A Case Study in the Power of Film: Why a Doc on Girls Pulled in Big Bucks

Investing in girls’ education to advance global development is a no-brainer, and there are some big funders making big moves in this space. For instance, the Caterpillar Foundation is zeroing in on the role of girls and women in breaking the cycle of poverty. As the foundation’s leader Michele Sullivan told us, “If you help a girl, you help the family and the village and society.”

Related: Caterpillar’s Gathering for Gender Equality in Education

Earlier this year, the Gates Foundation dedicated more than $24 million to organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. A heavy focus of that funding was on providing adolescent girls access to education and promoting gender equality in school curricula. And in May, the foundation announced an $80 million investment designed to “close gender data gaps” and empower women and girls worldwide.

In an earlier post, we described how Melinda Gates has emerged as a much more forceful public voice on these issues—but also how she is leading the Gates Foundation to give more attention to gender. 


Most recently, the United State of Women Summit resulted in $50 million in public-private pledges to increase female empowerment related work around the globe. Notably, the summit resulted in over $20 million in new commitments to the Let Girls Learn initiative, which is committed helping girls impacted by conflict and crisis to continue their education.

Related: A Look at the Global Aspect of that $50 Million Commitment to Women and Girls

These examples are the tip of the funding iceberg as philanthropic heavy hitters advance and increase girls' education. But big names and big checks aren’t the only avenues of advancement in this field. Take Girl Rising, for example.

Girl Rising is a 2012 documentary created to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education. The film follows the individual journeys of nine girls living in least-developed countries around the world, the challenges they faced and the obstacles they overcame to pursue their dreams of getting an education. The film highlights the importance of girls’ education in order to drive more resources toward providing that schooling.

The film’s $8.8 million production and outreach budget was initially funded by a number of powerful founding partners including the Documentary Group, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions, Intel and CNN Films. Other major funders such as the Nike, Skoll and Ford foundations, along with Google.org and the Fledgling Fund also contributed to the costs of the documentary. More recently, Girl Rising received a donation of over $56,000 from 6sense, a “predictive intelligence platform for B2B marketing and sales.

Girl Rising has now screened at over 17,000 venues around the world across nearly 160 countries. Not only did these screenings raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education to global development; it also resulted in $2 million in direct funding toward girls’ education programs. That money went to support girls’ education programs at NGOs such as A New Day Cambodia, CARE, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, Room to Read, U.N. Foundation’s Girl Up, and World Vision.

From the beginning those founding partners were keenly aware that a documentary, no matter how powerful, was not enough to advance girls’ education in a manner that was catalytic and quantifiable at scale. So they created the Girl Rising Fund.

Managed and operated by the Tides Foundation, the Girl Rising Fund invests in organizations around the world that are helping girls—particularly those living in poor countries—get into, and stay in, school. Funds are also directed to groups that advocate ways which “world leaders can act to support and protect girls.”

There are approximately 62 million girls between the ages of six and 15 who are not in school. Around 16 million girls between the ages of six and 11 will never even set foot in a classroom. Should that trend continue, this becomes an even more powerful statistic, considering global implications. It’s also equally as powerful when considering the benefits of investing in girls’ education. Here are a few facts: 

  • If all women had at least a primary education, an estimated 1.7 million children would be protected from stunting and malnutrition. That number jumps to 12 million if all women had a secondary level education.
  • If all girls were able to complete primary school, it would result in 14 percent fewer child marriages.
  • A study conducted by The Lancet found that for every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5 percent.
  • It’s also been shown that one year of primary school increases a women’s wages by 10 to 25 percent, while secondary education increases her wage earning potential by 15 to 25 percent.
  • It’s estimated that a one percentage point increase in girls’ education results in a 0.3 percentage point increase in average gross domestic product. 

Wow, right? Now, that's leverage. Which is why more and more funders are keen to see more girls rising.