Sheryl WuDunn Speaks at Scripps in Support of Education for Women

By KC Mautner '12Co-Editor-in-Chief

On Sept. 16, philanthropist and journalist Sheryl WuDunn spoke at Garrison Theater on the importance of fighting poverty in the developing world by bringing girls and women into education and the work force. WuDunn is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, along with husband and New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, for their reporting on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. She coauthored the book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” with Kristof, which is about the challenges faced by women around the world and the ways in which social entrepreneurship can help women. WuDunn is also an investment banker and is currently president of the consulting company Triple Edge.

WuDunn’s educational credentials are certainly impressive: she received her undergraduate degree from Cornell, her MBA from Harvard and her MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. And though she presides over a financial consulting agency, WuDunn continues to focus various aspects of her career and professional life on educating and providing jobs for women in the developing world, with a personal focus on China. The metropolitan city of Beijing, said WuDunn, does not constitute “the real China.” Rather, WuDunn argued that “the real China” is a remote and oppressive country, especially for women.

During her lecture, WuDunn argued that the last three centuries have faced various moral challenges. The 19th century faced the threat of slavery and the 20th century faced the threat of totaliarianism. The central moral challenge facing the world in the 21st century, according to WuDunn, is gender inequity and the oppression of women and girls. WuDunn cited women as a natural and untapped resource that developing countries all too often overlook—if such countries allowed women to hold jobs and obtain higher education, they could significantly increase the productive capacity of those nations.

WuDunn stressed the importance of two paths through which women can advance politically and economically—microfinance and education. Microfinance is a way for women to gain jobs and earn an income for themselves. Meanwhile, the importance of education for women in the developing world cannot be overstated. Women who have received an education not only have increased opportunities to earn income for themselves and their families, but they also have fewer kids—a benefit that alleviates an already-overcrowded world, and in the process helps to alleviate poverty as well.

During the question-and-answer session following WuDunn’s lecture, students and community members asked how they can help women in China specifically and the developing world generally. WuDunn again stressed the importance of microfinance in creating job opportunities for women, and told the audience that any and every skill one person has can translate to helping the developing world, whether it be in web management, economics, politics or biology. Even if one does not directly relate their career to philanthropy, he or she can still “help alongside their career,” pursuing both a career and philanthropic work.