“Education is mine and no one can snatch it away,” a girl coolly once told Safeena Husain, Founder of NGO Educate Girls. Little did she realise that her empowering statement would come to define the relentless effort the organisation has been putting over the last 16 years to educate out-of-school girls.

Safina Hussain’s inspiring work -- that began in 50 villages of Rajasthan in 2007 to provide access to quality education to school dropout girls and has since spread to over 25,000 villages also in MP and UP -- has fetched her NGO Educate Girls the “Changemaker: Social Transformation Award” for 2023 from businessline.

Feeling elated at receiving the award, Hussain said that it would motivate her further to strive towards her vision of ensuring that in the next decade, ten million girls complete their 10th grade and beyond education.

“We first find a community champion who is a girl with exposure in education, train them, and go door to door to find other girls to introduce or bring them back to schools. For that we have to motivate their parents on the need for education which goes beyond just making them literate”, she summed up her NGO’s initiative of head hunting to bring them into mainstream. The NGO taps into young girls who can join schools from first to eighth standard since it’s aligned with the Right to Education. For older girls, the NGO does life skills, Hussain remarked.

Another effort she is making is to give a “Second Chance” to girls who could not complete their 10th grade for whatever reasons. “It’s in the initial phases. We began with 300 of them, and hopefully, we should have 10,000 girls this year who would be enrolled in schools because that’s the minimum qualification required for skilling, and getting jobs, including becoming an aganwadi worker,” she explained.

The NGO works in partnership with the government and utilises government schools for girls’ education.

Hussain said “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” campaign of the government has had an impact, as it’s on everybody’s mind to educate girls. According to her, the problem, however, exists that is mainly in secondary education. “Five per cent of villages have 40 per cent of out-of-school girls. And we have seven lakh villages,” he narrated to give a sense of the ground reality.

She also had success stories to recount. The changemaker said that many girls graduating from her NGO have gone on to do very well in their lives.

Hussain’s own life resonates with the second chance she is offering to girls whose lives she wants to change through education. She said she used to live in a ‘janta flat’ in Delhi and her initial education was cut short. With help she finally managed to go to the London School of Economics, worked at Silicon Valley, and undertook challenging assignments in countries like Ecuador. However, she eventually heeded an inner calling to come back and work to transform lives of poor girls.

Sharing moving tales that she encounters of the lives of girls living in the less-travelled areas of the country, Hussain said during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the girls from underprivileged backgrounds were married off because it was cost-effective for their families, as they had to invite very few people.

Along the way, Educate Girls has also done a couple of tech and finance innovations like the world’s first development impact bond which is a pay-for-performance contract. In a way, it’s a financing tool and it has taken off well, she stated.