WISE Prize Goes to Afghan Girls’ Education Advocate


Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, a girls’ education advocate, has been recognized for her commitment to improving the situation of millions of girls through her organization, the Afghan Institute of Learning. Dr. Yacoobi received a $500,000 prize that comes at a critical time for the Afghan people.

During the 7th World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), attended by Michelle Obama and hundreds of education leaders, analysts, and experts, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi was awarded the WISE Prize for Education Laureate, the BBC reports. While accepting her prize, Yacoobi said of the people in Afghanistan:

“My people live in terror and poverty.”

Former Qatar First Lady Sheikha Moza bint Nasser said:

“This year’s Laureate is distinguished by her determination to bring education to her fellow citizens in the most adverse conditions of war and occupation.”

Describing her hard and at times dangerous work, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser added that Dr. Yacoobi’s efforts have transformed the lives of millions:

“From refugee camps to secret night schools, and often at great personal risk, she established a network of organisations that provide general education as well as public health education. While her work focuses on girls and women, it also benefits boys and men.”

Over the last two decades, Dr. Yacoobi has designed and executed initiatives to rebuild education in the country after war swept through it. Since its inception, AIL has helped more than 12 million people by offering them access to education and health services, The Peninsula Qatar reports.

In accepting her prize, Dr. Yacoobi expressed her optimism that the prize will support her people both mentally and practically to tackle their daily challenges.

Dr. Yacoobi came to the US as a refugee following her country’s occupation by the Taliban in the 1990′s. She returned to Afghanistan to oppose a ban on girls’ education. Yacoobi launched the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) through which she trained teachers, established schools and set up health centers.

AIL ran underground schools that offered learning opportunities to more than 3,000 girls. It was the first organization to establish learning centers for adult women as a way of strengthening their skills and literacy.

After twenty years, AIL now has four clinics, one hospital and 306 learning centers. At the moment, more than one million Afghan children are in exile and out of school. The NGO has recently established a radio station as a way of offering education access to people in remote rural areas and other marginalized regions.

Dr. Yacoobi has many more plans for bringing education to more people through innovation. As she said, according to The Independent:

“One day I want to have a television channel and open a university,” she said, “there is so much more we can do.”

More than 2,000 people from 150 countries attended the WISE conference, which is produced by the Qatar Foundation. This is the fifth time the WISE Prize for Education has been awarded to an entity or individual for their contribution to advancing education.