Worldwide, women and girls are underrepresented in the classroom. The United Nations reports that 5 million more primary school age girls than boys will never learn to read and write. Three nonprofits in the WeWork creator community—one fusing skateboarding with education, one led by a 20-year-old Nobel Laureate, and one empowering women with tech—work to bridge the educational gender divide. Learn how they do it.
Oliver Percovich, Founder and Executive Director
Skateistan, the top winner at the Berlin Creator Awards, started in 2007 when Percovich, a lifelong skater, moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, for his wife’s job and brought a few boards along with him. The hobby caught on quickly with the local children—boys and girls alike—and he launched a brand-new program: youth empowerment through skating and schools. Ten years later, the nonprofit with 80 full-time staff now runs schools (with skate parks) in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa. And, yes, Tony Hawk is a member of the board.
Why is skateboarding important for girls in Afghanistan?
Any of the sports that were happening, it was all boys. But somehow, the girls were skateboarding. It was a loophole: No one had actually thought to ban it yet. I jumped on that opportunity and I gave the girls more time on the skateboards than the boys, and naturally they became better skateboarders than the boys!
Now in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, there’s a greater concentration of female skateboarders than anywhere else in the world. There’s nowhere else in the world where 500 girls come every week to skateboard. And that’s in Afghanistan, where girls can’t play sports, where other NGOs find it really, really hard to work.
“There’s nowhere else in the world where 500 girls come every week to skateboard. And that’s in Afghanistan, where girls can’t play sports, where other NGOs find it really, really hard to work.”
How do you keep the girls going to school?
We’ve always put way more resources in getting to that 50 percent girls mark. We have separate days for boys and girls in order to get the buy-in from the community. We provide transport for the girls to come and go from our skate school. We do home visits for the girls if they don’t turn up to class and follow up with the families. We did over 1,000 home visits in Afghanistan last year.
The girl that became the first female skateboard instructor was pulled out of school by her parents when she was 11 years old. The parents just needed money. They saw those two hours she would go to school as hampering her income-earning ability. So I made a deal with the parents where I made her a skateboard instructor and paid her $1 per session. We got her back to school, and that got me back to thinking: maybe there’s more that could happen.
The Malala Fund
Farah Mohamed, CEO
Malala Yousafzai, the world-renowned advocate for girls’ right to education, established The Malala Fund in 2013. The nonprofit, which has an office at WeWork Dupont Circle, focuses on girls’ secondary education in countries where most girls are out of school, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and countries which house Syrian refugees, including Lebanon and Jordan.
What motivates your organization?
Malala is the youngest Nobel Laureate and well-known around the world. But she would be the first to tell you that awards and recognition mean nothing to her if they don’t help girls go to school. We believe girls are our future leaders, creators, and self-starters. But 130 million girls are denied an education today.
What’s your approach?
Malala Fund wants to speed up progress on girls’ education. To do this, we’re investing in educators and activists working in countries where most girls are out of school. Local leaders are best-placed to identify and solve challenges facing girls in their communities.
“Local leaders are best-placed to identify and solve challenges facing girls in their communities.”
What’s the impact so far?
We’re in our fourth year of operations. Already we’ve impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of girls. But there are millions more out of school. We’re ready to build on our early successes and scale our work to speed up progress for the next generation of leaders.
Saeed Jabbar, Founder and Instructor
Started in New York City, Inclusion works to close the digital divide by providing underserved populations with the training, skills, and access they need to pursue careers in technology. Headquartered in WeWork Studio Square, the nonprofit just celebrated its sixth graduating class on Oct. 4 with an event keynoted by WeWork Co-founder Miguel McKelvey.
What do you do to get women to 50 percent in your classrooms?
This year, we’ve moved all our ad spend on Facebook and Instagram to target only women. Even though that costs twice as much, it’s played a key role. I’ve always made it my goal to get over the 50 percent level. With this last class that graduated, we had 60 percent. We made it an active, conscious choice, especially for underserved women in communities across New York City, like Far Rockaway.
“We’ve moved all our ad spend on Facebook and Instagram to target only women.”
If a small organization like us can pull it off, I see no reason why these bigger companies can’t. It just takes someone within the organization to stand up and say, “I’m going to do this.”
Why did you choose to focus on women?
Women are more likely to finish the class and are more committed. You start to see the impact with their families. They can afford better apartments and buy cars.
“If a small organization like us can pull it off, I see no reason why these bigger companies can’t.”
What happens when classrooms don’t have an equal balance of men and women?
When there’s only one or two women in the class, they feel intimidated and guys start to hit on them. They feel much more comfortable knowing there’s a support structure there for them. Their confidence grows when they’re not the only one. They start to use the buzzwords and feel like they’re part of this tech ecosystem.