Apple and Malala Fund partnership takes major new step into Latin America

Tech firm's Lisa Jackson talks exclusively to The Independent about the next stage in her collaboration with Malala Yousafzai

David Phelan
Friday 13 July 2018 19:34
Brazilian student Beatriz Magalhães shows her project work to Malala Yousafzai in Rio de Janeiro on Friday
Brazilian student Beatriz Magalhães shows her project work to Malala Yousafzai in Rio de Janeiro on Friday

How do you get every single girl a full 12 years of quality education? That’s the question at the heart of the Malala Fund, the organisation set up by Malala Yousafzai, the young Nobel Prize winner. And she wants to provide this education in parts of the world where it can't be taken for granted. Luckily, she has a powerful ally.

In January, Apple revealed a tie-up with Malala Fund as part of the initial goal of getting 100,000 girls into education in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey and Nigeria. But today it has been announced that the collaboration is expanding to Latin America.

This expansion means grants will be offered to advocates in Brazil, who will join the Malala Fund's network of so-called Gulmakai Champions. Their job: to implement projects created to empower girls, for example, through school enrolment efforts and developing skills development.

And in Brazil there will also be a connection to the Apple Developer Academy students, encouraging those students to design new apps that can affect girls’ education – Malala dropped in on the Academy in Rio to launch this.

I talked to Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple, about their connection. Ms Jackson, who previously ran the Environment Protection Agency for President Obama, is a persuasive advocate for Apple's involvement with Malala Fund, combining a forensic grasp of detail with an enthusiasm that is infectious.

"I think the wonderful thing about this partnership is that Apple is very much in the supporting role," she explains. "Here’s an astounding young leader in her fairly young organisation. We have seen part of our role is to help build the base of support, so it can be around for a long time and be as effective as possible. We share the Malala Fund goal, which is for every girl to receive 12 years of quality education."

Back in January, I met Ms Jackson, along with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Malala Yousafzai, in Beirut, when their tie-up was first announced. It was a remarkable day, with a group of Lebanese girl students who were thrilled to meet Malala – some burst into tears in their excitement when they discovered who was coming.

When I spoke to Cook and Malala then, they talked about their commitment to this new initiative with considerable passion. "The Malala Fund is trying to reach out to girls, as many as we can, to empower them through quality education. That was my dream," explained Malala.

Malala breaks down in tears as she returns to Pakistan for first time since Taliban attack

But what has happened in the intervening months? "Since it was first announced there have been many meetings, and collaborations and visits on both sides of the Atlantic between Malala Fund, and us,” says Jackson. "There is a partnership which is now bigger than financial, including hardware and equipment, but which now extends to ways to try to engage our ecosystem."

Throughout, Apple has refused to say exactly how much money it is giving. "We’re not talking about a dollar commitment," Jackson says. "It’s substantial, but this is much bigger than dollars. It’s dollars, it’s equipment but probably most important, it’s our ecosystem and support."

This echoes Cook: "We have expertise in education. We’ve built an expertise of what our products can do in a teaching environment and how they can fuel student achievement. And we have touched a significant number of people with our coding initiative. Of course, we have an expertise in scaling and we have lots of people in different countries across the world. So, it seemed like the most important things to me are always the values and the vision. It seemed like we could bring a lot in support of Malala's vision.”

At the launch Malala added: "I'm hoping that through partnership with Apple we'll be able to expand our work and we want to double our Gulmakai champions, who are the local advocates who are supporting the students, from six to 11 countries. I want to teach 100,000 girls and I want to involve girls and make sure that they can get quality education."

Back in January, a target for extending secondary education opportunities was announced. I ask Jackson how that's going. "We set the humble goal of reaching 100,000 girls in a year and I have no doubt that will be beaten. Apple has very much taken a supporting role in this, wanting to create something sustainable and which can be scaled.”

This time around there's a different approach, as Jackson explains. "There are more Gulmakai champions being added but we came up with an idea together that one of the things we could also add was the app ecosystem. We have 10 Apple Developer Academies in Brazil that have been there for a number of years. There are 500 students enrolled there now but hundreds more alumni, many of whom have just amazing stories and we’ve found that with these students at the app developer academies, we get great results when we frame things in terms of creating apps designed to change the world for the better."

This seems like a smart move: the Apple App Store reaches hundreds of millions of iPhone users, for instance, so the right app can make a real difference. App developers are ingenious at seeing things in a different way - and at Apple's World Wide Developers' Conference last month in San Jose, 75 students from the Brazil academies attended as scholarship winners.

Jackson says: "So, we thought, let’s get Malala’s vision in front of them. Today, she’s been to visit one of the 10 schools, one in Rio de Janeiro, to challenge them to develop apps that affect girls’ education. Then Malala Fund will work over the course of the year to adapt these apps to make them impactful and judge which ones they want to use. It really is an amazing part of the partnership that goes beyond the classic donation of money and really goes to the heart of what Apple is about, to empower a person, giving any person the tools to pursue their passion."

The challenge will also encourage students to find ways to better enable Malala Fund’s Gulmakai champions network around the world to "communicate and share best practices in a secure environment".

That challenge is only just beginning. But Malala has clear ideas about what it might achieve. “My hope is that every girl, from Rio to Riyadh, can be free to choose her own future,” Malala has said. “Whether she wants to be a developer, a pilot, a dancer or a politician, education is the best path to a brighter future. By tapping into Apple’s network of student developers, Malala Fund will gain access to new tools to support our mission of free, safe, quality education. The students in Apple’s Developer Academy programme share my passion for improving the world around us, and I am eager to see their innovative ideas to help girls in Brazil and across the globe.”

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