Women and scholarships: It's about more than money!

Apr 06, 2016

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Today, more women than men are enrolled in college, and scholarships have undoubtedly played a major role in that trend. Financial assistance not only helps deserving females around the globe get to college, it can also help them pursue careers in law, medicine or other advanced-degree professions they may not otherwise be able to afford.

What’s more, scholarships awarded to women present a better return on investment. That's because women are more likely than men to complete college and attend graduate school. Without the burden of student loans, these women can more readily leverage the income generated by higher-level careers to help finance the next generation of college graduates.

In the U.S., educational scholarships are generally aimed at financing college. Yet, in many parts of the world, secondary – and even primary – education is dependent on a family’s ability to afford enrollment. Standing in the way are more than just school fees; there are costs associated with transportation, uniforms and attire and childcare for younger siblings. If a family can only afford to send one child to school, it is often the oldest son who will receive the benefit.

For many female students, scholarships represent more than money. As one young woman studying to be a nurse explained, they also build confidence and a sense of community responsibility: “It wasn’t just the financial help; their support gave me hope, knowing there were people I didn’t know who believed in me, and I wasn’t going to let them down.” 

In other areas of the world, competitive scholarships are points of pride for young women. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I grew up, only a few hundred scholarships were awarded for secondary education each year. Had I not received encouragement and support from my grandfather, I would never have had the courage to try for (and eventually receive) one of those scholarships.

During my childhood, encouragement and support were far from universal. Like many young women in male-dominated societies, I was told from a very young age I would never be as good as my older brother, particularly when it came to academics. That’s why it was paramount for me to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way. Women need encouragement to shift their mindsets, ignore influential naysayers and ultimately build better lives for themselves. 

Of course, I know I am only one person and can’t change the world alone. That is why I am committed to aligning myself with organizations like the Global Women’s Leadership Network. It will be these types of organizations, ones developing scholarship opportunities for more women around the world, that will be the catalyst helping women feel supported in the pursuit of better lives.

It’s important for women across all industries to explore ways to develop or support scholarship programs for up-and-coming female leaders, social entrepreneurs and others who have the potential to reshape their corners of the world. Credit unions, for example, are non-profit financial cooperatives with a long history of continued scholarship support.

Here are just a few recent programs that have set a great example within the movement:

If developing or financially supporting a scholarship is too large a prospect, research the availability of existing scholarships for women with career and social ambitions. Then, tap your personal and professional networks to spread the word, encouraging as many women as possible to apply for the funds. Share opportunities you find on your social networks, within your communication channels and inside your networks.