Why Data Is So Important to Educating Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa
Camfed wields numbers to evaluate educational hurdles, pull in partners, and maximize its success.
When it started in 1993, the Campaign for Female Education— Camfed , for short—helped 32 girls go to school in rural Zimbabwe. Last year , the organization directly supported 538,782 students across Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Of those students, nearly 50,000 used the organization's safety net fund to purchase school supplies such as school uniforms, shoes, and stationery, and another 113,000 students received scholarships to help defray the costs of secondary schooling.
In speaking with Brooke Hutchinson, director of Camfed USA, I learned that the organization's exponential expansion can be credited to close cooperation with a host of different partners—public and private international organizations, state ministries of education, school and district-level committees, community activists, teachers, volunteers, and alumni. Rather than seeking to disrupt existing institutions, Camfed invests in and works through government schools to expand educational access.
Technology plays an important role in that endeavor, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. While Camfed has distributed thousands of smartphones and e-readers (thanks to a partnership with Worldreader ), its most meaningful innovations happen out of sight. By collecting data about students, mentors, and alumni, Camfed isn't just improving its own accountability; it's collecting data that helps teachers track student progress, partners deploy resources, and governments devise better educational policy.
Why Communities Matter
Hutchinson stressed that the organization is heavily focused on secondary education, where it receives its largest return on investment. Secondary education can be expensive in sub-Saharan Africa, whereas primary school is typically free, though Camfed can offset the cost of incidentals. When local schools aren't available, girls often attend boarding schools, which entail school and exam fees. Here Camfed can intervene, and at a modest expense.
However, money is only part of the challenge. Some girls are the heads of their households, in which case free schooling or supplies won't help them care for a child or parent. Camfed has developed an extensive alumnae network and mentorship program through which girls connect with allies and leaders inside their communities.
Those communities shape the organization's philanthropy. School-based committees of teachers and parents identify girls based upon need, assess their risk of dropping out of school without support, and evaluate their living situation. Camfed oversees the process via volunteers and alumnae, as well as administrative offices in the countries where it operates.
Why Data Matters
Once Camfed sponsors a student, it begins collecting data on her progress. However, logistical impediments abound. Because Camfed concentrates on rural areas, participants often lack access to computers or the Internet. According to Hutchinson, many schools aren't even on the electrical grid.
Smartphones are indispensable to data collection. Through Camfed-provided phones teachers and mentors conduct mobile banking (which helps them avoid long trips to local banks), access the organization's mobile technology platform (what it calls the Social Education Network), and track student progress using an ODK, an open-source mobile monitoring application.
While it sounds technical, that ODK is central to the organization's philanthropy. Camfed has developed monitoring forms through which teachers and mentors can track and upload specific data points, such as a student's family and living situation, school performance, and bursary status to the organization's Salesforce database. Camfed uses an integration tool called Jitterbit to sync the forms with that database. In combination with FinancialForce , Camfed's database serves as the backbone for all of its programs as well as its financial, fundraising, communications, and HR information.
Practically speaking, that database enables Camfed to collect information that serves teachers, community members, and partners. A teacher can track a student's attendance and grades. A community member can use information about her living status to ensure she has the supplies and support she needs to stay in school. And a partner can use disaggregated data to answer questions that inform policy. Are more girls dropping out of school because of pregnancy? When do they get married and have children? How many graduates start their own businesses?
Why Partnerships Matter
Camfed has no shortage of partners. At last count , the organization was working with more 5,306 schools across 129 rural districts. Camfed has forged numerous partnerships with ministries of education, international organizations like the European Commission and Human Dignity Foundation, and private companies such as Google and British Airways. The ability to access disaggregate data (while protecting student security) is integral to shaping public policy.