Panelists on stage

On Tuesday, December 6th, 10x10 corporate sponsor Intel, and its Programs for Girls and Women, hosted the first of many university panels for students, faculty, and others interested in girls’ education and empowerment at San Jose State University.

Core to the evening was a panel discussion with Erin Ganju, the co-founder and CEO of 10x10 partner Room to Read; Cynthia Lloyd, a 10x10 Advisory Board member and author of the groundbreaking study, New Lessons: The Power of Educating Adolescent Girls; Gabrielle Gonzalez, an industrial engineer with Intel’s University Programs Office who has a personal interest in promoting STEM education for girls…and myself. I am a 10x10 producer who traveled to northern Afghanistan in October to chronicle stories of girls and young women in that embattled part of the world

Erin from Intel noted that of the 800-million people who are illiterate worldwide, two-thirds are women and girls. She told the story of a recent trip to Cambodia where she asked a young girl what she wanted to be when she grew up and was stunned when the girl answered that Erin’s query was the first time anyone had EVER asked her what SHE wanted.

I added that in Afghanistan, only 6% of women over the age of 25 have received any formal education whatsoever, and just 12% of girls age 15 and older are able to read and write. In that context, I attempted to communicate the extraordinary tenacity of an 11th grade girl named “Fatima” whom I met in Afghanistan and have written about previously. I mentioned the immense responsibility inherent in storytelling and how stories have the power to connect and heighten the moral and emotional sensitivity of people from vastly different circumstances and experiences.

Cynthia of Room to Read made the point that educational impediments for girls and young women can be assuaged, but not entirely solved, from the outside. Real change, she said, is almost always facilitated locally, by those who have a personal stake in the outcome. The imperative for the international community, and for any individual wanting to make real change, is ultimately providing these stakeholders with the tools to help and sustain themselves.

Gabrielle from Intel drove home that point by telling her own story about growing up in Mexico where it is profoundly unusual for a girl to study with the goal of pursuing a career in engineering. Gabrielle came to the United States when she was 13 to finish her education and now is devoting much of her time and talent helping other girls develop their science, engineering, technology and math skills.

10x10, Intel, and our nonprofit partners will be visiting campuses around the country in the coming year. Keep tabs on us through Facebook to find out if an event will be coming to your area.