23/11/2016 07:01 GMT | Updated 24/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Investing In Girls' Futures In Zambia


Students at Kamwala Secondary School in Zambia.Copyright Unicef.

There is a saying that goes "when you educate a girl, you educate a nation". And research by Unicef indeed shows that investing in girls and empowering them to reach their full potential is critical for overcoming cycles of intergenerational poverty*. Yet today around the world girls and women still face significant barriers to social and economic empowerment.

This awareness is behind the decision taken by the London Stock Exchange Group Foundation to partner with Unicef to address the issue of women's lack of empowerment, and to invest over £1.2 million in a project aimed at training and mentoring 11,200 girls in Zambia over the course of three years (2016-2018), improving their chances to access the formal jobs market and set up their own business.

Zambia has made great progress when it comes to ensuring gender equity at primary school level; however some work remains to be done to close the gaps at secondary level. While both boys and girls are known to drop out of school due to poverty, adolescent girls face a great number of additional pressures because of traditional family and marital roles. Pregnancy accounts for over half of school dropouts of girls aged 16-18. To make matters worse, there is a lack of secondary school places in Zambia due to poor school infrastructure and families will often prioritise the education of sons ahead of daughters.

When in 2015 the London Stock Exchange Group asked its staff where they thought the business should direct its charitable donations, it was the empowerment of girls in Zambia that really resonated. LSEG subsequently went into partnership with Unicef with an ambition to realise the potential of girls in Zambia through the Zambian Girls 2030 initiative.

This programme will contribute to one of the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as "Agenda 2030," that the United Nations' Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, which London Stock Exchange Group is an active member of, has identified as relevant to the role of exchanges- that of gender equality. The programme is also in line with the Zambian government's plans to raise the aspirations of young women going through the education system in the country.

In collaboration with a network of schools and with the support of local educational organisations, Unicef will give girls an opportunity to learn business skills and receive professional training and mentoring. Girls will have the chance to attend career counselling with a focus on the skills needed to enter the Zambian job market. They will be supported with applications to higher education and receive training in key business skills such as marketing, sales and finance.

By working together with Unicef, we hope to support young women, their families and communities to perceive the role of women in society in a different, more powerful way. One of the big reasons LSEG employees are so supportive of this programme is that it has clear, measurable objectives and it is run in collaboration with the benefitting country, through the relationship established by Unicef with the local education system and local experts. We believe that investing in girls is an investment in the future growth and prosperity of a country and we look forward to seeing the future success of these young women in Zambia.

LSEG has been working with Unicef for more than 17 years, initially through FTSE Russell, and now across the group.

This week Unicef took part in LSEG's sixth annual Charity Trading Day, which raised close to £600,000. This money will go the LSEG Foundation which supports Unicef's Zambian Girls 2030: Realising My Potential programme and funds Unicef's work to keep children safe in emergencies.

* Unicef, The investment case for education and equity, 2015