Real Leaders

Forging the Way For Gender Equality Through Education

Room to Read has supported 95,000 girls through its girls’ education program, resulting in life-changing results and nearly 80 percent going on to tertiary education or employment.

“In my personal life, I’m keenly aware that a family’s circumstances can change drastically over the course of a single generation, through the power of education,” says Geetha Murali, Ph.D., a YPO member based in California and the CEO of Room to Read, a nonprofit organization focused on improving literacy and gender equality. “Decisions that my mother made in terms of when she wanted to get married and how educated she wanted to be directly resulted in all of the choices and opportunities I have had.”

Child marriage, a barrier to education, was common in Murali’s family just a generation ago. Her mother, the eldest of seven, broke the cycle for herself, her siblings, and Murali’s generation. All are educated and pursuing their destinies.

“The ripple effect has given me the ability to lead an organization that has reached almost 17 million children, and that wouldn’t be possible without some of the challenges that my mother dealt with head-on,” says Murali.
Every child deserves access to quality education, and every girl deserves gender equality and to have control over her life and decisions. The effects of illiteracy — including limited employment and income opportunities, poor health, crime, dependence, and more — impact everyone. The World Literacy Foundation estimates illiteracy costs the global economy over $1 trillion each year and creates cycles of poverty for families around the world. The World Bank lists girls’ education as a strategic development priority.

“Not having an equally educated population means it’s difficult to have a gender-equal world and a world in which poverty is eliminated,” says Murali. “The global challenges we face — climate change, political chaos, warfare — are a function of individuals not able to function at their highest capacity to make informed choices.”
The results are life-changing. To date, Room to Read has reached 16.8 million children in 16 countries and published more than 1,500 books across 35 languages through its literacy program. In addition, the organization has supported 95,000 girls through its girls’ education program, resulting in a 95 percent advancement rate, with nearly 80 percent going on to tertiary education or employment.

For Murali, whose commitment to helping children reach their potential also led her to adopt her daughter from South India, there is still so much more she and other business leaders can do to make an impact.
“When you think you’ve reached your limit, you probably have further to go,” she says. “Challenging yourself to be better than you were the day before can sometimes bring you incredible surprises in terms of what you can accomplish.”

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