On Friday 12 July 2013 Malala Yousafzai, a 16 year old girl from Pakistan, rose to speak to the United Nations General Assembly. An un pre-supposing young ambassador for the determination felt by those in corners of the world where education is either not a right or is actively discouraged, sometimes with violence, to acquire an education and the benefits it brings. Malala had recovered after being shot in the head by terrorists attempting to silence her and the demand for young women to gain access to education. This was a particularly poignant episode for me as Malala recovered having been brought to the UK for medical treatment and having received that treatment in the hospital in Birmingham where I was born. Even more poignantly at the same time that Malala was being treated my son was being born not 5 miles away in another Birmingham hospital.
I cannot understand the desire to restrict the education of another human being. I am already saving for my son’s ‘college fund’ (a novel idea as higher education in the UK was free until 10 years ago and is now attempting to emulate the US model with fees now around the £9,000 a year mark). But as Malala said in her speech education is a fundamental human right. It is a light seen most dramatically when in darkness and can bring equality and opportunity to all. This means that society itself is made better, safer, wealthier, stronger. It means that if I am educated I have achieved an opportunity for me but that if we are all educated our opportunities grow exponentially because the society in which we live is made greater than the sum of its’ parts.
One thing not mentioned in Malala’s speech is the power of technology to have a dramatic impact on the ability of society to improve the educational prospects of people, and indeed children like Malala, all over the world. It is possible now to connect the world to learning resources that Arthur C Clarke would have found far-fetched. The entirety of human knowledge is at the disposal of a child with a laptop and a wi-fi connection. The challenge facing society is how best to organise, present and support that resource so that it can be navigated to and through, so that it can be exciting enough to generate wild enthusiasm in the viewer, to be relevant, and to be challenging.
One of the reasons why I joined the SAP University Alliances program in 2004 was because I saw that SAP was offering a rich and easily accessible set of resources for young people to learn business and technical skills that would have been simply out of reach otherwise. It isn’t SAP’s job to educate the world, and yet here is a firm that is willing to support a global initiative, at cost, to place learning resources in the hands of hundreds of thousands of students across the developed and developing worlds. Don’t underestimate the value, originality or uniqueness of this. There are university relations programs at our competitors, there are learning programs focused on recruitment and there are even one or two copycat programs that have grown over the years to look remarkably like the University Alliances but with only a fraction of its’ scope and depth.
But perhaps the greatest strength of SAP and of the whole concept of the University Alliances program is that it is one firm, with a vision, doing its’ utmost to raise the bar of educational provision where SAP can and where SAP has its’ strengths. I for one am very proud to be a part of such a concept and SAP should be proud to have actively been one of the first to promote the concept so aggressively and for so long.