Michelle Obama is officially back with a new initiative post-White House, and true to form, she’s using her platform to stand up for girls globally.
To kick off International Day of the Girl on Thursday, the former First Lady announced her first major project from the Obama Foundation on the TODAY Show: The Global Girls Alliance. Their mission is right in line with much of the work Obama did during her time in Washington D.C.—to empower adolescent girls around the world through education, giving them the tools to support their families, communities, and countries. According to program, 98 million girls are not in school. But with the alliance, and some help from community, Obama intends to change that alarmingly high number.
“The stats show when you educate a girl, you educate a family, a community, a country,” Obama said in front of a live audience filled with young women. “It makes no sense that girls and women are not getting educated, that they’re not in school. If we care about climate change, if we care about poverty, if we care about maternal child health, then we have to care about education.”
“Think about our daughters, with all their promise, with all that they have in them,” she told TODAY hosts (and moms to daughters) Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie. “You know even now at this young age that there is something burning in them that is dying to get out. Well, that is true for millions of girls around the country and they are battling through misperceptions, violence, stigma to get their way into a classroom. And many of them don’t have access to a classroom so we want to play a role in building an alliance of young people who are out there doing the work on the ground. And we want to give them an opportunity to network with one another because working on these issues out in the world can be lonely.
And all this as she gears up for the launch of her much-anticipated new book, Becoming, which documents Obama’s own experiences growing up in Chicago and her road to the White House with former President Barack Obama.
News of Obama’s latest project to support girls isn’t surprising: One of her signature initiatives during her husband’s presidency was “Let Girls Learn”, which she and President Obama launched in 2015. The program focused on recruiting government agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations to invest in adolescent girls’ education around the globe. (The Trump administration chose not to continue “Let Girls Learn” as a standalone program, though they say they are continuing some aspects of its work.)
And then, of course, there was Obama’s #62MillionGirls campaign which launched under the “Let Girls Learn” umbrella in 2015. With 62 million girls not attending school around the world, the social media campaign asked celebrities (like Kerry Washington) and supporters to share their education stories using the hashtag. In a video announcement at the time, Obama said, “I see myself in these girls. I see my daughters in these girls. These girls are our girls, and I simply can’t walk away from them. So for me, this is truly a moral issue.”
That same year, Obama participated in Glamour‘s “The Power of an Educated Girl” panel with former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gallard, Sophia Bush, and Charlize Theron.
“For me, this is personal,” Obama said during the panel. “When I think about the 62 million girls not in school, I think of myself and my daughters—all my girls, all our girls. I think about where I would be in my life if I didn’t work hard in school and had the opportunity to go to college and law school. I wouldn’t be here. It’s imperative—and it’s my passion and my mission—that every girl on the planet has the same opportunity that I have and my daughters have.”
This new alliance will leverage Obama’s massive platform and popularity to give support and raise awareness of organizations already doing amazing work in this space. To that end, the Global Girls Alliance’s goals include driving public awareness and action, bringing together grass-roots leaders who don’t have necessary funding, fundraising, and engaging people in the United States and around the world. “The world is a sadly dangerous place for women and girls, and we see that again and again,” Obama said on TODAY. “I think young women are tired of it. They’re tired of being undervalued. They’re tired of being disregarded. They’re tired of their voices not being invested in and heard. And it’s not just around the world, it’s happening right here in this country. And if we’re going to change that, we have to give them the tools and the skills through education to be able to lift those voices up.”
There are going to be a lot of different ways to get involved and engage with the Global Girls Alliance. Grass-roots groups will be able to access a Facebook network where they can share research, resources, and helpful best practices. Global Girls Alliance is also partnering with GoFundMe to create a fundraising platform that will vet specific programs and enable people to give directly to the project of their choice. The Alliance will also work to inspire and challenge young people to learn about important issues and will offer toolkits that girls can take back to their own schools and communities to affect change.
We can’t wait to see what’s next; we all know the power of girls and women can be a massive force for change when we work together.