Safeena Husain – Educated a Million Girls and Won $1.2 Million Prize for Doing So

Safeena Husain, a globally famed social activist, has been the reason that more than 100,000 girls from underprivileged communities of India are going to school. She set up Educate Girls as an NGO in 2007. Since then, the NGO, under the leadership of Safeena Husain, has been fighting for gender inequality in India’s education system.


Early Life and Career

Born and grew in Delhi, Husain graduated from the prestigious London School of Economics. While she was applying to foreign institutions, many of family and friends tried to dissuade her father from investing in her education because, the traditional notion was, and still is in many sections, that higher education was not for girls since the aim of a girl’s life was to marry and do homely duties. However, her father did not pay heed to any of such conforming proposals and bore the expense of her daughter’s studies abroad, which even let him sell his business. Safeena has herself remarked that she ‘could have been another victim of the patriarchy,’ had her father not stood by her.

After completing her degree course, she moved to Silicon Valley, United States, but left after a short period in order ‘to do something more impactful.’ She went to work in the developmental sector for more than 15 years. During those years, she served as Executive Director of Child Family Health International, a US-based non-profit organization, and was associated with many others such projects to help rural and urban communities in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, and India.

Husain’s Home-coming

Husain ‘always wanted to return and work in India’. The chance came when she was to set up a clinic in Uttarakhand, India. On a visit to a village in the region, Husain came to know about the villagers’ apathy to the girl child, ‘as if it were a curse.’ This was where she picked gender equality and girl child education as the core issues that she would like to work around in Indian communities.

She searched for government’s statics and was disconcerted on knowing that there were some 26 extreme gender gap districts in India. 9 of those districts were in Rajasthan, the state that was the capital of the social evils like illiteracy, child marriage, dowry, early motherhood, and others. Husain got the further shocking realization about India, the country with the largest number of illiterate women in the world. A resolved Safeena Husain chose Pali district to start a mini experimental project, and that gave birth to Educate Girls in 2007.

Educate Girls

Educate Girls functions in a simply outlined process: it uses government data to find all school drop outs and performs independent surveys too; it works on their enrollment and retention; and develops learning effects of the students. The organization’s objective is to endow girls with life skills so that they can themselves lead others. It aids the school administration in ‘school improvement plans,’ especially for maintaining standard infrastructure to accommodate for girls and even boys.


Safeena’s another program, to train one teacher from every school in Creative Learning and Teaching (CLT) methods, is also remarkable. Learning through pictures and puzzles, instead of the old-school blackboard and chalk method, increases the interest and also can help the students to find new words and expressions.

Team Balika

Safeena has formed a sub-organization too, named Team Balika. This team consists of young individuals who campaign for girls’ education in their respective villages. The comrades, who often age between 18 to 25, are the more educated among the lot. They are schooled first in various departments, like community mobilization and outreach, CLT techniques, etc. The slogan of the team is – ‘my village, my problem, I am the solution.’ The initiative furthered Safeena’s mission to reach to as many people as possible, by involving people from grass-root level.

One major reason behind the success of Safeena’s venture is said to be in her collaboration with existing organizations who have already been engaged in the developmental works of the area. As Safeena has herself noted, “The fact that we do not create parallel systems makes our program model smart and scalable.”

Since its inception, Educate Girls has scripted a marvelous story. Its magnificent achievement can be seen in the numbers – over 90 percent enrolment of girls and 93 percent retention of girls in schools. And, from a small team in 2007, Educate Girls has now over some 1000 employees. And, Team Balika is now an 8,000-strong network of dedicated activists.

Honors and Accolades

Safeena’s endeavors to bridge the gender gap in education in India have been praised internationally. Under her leadership, Educate Girls won several honors, including some celebrated ones like Skoll Award (2015), WISE Award  (2014), USAID Millennium Alliance Award (2014). In 2013, Safeena Husain received the British Asian Trust’s Special Recognition Award from HRH Prince Charles for her outstanding contribution in education.

Safeena & Educate Girls – At Current

The massive success and its following worldwide appraisal have brought Safeena many sources of financial supports. Among the funders of Educate Girls, the prominent ones are The Qatar Foundation’s Educate A Child Initiative, UBS Optimus Foundation, LGT Venture Philanthropy, Cartier Charitable Foundation, Fossil Foundation, Marico Innovation Foundation, etc.

Seeing its continuous progress, it is speculated that shortly Educate Girls would reach new heights, reshaping the life of lakhs of children. Also, it is now in the second year of the three-year DIB pilot project and on track to meeting the deliverables promised.


This life of a lady who left a world of opportunities, a promising career and money, with a sacred thought in mind to get unprivileged girls to schools is more than just an inspiration – it gives us Hope, it exhorts the individual aspirations in us to think beyond the self. Safeena Husain went home-to-home in her journey; many doors were slammed in her face, even sometimes she was mistreated. But she was resolute, firm and adamant in her mission. This story, which reaffirms our faith in humanity, has some crucial life lessons for us – “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”


One Response

  1. Abhijit May 23, 2017

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