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A world where every woman gets an equal shot at a proper education is something the U-Go organisation can achieve. Founder John Wood and board member Mariana Zobel de Ayala tell us how

Many parts of the world regard access to education as a privilege more than a right. In the Philippines alone, a Department of Education report reveals that there are more than six million functionally illiterate individuals from poverty-stricken families and indigenous cultural communities. But this is what U-Go, an education and female empowerment NGO, seeks to change through scholarship grants.

While U-Go focuses on the welfare of women, its humble ambitions are powerful enough to send at least 10,000 scholars from 2022 to 2028. “U-Go helps ambitious and promising young women in lower-income countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Vietnam,” its founder, John Wood, tells Tatler. “U-Go offers ‘year one’ financial scholarships, with renewal contingent upon achieving promising academic performances, and family and community co-investment. The goal is to help women to pursue university education.”

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For Mariana Zobel de Ayala, its Filipino ambassador and board member, the “women first” advocacy of the organisation will help females when it comes to representation in various fields. “The role of women in the Philippine society has always been contradictory; we see strong examples of women leadership—as presidents, chairwomen of large private institutions, and even heads of household, yet we still lack representation in certain verticals such as mid-management and boards of private institutions,” she comments.

“When I connected with John about his vision to expand U-Go’s mission to the Philippines, I felt strongly about the impact, it would have on ensuring equality of opportunity for women in the Philippines.”

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Zobel adds that academia plays a big role in changing the narratives of less-fortunate Filipinos. She posits that in the future, women will be given equal opportunities, such as earning fairer wages. This in turn will uplift their families as they tend to share a greater proportion of their salary according to studies. “Disproportional education rates between women and men contribute to wider issues such as the existing earning gaps in low-income countries. By providing financial assistance, U-Go will help to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back, and work towards de-randomising academic opportunities, which in turn, will have an impact on the future of that woman and the communities that surround and depend on her,” she says.

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“I felt strongly about the impact it would have on ensuring equality of opportunity for women in the Philippines”
Mariana Zobel de Ayala

“Educating young women creates a far-reaching positive ripple effect for their families and their wider communities. Women are more likely to share their dispensable income with their family, raising the overall living standard of their households, and eventually lifting up future generations of their families,” she adds. Besides scholarships, real-life skills classes are also offered to U-Go scholars. Here, they can hone skills that are not learnt inside the four corners of the classroom. “We will create life skills classes so that U-Go scholars can also learn out of the classroom in areas ranging from financial literacy to expanding their career options,” says Wood.

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“We will also create a U-Go career network so that our scholars can be connected to world-class companies offering internships and full-time employment. Both tie into the ‘win-win’ structure of our organisation, as companies who engage with U-Go will also benefit by winning the war for talent, meeting their gender and diversity goals, and proving that their companies are forces of good,” he adds.

Both Wood and Zobel stress that every woman deserves the right to have the same opportunities when it comes to learning. “Talent is universal, opportunity is not,” says Wood.

He reveals that in the Philippines, the average female enrolment rate in university is still below average for the region, leading to the gender imbalances we see in white-collar careers, general management, and whatnot. To apply for a U-Go scholarship, a student must apply to U-Go’s local partners. U-Go partners with established and trusted local non-government organisations (NGOs) such as Indochina Starfish Foundation Cambodia, Saigon Children’s Charity CIO, Aspire For Her, INOTEK Foundation, and JAAGO Foundation to process U-Go’s grant application.

U-Go is in discussion with several potential Philippine partners aiming for a launch within the year. Aspiring scholars must stay tuned through the official U-Go website ugouniversity.org.

“If the beneficiaries are to give back something, we hope they would become a role model for their peers, and help empower more young women, creating a far-reaching ripple effect to their families and the wider communities, because that’s why we established U-Go at the first place,” Wood concludes.

“When you are able to propel yourself forward [whether in your academic or professional life], let’s continue to multiply that success by paying it forward and lifting up others in any way you can,” Zobel says for her part.

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