Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For fighting to keep girls in school, putting them—and Nigeria—on the path to economic prosperity

For adolescent girls in Nigeria, the obstacles to completing secondary education are myriad, from pervasive poverty to poor infrastructure to forced early marriage. Aisha Garba is helping to eradicate such obstacles—and paving the way to increased economic opportunities that would benefit all of Nigeria.

A senior education officer at the World Bank, Garba leads the 10-person team behind the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) Project, a five-year program launched in 2020. The program’s ambitious portfolio includes projects to build and rehabilitate schools, improve safety conditions in and around schools, deliver health and nutrition information (including reproductive and menstrual hygiene), and create cash-transfer programs to incentivize households to send girls to school.

It truly takes a village—and more. “AGILE promotes change in a bottom-up approach, and builds local capacities—with governments, civil society and community organizations, the private sector and traditional leaders,” she and a co-author wrote in a World Bank blog post.

Challenges remain, but “innovative solutions are deployed to solve constraints.” The rollout of life skills and digital literacy training, for example, will “ensure that girls gain valuable skills for the job market and also can continue their learning in case of disruptions created by violence.”

Garba is no stranger to such sprawling, high-stakes initiatives. She previously worked with organizations such as the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom, the United States Agency for International Development, Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, and Islamic Relief UK.

Three years in, the World Bank’s country director described the AGILE program as a “huge success,” and the governor of Kaduna has said it’s one of the most effective World Bank initiatives that the state has seen. Earlier this year, the World Bank announced additional funding to expand AGILE’s reach to 11 additional Nigerian states. And while efforts have so far focused on unmarried adolescents, the new funding will help reach those who have left school due to marriage or pregnancy.

“The newer targets will get skills, eradicate prohibitions for married girls to attend school and ensure that different ministries mainstream their coordination,” Garba said when the announcement was made.

The result? More Nigerian girls will be empowered to continue their education—and unlock untold more opportunities for their futures.

“Not only will it change the lives of millions of girls,” Garba wrote on the blog, “but it will also improve the social and economic development of the most populous country in Africa.”


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