You’re helping to provide education that goes BEYOND the classroom

Did you know that through supporting Do It In A Dress you’re giving girl access to more than just scholarships? One Girl’s girl-focused education projects also include Business Brains training (more on that soon!), rebuilding classrooms and toilets as part of School Awesomisation, and giving girls and women access to sanitary pads through LaunchPad.

And the reason why we have a few different projects is that there are SO many different barriers to girls receiving an education.

Everything from lack of food, poor study conditions, limited understanding of sexual and reproductive health and gender inequality, through to incredibly limited employment opportunities after schooling. Yep – it’s complicated!

One thing we’ve learned over the years is that problems don’t come in neat little boxes, with tidy solutions. Instead we’ve needed to look at the big picture and think creatively when removing barriers to girls’ education.

A few years back we heard stories of our scholarship girls fainting in class because they hadn’t eaten anything that day.

Think about it – if you haven’t had a proper meal during the day, how could you possibly focus in class?

It wasn’t long after we started our scholarship program that we realized we needed to address some of these problems if girls were going to get the most out of their education.

And so Business Brains was born.

It started way back in 2012, when we gave 16 girls at a rural high school a $40 grant to start their own small business – and trained them in financial literacy, basic bookkeeping and customer service.  

That pilot was so successful we ended up partnering with a wonderful youth-lead organization called Restless Development, and introducing it in schools throughout Sierra Leone. So far Business Brainss – as the program is now known – operates in 23 communities and has reached over 3,200 girls!

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Sarah was one of our very first Business Brains students – after the training she started her own small business selling butterscotch in her community!

But Business Brains is more than just a traditional business-training program.

Yes girls learn business skills. They are equipped to create little enterprises that make enough money to buy their own food while they are at school, which makes a huge difference to their ability to concentrate. And once they graduate, they are better able to support themselves and their families.

They also learn skills that complement their studies and help them improve their academic performance, school attendance and study and presentation skills.

But it doesn’t stop there! Because Business Brains also includes mentoring in life skills and sexual and reproductive health. This information is incredibly powerful. Unplanned teen pregnancy is one of the biggest factors that forces girls to drop out of school.

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This is Iye. Iye is from our partner organisation, Restless Development, and she started teaching the Business Brains program in March this year. As a teenage girl herself (she’s 19 years old), she understands where the students are coming from and connects with them on their level.

She’s noticed most girls get pregnant because they don’t have support from their family, and don’t have the information they need to make good choices.

“Some kids don’t have anyone to take care of them,” said Iye. “They do not have a clear understanding about menstruation… Some of them do not know what is teen pregnancy or the effect of it.”

Teaching girls about their bodies gives them enormous control. And because Business Brains runs in schools, the boys learn too. Side by side, girls and boys engage in important conversations, share information, and learn from each other – sending a strong message about gender equality, and introducing traditionally taboo topics of menstruation and sexual reproduction to future husbands and fathers. Learning together, in an environment where they are equals – is SO important.

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When all these elements come together – with girls learning to make money, becoming more self-sufficient, not relying on men for income, knowing how to avoid pregnancy and HIV – they stay school longer. And that’s what ultimately changes their lives.

After seeing the impact Business Brains make in schools, we decided to expand the program to include those vulnerable girls and young women already forced out of school through child marriage or teen pregnancy.

We worked with Restless Development to create Girls’ Clubs – a version of Business Brains tailored to reach out-of-school girls. Clubs encourage their members to start small businesses based on the needs of their individual communities.

Like Business Brains, Girls Club members are taught about sexual and reproductive health and their rights as women. We take knowledge like this for granted, but imagine the impact it makes when a girl discovers how to avoid pregnancy. Members of the Girls Clubs have already told us the knowledge they’ve gained in the Clubs will fundamentally change their lives – and help them look after themselves and their bodies.

Girls Clubs also provide a vital safe space where members can meet with other girls and women their age, and encourage and support each other.

On SO many levels, Business Brains makes a massive difference in the lives of girls – and boys.

This year’s Do It In a Dress has been nothing short of incredible! But at the end of the day, the  most important thing is the impact we’re able to have on the ground – and the lives we’re able to reach through education.

So remember that as we head into the last few days. YOUR dress is changing lives, and giving girls access to transformational educational opportunities.