Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls Helps to Eliminate Poverty Through Education

Gugu Ndebele

As South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) honors the important role education plays in freeing societies from poverty, and the ways in which their students, faculty and alumni are supporting their community at large. 

When the doors opened to The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) in 2007, the mission and intention was to create a space where education would be used to help eliminate the cycle of poverty, while allowing young women to learn and grow into future leaders in their communities throughout South Africa. Founder Oprah Winfrey said, “Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.”

“Education is one of the fundamental factors of development,” says Gugu Ndebele, Executive Director of OWLAG. “No country can achieve sustainable economic development without substantial investment in human capital. Education enriches people's understanding of themselves and the world as a whole. It improves the quality of their lives and leads to broad social benefits to individuals and society; and further raises people's productivity and creativity thereby promoting entrepreneurship and technological advances.”  

From its founding, OWLAG has been committed to developing young women to be contributing citizens, by exposing them to the skills they need to be effective leaders. “Through the student’s embodiment of Ubuntu, alumni are bringing about tangible changes in both the communities that they grew up in as well as the communities that they now call home worldwide,” says Ndebele.

Ms. Winfrey has said, “When you educate a girl she takes what she learns back to her community. When you invest in a young woman you are investing in the future, not only of South Africa but also of the world”. The Academy continues to strive to mould the future leaders of South African and the world through the courses taught and wide range of the activities and organizations offered, including the OWLAG Cares Iniatiative. This program is one of the ways the Academy gives back by providing the community with essential educational material such as stationery and books as well as toys, toiletries and clothing items.

Education has been shown to give people the head start they need to build a better future, not just for themselves but for generations to come. The young women that have graduated from OWLAG are proving this to be true, as they are going on to work at public health clinics in their communities, build houses for their families and become leaders in their own right by hosting fundraisers to give back to their communities. As the OWLAG alum create a better future for girls just like them, they fulfill the mission of the school.

“Ensuring that children are provided with the right education and are guided throughout their schooling years is of great importance,” says Ndebele. “We believe that providing our teachers with the necessary training and resources that will foster our students’ minds will always be priority which will further grow these young minds into the future leaders of tomorrow who will remain committed to the development of South Africa and the African continent.”

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