Ann Cotton

Camfed International
Year founded: 
United Kingdom

Camfed is dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women.

Focus: Children and Youth, Education, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1,065,710 (1993-2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 10 million (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 0.2%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% of children complete primary school and even less complete secondary school; the percentage in general is significantly less for girls. In 2007 for example, only 55% of girls completed primary school in Malawi. These national figures mask the reality in rural areas where access to education is lowest. Faced with few resources, many families choose to educate only their sons due to the perception that it represents a better investment; daughters are sent instead to work in cities or marry early. The effects of these trends are devastating for individuals and for society at large, particularly for rural girls who have even less access to educational resources than their urban peers. Education is a vital lifeline, exemplified by the fact that girls under 20 are experiencing rates of HIV infection five times that of boys, while research shows girls with a secondary education are three times less likely to become HIV positive than those who receive no education.

Innovation and Activities
Camfed International, the Campaign for Female Education, is at the vanguard of activism and innovation in the fields of girls’ education and young women’s leadership. Since Ann Cotton founded Camfed 17 years ago, the international charity has refined a model of investment in girls and young women across sub-Saharan Africa that achieves substantial economic and social returns, both at an individual and wider societal level.

Camfed started out by supporting 32 girls through school in Zimbabwe in 1993. Since then it has expanded its success across 2,295 communities in five sub-Saharan countries. Over the past 17 years, 1,065,710 young people directly benefited from Camfed’s programmes in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The results of Camfed’s approach are evident in improved school enrolment, retention and passing rates for girls, a delayed average age of marriage and motherhood among young women, and their increased control over resources. The young women Camfed supported through school are continuing to become lawyers, teachers, nurses and businesswomen; many are among the first to reach this level within their communities. It is these same women who are likely to take up leadership positions in the future on the national and international stage, and work to help lead their communities out of poverty.

Those who graduate from school go on to join the Camfed alumnae network, known as Cama, and are supporting the education of an average of 2.5 children in addition to family members. By early 2010 Cama members had galvanised community action to help 118,384 vulnerable children to attend school.

The Entrepreneur
Ann Cotton was first inspired to change the future of girls in rural Africa during a research trip in a remote village in Zimbabwe in 1991. What she discovered there – that girls’ exclusion from education was culturally based – profoundly changed her view. She met many parents who wanted to keep their daughters in school but were unable to do so due to poverty. Moved by this experience, she founded Camfed and has worked ever since to ensure that poor girls are given the chance and resources to go to school. Her work has been recognized with several international awards, including an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Cambridge and an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).