05/08/2013 12:27 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Curing Poverty With Curiosity

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Maasai mothers hold their babies as they queue to vote in Saikeri, Kajiado County, Maasailand, on March 4, 2013 during the nationwide elections. Long lines of Kenyans queued from way before dawn to vote Monday in the first election since the violence-wracked polls five years ago, with a deadly police ambush hours before polling started marring the key ballot. The tense elections are seen as a crucial test for Kenya, with leaders vowing to avoid a repeat of the bloody 2007-8 post-poll violence in which over 1,100 people were killed and observers repeatedly warning of the risk of renewed conflict. AFP PHOTO/Carl de Souza (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Our cultural lore suggests that curiosity may claim the lives of a few cats. Moving from lore to a distinct possibility, we really should add poverty to that list. Connecting their theme "Stay Curious" the 2013 Projecting Change Film Festival, pushed forward the conversation that can't be ignored. Closing the festival with a showing of Girl Rising, the vital importance of educating women around the world lit up the screen. Learning is about staying curious. Education is key to curing poverty.

According to UNESCO, over 100 million young women in developing countries have never completed primary school. Furthermore it's estimated that 32 million girls are not at school today. The reasons are pretty simple: there are no schools to go to, and no teachers. Becoming child brides also results in early pregnancies and completely removes school from the equation. Factor in seven million girls who are breaking their backs in fields, mines, factories and in domestic service or have been trafficked, there are still too many countries where women are deemed chattel.

Over the course of five days, year six of Projecting Change screened 16 films and drew over 3000 attendees. There are times when the alignment of values and goals result in great things happening. In this case bringing together the festival mandate, the Vancouver chapter of Room to Read, and Lunapads as sponsors there's an opportunity to move the conversation sparked by Girl Rising into real action. After all talk is cheap. Talk won't close the gender education gap. Talk won't alleviate poverty.


After seeing an online trailer for Girl Rising, festival executive director Katie Shaeffers knew it would be a perfect fit. With the mandate of "aiming to unite the audience by reaching beyond themes of environmental and social change to explore significantly broader concepts such as empowerment, identity, culture, and global connection", all she had to do was figure out how to secure the rights to show the film. Already being connected Lunapads co-founders Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens (leaders in their own right when it comes to education in developing regions), it then become a short path to the door of Sharon Davis.

Sharon Davis launched the Vancouver Chapter of Room to Read in 2007, and is the Volunteer Chapter Leader. Room to Read is a global non-profit headquartered in San Francisco. Founder John Wood left his job as Microsoft's China business development director in 1999 to dedicate his life to improving global literacy. Room to Read has made a measurable difference putting books in the hands of more than 7.8 million children in 10 countries in Asia and Africa. In 12 years, it has built more than 14,600 libraries and 1,500 schools, distributed 12 million books, and published 723 books in local languages. They have provided scholarships for more than 19,000 girls. Donations are now approaching $40 million a year.


Connecting all these dots is the fact the 10x10 organization approached Room to Read in 2010 to be part of helping make the film happen. Davis wanted to arrange a Vancouver screening, and already had the backing of Lunapads, so Projecting Change became the ideal partner. At the local level, there is a committee of 25 active volunteers who meet monthly and plan events throughout the year. Since 2007 the chapter has raised approx $1.7 million in Vancouver. As a chapter they host three or four events a year. They are also engaged with a variety partners who host events annually which they support and participate in but don't take the lead such as:

  • Annual TSX Golf Tournament
  • Non profit Partner of the Indian Summer Festival
  • Momentum Fitness Train the Trainer Day
  • Live in for Literacy with major universities in BC

It's worth thinking about why educating women will make a difference, and why curiosity will help cure poverty. According to "Measuring the Economic Gain of Investing in Girls: The Girl Effect Dividend" published by The World Bank in August 2011; if girls in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal and Uganda had completed primary school alone, their additional output over their lifetimes would be equivalent to 20%, 18%, 14%, and 13% of annual GDP, respectively. And if their more educated sisters completed secondary school, they would contribute 48%, 32%, 24%, and 34% (of annual GDP) more to their economies over their lifetimes.

Imagine that all 1.6 million adolescent girls in Kenya completed secondary school and that 220,098 adolescent mothers were employed instead of falling pregnant so early. The cumulative

effect could have added US$3.4 billion on the Kenya's gross income every year. This is

equivalent to the entire Kenyan construction sector.

Combining a riveting film to motivate, and an organization capable of mobilizing good intentions into real actions means real change does happen. Bringing together the Projecting Change Film Festival team (twitter @pcffvancouver) and Room to Read Vancouver (@RoomtoRead_Vancouver) has created a dynamic that can push the conversation well beyond some of our trifling first world problems.