KUALA LUMPUR: The former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama wants to help girls around the world get the education they need, as they may have the solution to world issues.
“There are 98 million girls worldwide who are not getting the education they deserve. To have that happening is unspeakable, wasteful and not a smart move for the planet, ” said Michelle, who champions the cause with the Girls Opportunity Alliance (GOA), a programme under the Obama Foundation.
“The answer to everything we’re struggling with such as the environment, healthcare – what if it’s in their minds? Which is why we need to invest in that, ” she said yesterday.
Michelle was speaking in a panel at the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific with US actress Julia Roberts, which was moderated by former Miss Malaysia and activist Deborah Henry.
The panel was part of a five-day leadership development conference for over 200 young leaders across Asia-Pacific, which will see other prominent speakers including former US president Barack Obama, who is in Kuala Lumpur, talking about values-based leadership development.
“If you start a foundation by telling a kid that they are valuable, that their words can make a difference – it’s not money or magic, but it allows them to advocate for themselves, ” she said.
Michelle added that GOA was founded to find context-driven solutions for girls’ education that were unique to the community.
“We knew that solutions vary and dependent on the culture they are in, so we didn’t want to build something in the US, thinking that they can help girls in Vietnam, for example, ” she said.
“So we take the efforts that are already there on the ground and build that, ” she added.
Michelle and Roberts had spent the past week in Vietnam encouraging girls to stay the course of school.
“This trip has been life-altering for me, and showed me that this plight to educate girls is not a sad, tragic thing, but an incredible opportunity, ” said Roberts.
“We were so deeply moved in Vietnam, hearing their stories. I was in selfish tears as this smiling woman told us what she has gone through and accomplished, ” she added.
Roberts said she seldom connected to social media or read reviews of her performances to stay positive.“Once I got a really bad review, and I took it to heart. Then, I realised that I didn’t take any positive thing deep in me as I did for the bad review, ” said the Hollywood actress.
Michelle, together with actress Lana Condor, GOA executive director Tiffany Drake and Obama Foundation’s adviser Dr Maya Soetoro-Ng met with 12 youth leaders, who work on girls’ education and empowerment, including Malaysian representative SPOT Community Programme founder Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri.
Earlier in the week, prominent speakers including Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown, Mongolian MP and geologist Dr Oyun Saanjasuren, AirAsia founder and Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh shared their views on the opportunities for Asia-Pacific and ethical entrepreneurship.
Barack will be speaking with Dr Soetero-Ng, the former president’s Indonesian-American half-sister, at the plenary today.
The Star’s R.AGE deputy executive editor Ian Yee is one of the 14 Malaysian representatives.