Article: Fragile environments require action, not hope: Managing Director, IMF

Leadership

Fragile environments require action, not hope: Managing Director, IMF

In a recent interaction hosted by the IMF and the World Bank, Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai and IMF leaders discussed how to break the barriers in women’s education and the role of developed nations in accelerating gender equity and economic growth.
Fragile environments require action, not hope: Managing Director, IMF

“A girl knows her future is safe when she is in school. And she knows that she can build a future for herself and her community when she gets a complete and quality education” - Malala Yousafzai, Co-founder of the Malala Fund, and the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, at IMF and World Bank's Spring Meetings 2022.

At the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s Spring Meetings 2022, the session on ‘Breaking Barriers: A Conversation with Malala and Kristalina Georgieva’, brought the two changemakers together to discuss the current state of girl’s education and how global institutions can enable a more sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

IMF’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva is the first person from an emerging market economy to lead the IMF since its inception in 1944. Before joining the Fund, Ms. Georgieva was Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank and also served as Interim President for a time. 

A fearless advocate of girls education, Co-founder of the Malala Fund, and the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai began her campaign for education at age 11 when she anonymously blogged for the BBC about life under the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Inspired by her father’s activism, Malala soon began advocating publicly for girls’ education — attracting international media attention and awards. Malala is now a graduate of Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

Here are highlights from the discussion.

State of women’s education post-pandemic

“2020 was supposed to be a decade of delivery. We were hoping that we would see more progress. But, unfortunately, because of these external shocks and lack of investment in education, we are seeing a reversal of the achievements and progress that has been made so far for girls’ education. I’m worried about not seeing any progress in the coming year,” said Malala as she shed light on the state of women’s education two years into the pandemic..

She emphasised a need to accelerate efforts for girls education through two avenues:

  • Financing education, especially for lower income countries. Malala urged developed nations to commit 0.7% of their GDP towards foreign aid focusing on girls education, in addition to offering debt reliefs for developing countries, so they aren’t forced to compromise on health and education as they come out of debt. 
  • Quality education and access for all. Young girls from lower income families are the first to be pulled out from education and the last to get back in the face of crisis. By leveraging technology, leaders need to enable access to education for all children

IMF’s three step strategy to bridge the gap

Highlighting the message she gives out to Ministers of Finance to draw investments towards educating girls, Kristalina said, “If you want growth to be higher and budget revenue to increase, please educate girls and empower women. No country can succeed without tapping into the full potential of all its people, men and women. It’s like clapping with one hand.”

Kristalina further shared the three things IMF does in this direction:

  • Put the evidence: “We have calculated that if women have the same access to the labor market as men in the US, GDP would be 5% higher, in Japan 9%  higher, in India 27% higher, in Egypt 34% higher. So, if you want to have prosperity, make sure that women can contribute to their communities, to their societies,” urged Kristalina
  • Encourage protection of education in social spending: Kristalina emphasised the importance of transparent and accountable social spending. She further recommended directing public spending towards most impactful avenues such as education and health
  • Walk our talk: Through IMF’s focus on gender strategy, they ensure they actively promote women to positions of authority. Kristalina proudly shared how three of the top five executives at IMF are women, and this has never happened before. “Women do bring a different perspective, and as a result we make better decisions.”

Noting that we live in a shock-prone world, and for many countries and communities that means prolonged periods of instability, Kristalina reflected on one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic.

“Countries that had stronger social fabric, higher education and inclusion, dealt much better with the shock.” 

Looking back at how countries where inclusivity seemed far-fetched have progressed, Kristalina emphasised the importance of going a step beyond intent and acting upon the hope for progress. “Fragile environments require action, not hope,” she said.

Getting local, creative and innovative with education

“This is a time when we become more creative and think about the resources we have in technology and how we can use that to still ensure that children continue their studies,” noted Malala, citing examples of how NIgeria leveraged radios and Pakistan leveraged national television to not let education stop for girls as the pandemic paralysed the education systems across the globe.

She further highlighted the need to eliminate hidden education fee in the form of books, uniforms, and other facilities that hinder parents from educating their children, especially daughters. 

Speaking of protecting the rights and well-being of children, Malala put the spotlight on refugee children.

“Education for refugee children is a big issue. When speaking about education, we should not leave children behind from marginalised communities, girls and refugee children and refugee girls.”

Highlighting the loopholes in current infrastructure, Malala noted how redundant it is to expect refugee children to have certificates to produce for their education. “Who thinks about collecting certificates when they are living in a refugee zone? The number of refugee children is in the millions and they are important for the future of this world. It is important that education of every child is recognised and prioritised and no child is left behind including girls, refugee children and children from marginalised communities."

Weaving a strong social fabric, beyond verbal statements

Encouraging decision-makers to not just make verbal statements in favour of the cause, but financial level commitments as well, Malala advised leaders to ensure that policies are in favour and alignment of what is committed. 

“Look at the future of education from a lens of inclusivity, access and affordability.”

As shared by both Malala and Kristalina, educating girls and empowering women indeed is key to enabling sustainable and accelerated economic growth. The sooner decision-makers recognise the scope and impact and execute change through macro-level policies, the faster inclusive and multifold progress will be attainable. 

Watch the complete session here:

Image credits: https://meetings.imf.org/

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Topics: Leadership, Diversity

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