Head of the Class: Investing in Female Education Drives Human Development and GDP

HP is the first funder of a scholarship that will help female students around the world get a college degree

"If you want to change the world, invest in an adolescent girl."

That was the message of the 2011 report, Girls Grow, produced by the non-partisan think tank Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

"An adolescent girl stands at the doorway of adulthood. In that moment, much is decided. If she stays in school, remains healthy, and gains real skills, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family."

The report was focused on girls in rural economies, but the principle of investing in girls to advance the overall welfare of society can be applied to any type of economy.

Indeed, according to the 2011 OECD Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, "girls have on average better grades" in OECD nations. The report also notes, "In terms of science literacy, there are no significant gender differences. But young women are much less likely than young men to choose Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) as field of study at graduate level; the share of women in these fields further declines at the post-graduate level."


Thus, a major part of the overall solution to sustainable and equitable human development is bridging the economic divide that runs along gender lines, particularly because of the positive spillover that financial inclusion produces. When investments are made in women, there's a multiplier effect that happens more often than when similar investments are made in men: When women experience economic growth, their families and communities are much more likely to come along for the ride.

In fact, if society removed the various barriers to economic participation that women regularly experience—lack of access to jobs, education, markets, property and credit, for example—all nations, even OECD nations, would experience a rise in GDP. "A higher activity rate among women would be the most influential factor, boosting GDP by about 40 per cent of hypothetical growth," according to Åsa Löfström of the Department of Economics at Umeå University in a report prepared for the Swedish Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality.

"Educating girls and women has cascading benefits for human development," according to a joint statement issued by UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Education International on the occasion of World Teachers' Day on October 5, 2011. "ewer deaths in childbirth; more healthy babies; more children in school; better protection for children and women from HIV and AIDS, trafficking and sexual exploitation; and the economic and political empowerment of women, leading to stronger and more inclusive development."


Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), an American multinational hardware and software corporation headquartered in Palo Alto, California, a.k.a. HP, has answered the call to invest in female education, being the first funder of a new scholarship fund that will help female students enroll in and complete associate degree programs in 2012 and 2013 at the University of the People (UoP). Founded in 2009 by entrepreneur Shai Reshef in Pasadena, California, and approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, UoP the world's first tuition-free online university, dedicated to "the global advancement and democratization of higher education." To date, the university has enrolled 1,500 students from more than 130 countries.

UoP offers Associates and Bachelors degree programs in Business Administration and Computer Science, featuring a teaching model that is a synthesis of e-learning, social networking and collaborative learning, based on open educational resources and open-source frameworks. While the university is tuition-free—students will not have to pay for educational instruction, course materials or annual enrollment—there is processing fee that ranges from $10 to $50, depending on an applicant's place of residence, and a $100 exam processing fee per each end-of-course exam.

The $200,000 donation was announced by Gabi Zedlmayer, Vice President of Sustainability and Social Innovation at HP, when she was a panelist at this year's DLD Women Conference. Held earlier this month in Munich, the conference attendees discussed how new rules and an increased perceived value in the power of education has affected the lives of women and girls across the globe.

"By educating the women who are underserved, UoPeople exemplifies the use of technology as a force of powerful good," said Zedlmayer.


HP's announcement is the latest in the company's education-based initiatives. As Ethan Bauley notes on the HP corporate blog, "he company started providing virtual internships to under-resourced students in collaboration with the educational organizations in the HP Catalyst initiative who are innovating and applying technology to break down learning barriers for disadvantaged youngsters everywhere."

HP, which was founded in a one-car garage in Palo Alto by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, who both graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1935, has been a leader in corporate social responsibility in recent years. In 2008, the company released its supply chain emissions data, which was an industry first at the time.

In May 2010, HP was named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Institute, the second year in a row the company made the list, which was a result of Ethisphere's review of thousands of nominations from more than 100 countries and 35 industries. Last year, HP was ranked Number One on Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics.

Investing in women makes particular sense for a company with a female CEO. "We believe that good citizenship and good business go hand in hand," wrote HP CEO Meg Whitman in the welcome letter of HP's 2011 Global Citizenship Report. "A reputation as a responsible corporate citizen is a competitive advantage that supports our customer relationships, our employee commitment and our shareholder value."



Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies. October 7, 2011. Accessed July 23, 2012.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Report on the Gender Initiative: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship. May 26, 2011. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Åsa Löfström. . Swedish Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality. October 19, 2009. Accessed July 24, 2012.
United Nations Girls' Education Initiative. Joint Message from UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, ILO and Education International on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day, 5 October 2011. October 5, 2011. Accessed July 24, 2012.
University of the People. University of the People website. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Ethan Bauley, HP is first contributor to UoPeople Women Scholarship Fund. HP Blogs. July 13, 2012. Accessed July 20, 2012.
Jaymi Heimbuch. HP Steps Up IT Industry Transparency, Releases Supply Chain Emissions Data. September 24, 2008. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Ethisphere. 2010 World's Most Ethical Companies. March 22, 2010. Accessed July 24, 2012.
Greenpeace International. Guide to Greener Electronics. November, 2011. Accessed July 24, 2012.
HP. HP 2011 Global Citizenship Report. June 11, 2012. Accessed July 24, 2012.

image: mcinerney_em, Flickr Creative Commons