Girls for Girls, globally.

In 2013 Lucy Tothill and Gussie Cohen founded EGG - Educating Girls Globally to bring together high school students from around the world to fundraise in aid of girls’ education. Five years on EGG is a registered charity helping to provide a safe, secure, functional school environment in two schools and a refugee camp in Malawi. Lucy made time to talk with us about their achievements so far, and what EGG needs from NZ businesses to help drive change and support girls in Africa

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How did EGG get started?

Gussie and I realised the importance of education for girls when we were in high school, inspiring us to begin our journey towards improving the standard of girls’ education globally. Starting with our immediate resources, we created a funding platform connecting high schools across New Zealand and Australia. With schools fundraising through mufti days, bake sales and barbecues, EGG was able to partner with Build A School in Malawi and begin to support education in Africa.

We’ve got bigger projects on the horizon and a plan to extend our charitable reach out of Malawi. But to broaden our reach we need to appeal to the corporate world, and get sustained support from businesses to further develop the growth of our programme.

EGG has been active for five years now, what would your top three achievements be to date?

Our biggest achievement to date is the hostel we built for a girls’ school in Malawi. Before we had built the hostel, girls were walking up to 8km to school each day, or renting accommodation close to the school. A few months before the on-site accommodation was built an intruder broke into some of the rented accommodation, trying to rape the girls. These are issues we just do not face here. We went over and visited the girls and saw the accommodation they were living in before we built the hostel, and we were so pleased with what we had managed to achieve. They now have a place to stay that is safe, it is close to the school, the girls can study together.

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Another great project was the classrooms we built in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. There is only one refugee camp in Malawi but it has about 35,000 people in it, and most of them are women and children. We built two classrooms, which they have been managing to fit 30 - 40 children in. Without these classrooms the children didn’t really have anywhere to learn. We have connected with refugees in the camp to build the classrooms and teach in them. This wasn’t just us intervening – it’s become a community project in itself. 

We also established a security wall and eight toilets in a girls’ school in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. While the school is well established, it was adjacent to a busy street and street vendors would walk through the school grounds. When we first started working in the school there was only one toilet for 530 girls, so we built another eight toilets. The girls then didn’t have to queue all day to go to the bathroom and can be in class instead.

Each project has been really different, but each has had a measurable impact in girls’ education. These projects were only made possible through a whole community effort: while Gussie and I spearheaded the projects and made sure they have been rolling on each year, it is the collective contributions from the community in New Zealand that make all of this work possible.

How did you choose Malawi?

We have a really good relationship with an organisation called Build a School, who are based in Malawi. They were the first people who took the time to Skype with us, tell us exactly how much money would be needed to complete these projects and send us photos and updates from on the ground over there. We really trust them, and have stayed in Malawi because of the relationship we managed to build with them. There is also a huge need for quality girls’ education in Malawi. With huge barriers for girls to attend school there (including cultural expectations, poverty, lack of funding and resourcing and so on), many girls in Malawi miss out on an education, and we knew we would be able to have an impact with our projects there.  

We’ve also started talking to an organisation in Liberia who have a university and a school that constantly need funding. We have talked about having a partnership with them. Picking a place comes down to finding an organisation you can trust to send money.

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What challenges does EGG face, and what do you need to go forward?

We are a registered charity now, which opens us to a lot more opportunities to get funding and recognition for our work. We are still really small – and we like that! Our size helps us remain transparent, and ensures that donations aren’t lost in layers of bureaucracy and administration.

The more funding we can get, the more of an impact we can make and the more lives we can change. In terms of projects going forwards, the hostel we completed was just phase one of that build. It can currently accommodate 40 girls: phase two will extend the roof and build up the walls, expanding the capacity of the hostel to 60 girls. Alongside that we will also build another kitchen space for the hostel. The requirements for borders at the school are higher than what we can service at the moment, and accommodation for more girls is something that the community would support. We have just put through funding to build the kitchen, but we are in need of another $20,000 to extend the hostel.

A big challenge for us is trying to forecast what kind of donation we are going to receive from schools, some years can be big some small. Such a variation in funding means we can’t really look ahead and plan our projects. What we really need is sustained, ongoing support – not necessarily in huge quantities, but regular enough that we can confidently plan ahead and commit to development projects in advance.

How does the corporate sponsorship model look for you?

The model we work with means we get really good estimated costs for any projects we want to take on. This means it’s easier for a business to look at the projects we are wanting to take on and see exactly how much they need to put in to be able to say they have bought something tangible in Malawi.

We also thought about sponsorship of girls. There is a school in Malawi called Atsikana Pa Ulendo, a fully immersive boarding school that provides everything for the girls. It is around $4,000 for the entire high school experience - so $1000 a year. It would be a great investment for a business to sponsor a girl though her whole high school career. This kind of sponsorship is also quite tangible and measurable: a business could proudly share this as part of their corporate social responsibility plan.

What things should businesses consider when looking at charities to support?

Know the people you are working with! There is such value in transparency and knowing where your money is going. Pick a project or a charity delivering tangible or measurable projects, which you can proudly take ownership of. Having the attachment to something real is really important, so picking a charity that can do that while keeping their operations transparent and telling you exactly where your money is going is key. Something that is high impact - not just something that sounds great but won’t actually benefit people. You have to know your money is helping people.

What project are you looking forward to ticking off the list, and what is on the horizon for Educating Girls’ Globally?

We are really looking forward to the completion of the hostel, something we have been working on for the last five years. It was huge when we completed the first stage, but it would be incredible to finish the last phases of the project and know that 60 girls are safe in Malawi. Once we reach that milestone, I see big opportunities: we want to put more classrooms in the refugee camp, we also want to potentially work more in countries like Liberia, perhaps establishing another classroom at the school there. There is a constant demand for safe, high-quality education across the globe, and the projects we can take on and the impact we can have is endless.

Is your business interested in supporting great charities like EGG? Get in touch with Step Changers now to find out how.