CAMFED Promotes Women and Children’s Rights
Through CAMFED, Ann has become a significant contributor in improving the treatment of women throughout Africa; her efforts in constantly promoting women’s rights and welfare have resulted in the government and other non-governmental organizations acting for the betterment of the women in society.
Ann is a talented social entrepreneur, and her entrepreneurial skills and strategies have enabled CAMFED to be the successful organization that it is today. Through Ann’s leadership, CAMFED has strategically grown to becoming one of the major organizations in the area of women’s rights and welfare in Africa. When she was asked regarding her role as a social entrepreneur in the growth of CAMFED, she answered:
“A social entrepreneur is someone who witnesses the pain and struggle in the lives of others and is compelled to act and to work with them. You need to be absolutely dogged. You need to listen to the people experiencing the problems, and their ideas need to crowd out the words of the 'can't be done-ers'. There will always be children who don't fit the institution and whose sense of exclusion is reinforced day by day. Their experience shaped my approach to children and young people in Africa.”
But aside from being a skilled social entrepreneur, what really made CAMFED so successful is Ann’s outstanding passion and love for her fellow women. Ever since she was a child, Ann already had a desire to help women and children. This desire fully materialized when she founded CAMFED.
Throughout her career, Ann has tirelessly worked with numerous organizations (aside from her very own CAMFED) to promote the welfare of women and children. She also prefers to do hands-on work, actually going in with the volunteers in giving relief and aid to the women and children that need help. It is this desire to help women that has kept Ann focused on her work. In an address she gave to students, Ann said:
“My advice to others who want to get involved in any social effort is first and foremost for them to find their passion, to get to a point where they have no choice, where they have to act, have to get involved. One has to care enough to let go of fear, to care enough to risk failure and look upon not trying as failure. And listen always, and most carefully, to those experiencing the problem you want to try to solve.”
Order of the British Empire and Skoll Awardee for Social Entrepreneurship
For her efforts in changing the lives of the young women of Africa, Ann has received multiple awards and accolades, which include the famous Order of the British Empire Award and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Her organization, CAMFED, has also received the International Development Charity of the Year Award for starting a significant change. But apart from all the tangible awards that she has received, what is most rewarding for Ann is seeing positive change in the lives of the women she has helped. She says:
“What satisfies me most is seeing the change in others, such as when I meet a girl who received an education because of CAMFED and is now doing wonderful things she would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do.”
Ann Cotton was born in the city of Cardiff, Wales in 1950 to a middle class family. It was five years since the aftermath of the Second World War, and the United Kingdom’s rebuilding process was about to be completed. It was an era of prosperity again, and because of this, Ann grew up fascinated with the stories of her father regarding the sufferings that he and Ann’s mother had during World War II.
At a very young age, Ann learned the values of compassion and love for mankind through her parents; this was further fueled by the love and care that her parents lavished on her as she grew up.
Even as a young child, Ann already exhibited outstanding intellect and amazing leadership skills. During her elementary years, she was often praised by her teachers for her excellent marks and amazing gift of being able to easily catch up. In secondary school, Ann was a class favorite, and often joined various campaigns in the campus. It was also during this time when Ann first had an encounter with the poor of society that gravely affected her. The desire to help would not fully manifest until many years later after a trip to Africa.
A Rights Advocate of Children in Care
After graduating from her secondary studies, Ann founded and led an education center focused on girls that were excluded from mainstream education in London. Through the center, Ann was able to reach out to the less than privileged girls in London and provide for them education to help them have a good future. Afterwards, Ann went to Lancashire and worked as an Educational Assessor and an advocate for children in care, where she learned more about the hardships that underprivileged families are experiencing.
Driven by the desire to see the children’s lives change, Ann worked passionately, promoting the welfare of the children in care, something that contributed to the success of the organization she joined.
After her work in Lancashire, Ann went to the United States to study at Boston University for her bachelor’s degree. While there, Ann carefully studied the multi-cultural educational system in Massachusetts, which helped her improve her knowledge in the area of social entrepreneurship.
Her time in the United States also got Ann to somehow make a connection with the black people. It was here that she witnessed racial discrimination firsthand, albeit not as strong as in other states. Upon her return to England, Ann entered the London Institute of Education to study Human Rights & Education.
Helping the Women of Zimbabwe
In 1990, during her senior year at the London Institute of Education, Ann went on a research trip to the country of Zimbabwe as part of her master’s degree thesis in an effort to uncover why very few young women attended secondary school. In just a few days after her arrival, Ann immediately witnessed how the women in Zimbabwe suffered terribly from poverty and insecurity. Most of them were uneducated because the families that could not afford to provide education for all their children gave priority to the males.
What was worse was, most of the uneducated women (which accounted for more than ninety percent of the young female population of Zimbabwe) contracted diseases, such as HIV and AIDS, and experienced terrible discrimination from society. In an interview made with Ann many years later, she recalled how her trip to Zimbabwe radically changed her perspective:
“I had never before witnessed the depth of poverty I witnessed in Zimbabwe and I was initially shocked by what I saw. I was also deeply disturbed by the level of insecurity the young girls had to deal with every day. I realized that the high levels of maternal and child mortality were both caused by women’s vulnerability and their lack of access to education. I found that most parents wanted their daughters to go to school but they did not have the funds to pay for them to do so. In most cases the parents used their scarce resources to educate their sons rather than their daughters because boys had the best chance of securing paid work in the future. My realization was contrary to the broadly held notion that cultural resistance was the main reason for low female school attendance.”
The Story of Cecilia and Margarita
In one instance during her visit to Zimbabwe, Ann met two teenage sisters—Cecilia and Margarita—while she was walking between villages. When Ann interviewed the two, she found out that Cecilia and Margarita had to ride a bus and walk more than sixty miles to attend Mola Secondary School simply because it was cheaper than the schools closer to their home.
When Ann asked them as to whether or not their parents had enough money to enroll them at the more expensive schools near their location, the two simply said that they did not know. That same night, Ann came to a realization that most of the women in the country were trapped in the cycle of poverty and social inequality that prevailed amongst the populace. She said:
“As I lay awake at night fearful that scorpions were about to fall upon me from the thatched roof above, I realized that the girls were trapped. I also realized that what kept the cycle of poverty in place was not a poverty of culture but the culture of poverty.”
How Education Could Lessen Number of AIDS and HIV Victims
Soon enough, Ann came to a realization that the poor situation of the communities in Zimbabwe and the unfair treatment of women generated devastating results in their lives. Ann realized that the only way for the people in Zimbabwe to escape poverty was to improve the education of its women. She came to a conclusion that women who are educated are less likely to contract HIV or AIDS, have a healthy married life, and conceive fewer children who would be healthier and be more encouraged to study.
Driven by this realization, Ann conceived an idea to help the poor girls in Zimbabwe. As soon as she returned to the United Kingdom, Ann began a campaign to help young women, such as Cecilia and Margarita.
Her first efforts in 1992 were small, but they proved to be effective—Ann baked and sold cakes and sandwiches with her friends at the local market, and the proceeds were allotted to the education of young women in Zimbabwe. This proved to be a success, and soon enough Ann had enough money to pay for sending 32 girls to school every year.
But Ann did not stop there. She knew down deep that more could be done, and more had to be done if she was to create a significant change in the lives of the women in Zimbabwe. And so, the following year, in 1993, Ann officially founded CAMFED (which was back then an acronym for 'Cambridge Female Education Trust'), which aimed to combat poverty in Africa by providing quality education to its young women.
With the help of her trusted friends, Ann was able to properly lay the foundations and strategies that would be used to help the families of the young women who they wanted to get education. Ann stated in an interview made with her:
“Right from the start, our approach was to set aside preconceived notions of what the challenges and the solutions were and to listen carefully to the needs and suggestions of the local villagers. They suggested, for example, that the scholarship money should go directly to the schools rather than to the families of the recipients. They recommended that CAMFED only hire locals to run the CAMFED offices rather than rely on expatriates. They stressed the importance of transparency so that everyone knew who was making what decisions and how educational funds were being allocated. They joined us at meetings with the Ministry of Education at the national and district levels to support the initiative and assure its effective implementation.”
Throughout the next decades after its founding, Ann’s CAMFED (which had its name changed to ‘Campaign for Female Education’) grew steadily with the help of the numerous people who supported it.
CAMFED Sends Over a Million Children to School
In 1998, in anticipation of the need for a post-school economic opportunity for the students, Ann established the CAMFED Association, which enabled the young women who graduated from secondary school to find jobs which suited their education and provided trainings such as money management. It has also expanded its reach to other countries, establishing several branches in Zambia (2002), Ghana (2002), and Tanzania (2007).
Since its inception, more than a million children (most of them girls) in Africa have largely benefited from CAMFED’s educational programs. Over 5,000 young women graduates have received business training and have been awarded grants for establishing their own rural enterprises.
2009 Woman of the Year
In 2004, Ann was awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, given personally by Jeff Skoll (the founder of eBay), for her efforts in making life-changing programs through her organization, CAMFED. That same year, she was also given the UK Social Entrepreneurship Award by the United Kingdom government. In 2009, Ann was included in the “Women of the Year” list for her inspiring work in the field of women and children’s rights, as well as for providing education to the young women of Africa.
As of currently, Ann’s passion for seeing lives changed hasn’t cooled down. She constantly involves herself in her organization’s work, and even at the age of 60, tirelessly works for the betterment of the lives of the young women not just in Africa, but also of those around the world through her inspiring life story. She couldn’t be more correct in her belief that changing the life of a woman can greatly affect an entire nation.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Elma Foundation
- The MasterCard Foundation
- The Department for International Development
- The Skoll Foundation
- Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative
- The Waterloo Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 2003: Received the International Development Charity of the Year Award (CAMFED)
- 2004: Received the UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award
- 2004: Received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship
- 2005: Received the Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award
- 2006: Conferred the Order of the British Empire
- 2009: Received the Woman of the Year Award
- 2004: Honorary Masters from the Open University
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Cambridge