Let me ask you about workplace culture. It’s one of my favorite topics. How would you describe the workplace culture at CAMFED, and what do you do to try to influence it and try to shape it?
Angie: Wow. I like that question. Workplace culture, so, by the way, we’ve got chief people in culture as an organization. That tells you that it matters. But from the word “go” for us as an organization, it has always been about accountability to the child. It’s: We are all here to serve, to bring a service to the child, but as we work together, how do we leverage the best that you can?
There’s an example that I always tell colleagues, I say, “Oh, you guys, we are in the kitchen together, and we’re trying to come up with a menu.” So, if I’m going to bring water, and somebody’s going to turn on the stove, and somebody brings the salt, all of it is that critical to get us to where we need to go to give this to the child.
So, for us, the workplace culture is: Everybody matters. It doesn’t matter that it’s the person that cleans the offices. It doesn’t matter that it’s the person that drives everybody around. It doesn’t matter if the person who deals with the double entry, the systems. No, it doesn’t matter. It’s everybody doing what they can and bringing excellence into it. It’s what’s going to make sure that we bring the best possible that we can to the client that we serve.
That is back of beyond in the village, in the rural areas. We have never seen a computer, but what you are doing, you need to realize that it’s called Ripple effort to get to that, and we’re quite open and not transparent about that. I think to the point that we border on informality, unless you know I’m the CEO I would rather you don’t, because I think for me it’s a title, but it should not get into the way of the work, in the way we work, in who everybody thinks they might know.
For us, it’s collaboration. It’s collaboration, it’s collaboration. How do we bring all these amazing brains, energy, experiences, expertise for the optimum result? That’s what matters. And let’s call it our alternate, and I always say to the team that if you don’t want to say this to the CEO, say it on behalf of the millions of girls who are counting on you saying it; so let’s do that.
So, to be honest, I would want to believe that we are very open, progressive, accountable culture to the child. For us, we realize that we serve the girls, the most marginalized girls, in most cases with the least recognized power. So how do we turn up on their behalf and on ourselves, but how do we bring our best A-game to that as we do.
Denver: Well, that’s well-stated, and I think the healthiest cultures are ones where everybody in the organization is equally valued in terms of the role that they play, and also they can see how what they’re doing promotes the mission. They can see that line. It’s just, “I’m not doing this job,” but they can say, “No, because I’m doing this job, we’re able to do X, Y, Z over there,” and that is really great.
Finally, Angie, you’re an optimistic, positive person. Tell me about the future vision that you have for CAMFED. Where do you want to be 5 or 10 years from now?
Angie: That’s what fires me, right? So I’ll tell you the ultimate vision, which is the vision, not just for the organization, but for me. I live for this, I breathe this, I love this. So, our vision, so please paint this, Denver, tap into your head, right?
Angie: Paint this. This is the vision: A world in which each and every child is respected, valued, educated, and can grow up to turn the tide of poverty for yourself, your family, and your community.
Just that’s the world we live for as an organization. That’s the world that wakes me up every single morning because I can’t tell you how ridiculous it is for the 5-, 10-, 15-year-old me to see me where I am at. I know that it’s possible.
Over the next five years as an organization, we are going to be supporting over 5 million more girls to complete secondary school, 5 million more.
So for me, I live, breathe for this. I’m looking forward to this for us as an organization. So we are looking into that –livelihoods, definitely, supporting more young women to start climate-smart sustainable businesses, supporting young women to be able to go into leadership to ensure that policies are not just enacted… they’re implemented, interpreted, all of that, but all of that for a world where each and every child can wake up in the morning, can be born anywhere, and know that I can shape my future.
Denver: I love that vision.
Angie: For me, that’s my vision.
Denver: That’s your vision, and you know, one of the things funny about it, Angie, a vision like that, when you hear it for the first time, you say, “That’s crazy! That’s never going to happen!” But when you hear it about the sixth time, you’re saying, “Well, maybe.” You know what I mean? “It just might happen,” and you begin to actually believe it. And when you paint it so vividly, and you place people in it, they begin to say, “Yes, we could do this.”
Angie: I have lived this.
Denver: You’re the embodiment.
Angie: So, I’m not just optimistic, and I see this every single day in girls.
Angie: I’ve got a colleague, called Fiona; she was a vegetable vendor. You know the young women that run with a dish of vegetables when buses come in, and they’re selling vegetables? That she is a qualified lawyer is ridiculous.
So, I’m just saying to you, it’s not just about me. CAMFED helps me to see this every single day. Come on, in Malawi, quite recently, we had a partner on Science Day where we’re talking about science, where the microbiologist, a pharmacist, a medical doctor… these are girls with mothers dropped out of school, in standard three, standard four. So I’m just saying for me, when I talk about that vision, I’ve got the audacity to dream that is possible, because every single day I get an intoxicating and relenting dose of these stories every single day.
Denver: Absolutely. Everyday miracles around you all the time.
Angie: All the time, all the time, yeah.
Denver: For listeners who want to learn more about CAMFED, or financially support this incredible work you’re doing, tell us about your website and how they can get involved.
Angie: Please get to www.camfed.org. There are multiple opportunities for you to be able to give and to participate. You can join our global sisterhood as well, so we continue to share with you ideas around how you can make the world a better place in your space and everything, but most importantly, please contribute.
There are opportunities for you to be able to give and be able to support a girl, not just like Angie, but better than Angie. Who knows? We might have the next president from this constituency of young women. I’m just saying, get on our website; you hear about stories from various, multiple young women. But also please don’t leave that website without giving another girl a chance to be able to shape who they are and where they go.
Denver: Fantastic. Well, thanks, Angie, for being here today. It was an absolute delight to have you on the program.
Angie: Thanks so much, Denver. All the best.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.