Marking the Day of the African Child on June 16, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf published an Op-Ed calling for renewed focused on and investment in the education of girls in Africa.  In calling for increased funding not only to get more girls to school, but to increase the quality of education provided, Sirleaf noted that “[i]nvesting in girls’ education is not only a moral imperative, it is a smart investment.”

In support of her argument, Johnson cites a statistic from UNESCO that one extra year of schooling can increase an individual’s earnings by 10%, and that girls who complete a primary education are likely to increase their earnings by 5 to 15% over their lifetimes.  Not only that, but according to the International Food and Policy Research Institute, investing in girls’ education could boost sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural output by up to 25%.

Sirleaf isn’t the first to catch on to the idea that educating girls is good economics.  A 2013 Businessweek article by Goldman Sachs strategist Kathy Matsui states that “[e]ducated women contribute to the quality, size, and productivity of the workforce,” and that “investments in female education can yield a ‘growth premium’ in GDP trends and . . . boost per capita income.”  The International Monetary Fund agrees.  Noting that “[c]losing gender gaps benefits countries as a whole, not just women and girls,” a 2012 IMF article concludes that “[g]reater gender equality can enhance economic productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions and policies more representative.”  A report from the United Nations Foundation likewise notes that “[g]irls’ education is proven to increase not only wage earners but also productivity for employers, yielding benefits for the community and society.”

Recognizing the importance of this issue, on June 4, the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Norway, the President of the European Commission, and the European Union Commissioner for Development joined together to call for a greater commitment to global financing for education, particularly for girls.  As they write in a joint Open Letter, “[i]t is not acceptable that global aid for education is falling when the benefits are indisputable and the needs are so clear.”

As companies enter into the emerging markets of Africa to benefit from the fast-growing markets and economies, they should consider what strategic investments — both from the private and public sector — need to be made in order to ensure sustainable, long-term growth in the region.  As Matsui puts it, “[b]ased on the macroeconomic evidence, it is in a company’s interest to support education for women in areas where it is currently lacking and to reduce the gender gap.  That is how the sustainable growth of the next generation of emerging markets will be nurtured.”