04/23/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2013

10 Degrees of Separation


"Where did the name 10x10 come from?"

Nancy speaks up at a discussion following a screening of the innovative documentary and feature film, Girl Rising, in the small town of Peterborough, New Hampshire.

"Did it come from Peru? " she asks. "Because when I was living there in the late '60s a tiered system of tens would go into effect if the community wanted to initiate a change: that was the political and economic organization."

She continues, "Ten workers in a town had a straw boss. They would appeal to him if they wanted something to change. Ten foremen would appeal to the headman of a large village. Ten-thousand people would appeal to a district governor, and ten districts would appeal to the governor of a quarter. 10x10x10 and so on. That was how you changed the system ... "

Produced by the Documentary Group, Vulcan Productions, and CNN films, in partnership with Intel Corporation and NGOs such as Room to Read, World Vision, CARE, A New Day Cambodia, Partners in Health, PLAN International, and Girl Up, Girl Rising tells the story of nine girls in nine developing nations who are using education as a platform for success. The film uses the power of documentary storytelling to show the importance of girls' education, as a tool for global change. Most importantly, it represents the cornerstone of a larger social action campaign -- 10x10 -- aimed at driving funds to girls' education programs around the world and increasing visibility and dialogue around the issue of girls' education.

How did the movement start? The social action campaign, 10x10, and its corresponding documentary, Girl Rising, began with a fundamental question: How can we end world poverty? That question turned into a campaign for girls.

I started working at 10x10 as an intern in November, 2012, because I was drawn to the link between world poverty and girls' education. Initially, the concept that educating one girl in a family can result in an education for the rest of her siblings seemed a little far-fetched. When, during a stint in Nepal, I was introduced to a girl who became a dentist in Kathmandu and did just that I had to think twice; I was compelled to do some research on my own. In the early winter of 2012, a twist of fate led me to 10x10 where I have since been tight-roping the synergistic line between media and activism.

One of my favorite postcards in the office at 10x10 reads: Educate girls. Change the world: It's not the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do. Statistics say over and over again that educating girls has a profound effect on communities, states, countries, the world. If it is true that girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children (Mensch, Singh, and Casterline, 2005, p.142) and that the number one cause of death for girls in developing countries, ages 15-19, is childbirth (World Health Organization), then why aren't we paying closer attention to the numbers? If educating girls could potentially help to lower the global mortality rate for adolescent girls then couldn't it also lead to deeper awareness about ways to prevent stillbirths, birth defects, and reduce the number of orphans worldwide?

In the 10x10 office I am surrounded by colleagues working overtime to spread the message that educating girls really does matter. We work together as team of idealists-cum-realists. We are sometimes outspoken, always passionate. Coffee spills, occasionally there is drama. However we work, we work because we believe in the potential of individuals, communities, networks, corporations, foundations, governments around the world to band together to inspire the change for girls that might eventually spur an even bigger dialogue around and movement to reduce extreme global poverty. That is something. That is why I am there.

In March my dynamic, younger sister, Elektra, sends me an email. She wants to help me bring Girl Rising back to our hometown. She is inspired. More importantly, she wants to inspire, to galvanize. When I return to rural New Hampshire, for a screening on March 10, 2013 at our local Peterborough Community Theater that is the message I bring with me -- the incentive to act.

The Peterborough Community Theater overflows with men, women, girls and boys. I introduce the film, hoping that the eager-eyed audience will pay attention. I meet the gaze of old teachers, old friends, friends of friends, people I haven't crossed paths with for years. How did they hear about the screening? I see, feel, experience ten degrees of separation.

When, after the film, each person leaves the theater, I stand by the door. I thank people for coming, encourage those leaving to share the message that educating girls matters. I ask people to reach out to friends and family to bring the film to more communities.

This is our Call to Action. Share the film and increase visibility. Drive funds to our NGO partners -- a tangible sign that girls everywhere deserve a chance. Solicit suggestions for innovative Calls to Action from the audience, members of the movement. Even if the process behind the Call to Action isn't 100 percent streamlined yet, the intention is. By encouraging viewers across the nation and eventually overseas to join the campaign -- to share their responses to the film, along with personal stories and anecdotes, and suggestions for policy reform 10x10 plans to and is turning its mantra -- Change minds, Change lives, Change policy -- into an intentioned three-step movement.

After the screening, we convene in Peterborough's small ethnographic museum, the Mariposa Museum, where I present a short slideshow. I meet Nancy -- a singer and seasoned traveler with bright eyes and a wide smile. Nancy served in the Peace Corps in Peru for three years during the late 60s. She sits behind Mary, who is almost 90 -- tall, lined, and graceful -- and spent time working with women in rural Nepal, India, and Asia. The audience is mixed -- primarily women (some men) of diverse ages, a few hardy New Englanders with weathered faces, and assorted teenaged girls and boys. Over the course of our discussion it becomes clear that a few attendees live without Internet access. We are 35 in counting -- not a huge turnout by most standards, but for my small town, a rare gift on a lazy Sunday. Our discussion about the film, guided by a power point I have put together, starts immediately and gains momentum. While everyone has a different opinion on which story made the deepest impression on her/him we are similarly floored by the diverse challenges faced by each girl in the film.

"What can we do? What can we do?" I hear over and over again.

Every person in the audience wants to find a solution. Collectively we decide that the only way to really change the living conditions of women in developing nations, the only way to ensure that girls' education becomes a global priority, is to educate and simultaneously engage the world's male community in the movement. Nancy, like others in the audience at the Peterborough screening and corresponding reception, is eager to voice her experiences with and perceptions of gender disparity both abroad and in the U.S. Her eyes light up:

"It's about changing how we message this stuff. It's about getting past gender, to involve everyone!" Nancy exclaims.

She gets Girl Rising.

10x10x10 ...

On the screen at the front of the gallery space the final presentation slide reads: Educate a girl. It is basic math.