Summer 2015 Issue

Breaking Barriers

Craig Geddes '03 empowers girls in Zimbabwe

By Ashley Murphy '15

On a hot and dusty September day in Binga, Zimbabwe, Craig Geddes ’03 rode on a bike with Gift, a 12-year-old girl, in order to experience the obstacles she faces each day in order to get to school in one of the most remote areas of the county. As he watched her worn feet pushing the pedals, he realized how dire Gift’s situation was: she had so much to live for, but did not have the opportunities or power to become an independent, successful woman. However, he also realized he had a place in this world, empowering these young women and enabling them to overcome the complex obstacles they face each day in order to achieve an education.

Improving Girls Access through Transforming Education (IGATE) is a $25 million randomized control trial evaluation program funded by the United Kingdom’s largest funding mechanism, the Department for International Development, under the Girls Education Challenge Fund. IGATE is seeking to identify and reduce the barriers that limit girls’ educational access, retention and learning outcomes. Over the four-year trial period, more than 60,000 girls and 100,000 impoverished Zimbabweans will benefit from the program. IGATE’s consortium leader, Geddes, revealed that it is “innovation and sustainability at its best.”

The design goes beyond traditional development programming, and works with all major stakeholders in a girl’s life in addition to targeting sensitive issues such as menstrual hygiene, early marriage, conservative religion and gender balance. Sustainability is woven throughout the project because the programs work with local governments and the national government, traditional leadership and all stakeholders.

Geddes was born in Zimbabwe to British parents and earned a degree in international relations, studied abroad and was involved in various campus activities at William & Mary. He moved back to Africa 10 years ago and has worked on humanitarian interventions in Angola, Rwanda, Mozambique, Madagascar, Sudan and South Africa. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of his transcontinental move was beginning to work on the IGATE project as program director in 2012. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I know I’m changing lives,” Geddes said. His work consists of coordinating with the Zimbabwean and British governments, as well as donors, in order to lead the program’s development strategy. Leading the daily operation meetings ensures that the 120 staff members are knowledgeable, equipped and capable to serve throughout the 500 rural communities in which IGATE is present.

NEW CURRICULUM: IGATE seeks to identify and reduce barriers that limit girls’ educational access, retention and learning outcomes.
Photo courtesy of Craig Geddes '03

Although Zimbabwe’s education system was considered one of the best on the African continent, the economic crisis of 2008 and deterioration of services in the decade prior led to a serious decline in its efficacy, especially for young girls. Currently, most Zimbabweans live on less than $2 per day, drought is rampant, food availability is extremely low, health infrastructure is not robust and the average life expectancy hovers around the mid 50s. In order to address these issues, IGATE began with a baseline study, which identified nine barriers to educational success. The four-year program will be complete in mid-2017, and operates in 467 schools and communities with the collaboration of seven different agencies. Geddes, who works for World Vision, the largest child development agency in the world, says that his organization and the other partners are committed to helping the most marginalized citizens through these interventions.


The nine barriers are girls’ misunderstanding of their own potential, civic engagement, health and rights; familial misunderstanding of girls’ education, rights and impact; finances to pay for school fees, health care and menstrual hygiene pads; conservative religious beliefs; school environment; literacy and learning outcomes; lack of male role models; distance to school; and overall community capacity for social accountability and provision of services.

There are specific models that respond to each identified barrier. These models work together to create a community-based, sustainable and life-
enhancing project that works with each layer of society. Familial and community involvement is vital to help girls understand their own potential, leading to autonomy and empowerment. A rigorous monitoring and evaluation process tracks the cohort of girls, allowing for World Vision to eventually report to the British government and academic and partner agencies.

The distance from a child’s home to her school is one of the largest proven detriments to success. IGATE has partnered with World Bicycle Relief, which aims to distribute 72,000 bicycles and train 300 local mechanics to ensure that children living up to 25 kilometers from the nearest school have access to safe and reliable transportation. This model will increase attendance rates and academic performance, and as such, these educated young women will be healthier, earn greater incomes, marry later and have fewer children.

“I feel like I am taking my skills and the blessings I have been given in life to change the lives of others,” Geddes said. “I strongly believe in ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ Mirroring that with the saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ I am thankful to be able to work in this field of humanitarian relief and development.”

While the results of the study will not be published until 2017, IGATE is certain to contribute valuable data and information on girls’ barriers to success. With the help of IGATE and Geddes, Zimbabwean girls will be empowered and able to fulfill their dreams of achieving an education.