There’s something staggering about the fact that 130 million girls around the world don’t receive an education.
It’s enough to make some people feel skeptical or cynical about efforts to solve the problem. But The ONE Campaign, an international advocacy campaign dedicated to ending poverty around the world, sees a glimmer of hope in social media and digital technology.
That’s why ONE launched #GirlsCount earlier this year. The initiative invites anyone to choose an unclaimed number between 1 and 130,000,000 and record themselves in support of girls’ education in what’s effectively a user-generated public service announcement.
The idea is for 130 million people to submit clips to the campaign, raising raising awareness about the problem and inspiring people to act along the way. If 130 million people do indeed participate, the final video will be the longest in the world and take five years to watch, according to ONE.
Now, on International Day of the Girl, the campaign is putting more muscle behind #GirlsCount with a new YouTube partnership that draws on the voices — and audiences — of more than 50 YouTube creators who reach more than 32 million viewers.
“I think we’ve got to be affirmative and hopeful but with a little edge of fierce,” said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of ONE. “I think the video messages make a huge difference.”
ONE has already received nearly 17,000 #GirlsCount submissions, which adds up to more than 30 hours of video.
YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki shared her own video Wednesday, choosing the number 117,000 to represent the fact that it costs $1.17 to educate a girl for a day in some countries.
“The next world-changing breakthrough might be built in a garage in Silicon Valley, but it could also stem from the imagination of a girl in Senegal, South Sudan or Nigeria,” said Danielle Tiedt, YouTube’s vice president of marketing, in a blog post.
Top YouTube creators participating in #GirlsCount include like TheSorryGirls, Whitney White of Naptural85, and Maddu Magalhães. Some of the messages are deeply personal. Education vlogger Aboubakar Idriss joined the campaign because his sister couldn’t attend school.
The YouTube creators join numerous celebrities and activists who have already backed the initiative, including Malala Yousafzai, Charlize Theron, Connie Britton, Elizabeth Banks, and Gisele and Tom Brady.
Smith said that people inspired to do something more than create a clip can consider lobbying their elected officials on supporting a federal budget that maintains or increases funding for global development aid. The Trump administration’s proposed budget dramatically slashes such spending, which Smith said would negatively affect efforts to ensure that girls around the world get an education.
“It’s a smart investment,” Smith said, pointing to research showing that education for girls can reduce local poverty and lead to national economic gains. “It’s short-sighted not to educate girls.”
Smith is counting on YouTube creators and their audiences to spread that message in ways that policymakers and traditional media can’t.
“We can do it,” she said. “[We’ll] reward political courage, but we won’t let up the pressure.”