05/03/2013 11:34 am ET Updated Jul 03, 2013

Investing in Girls to Change India's Future

By Kim Burnett, President and CEO

While many perceive India to be an "up and coming" global power, recent statistics show it continues to lag behind in its equal treatment of women and girls. According to the 2013 United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report, India ranks 132nd out of 187 countries for gender equality. Indeed, the report noted that "all countries in South Asia, with the exception of Afghanistan, were a better place for women than India."

The study also showed that, in India, "only 26.6 percent of women over 25 years received a secondary education in 2012, compared to 50.4 percent of men." This is compared to the United States where 94.7 percent women have received a secondary education and China where 54.8 percent of women have a secondary education.

The lack of investment in girl's education shortchanges girls, their families, their communities, their country, and indeed, our world. Studies have shown that if India enrolled just one percent more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

That's why at the Shadhika Project, Inc. we are focused on investing in locally run non-profits that support the education, empowerment and economic self-sufficiency of girls in India. We believe this invest is the key to not only breaking the cycle of poverty in India but also to overcoming the country's gender inequality.

One of our grantees, Buddha's Smile School, demonstrates the impact of this focus on the girls we serve. Located in Varanasi, BSS teaches some of the poorest children in India, the children of beggars and bead stringers and members of the dalit (untouchable) caste. BSS provides these children with a free education, hot meals, and clothing from preschool through Class 5. When they complete their elementary education, Shadhika supports BSS to help the girls continue on to secondary school, by covering the costs of tuition, books, uniforms, tutoring, meals, and transportation. Without this support, few if any of these girls would continue their studies.

Mamta's story reflects the life-changing effect of this investment on these girls.

Mamta started at BSS without any academic skills when she was just six years old. Because her family gave preference to her brothers at mealtime, she often came to school hungry. Over the years, Mamta rapidly caught up with her studies even though she has to get up each day at 4:30 to cook for her family and then after school must work in their bead stringing business to help support the family.

Today, with the support of the staff at BSS, Mamta is completing her secondary school studies and working to become a nurse. She is on track to break what had seemed to be an unbreakable cycle of early marriage and poverty.

Changing the course a girl's life in India through education is within our reach. Let's start today.