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You can’t be what you can’t see: Providing Role Models, Life Skills and Mentoring to Refugee Girls in Jordan

Room to Read helps girls progress towards completion of secondary school with skills they need to make informed choices about their lives.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Girls living in post-conflict and refugee settings are at extremely high risk of early marriage, domestic violence and illiteracy. This, and the poor quality of teaching experienced by these girls, whose learning needs go beyond strictly cognitive skills, require a different approach to education, one that looks at the importance of life skills like effective communication, gender and empowerment, sexual assault and violence prevention and more topics addressed through our Life Skills Education.

Explain your innovation.

Girls who develop foundational life skills learning coupled with positive support from families, communities, and mentors will be more likely to stay in school, graduate, and improve their life outcomes. Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program (GEP) is therefore designed to improve learning and life outcomes. Through GEP, girls in secondary school receive life skills education and mentoring from Social Mobilizers (mentors) who become their role models. Girls receive lessons consisting of activities such as role-playing difficult conversations; holding debates to build public speaking skills and confidence; and assignments that help girls apply the life skills lessons to their daily lives. Girls develop the self-confidence, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills that build self-efficacy, social and self-awareness. In 2016, our Life Skills curriculum was analyzed by external researchers and assessed for use with refugee girls in resettlement contexts and girls living in post-conflict settings. The review found the curriculum to be appropriate for girls in those settings and our model to be effectively replicable in that context. In Jordan, we will start with three to five schools or community settings, utilizing our innovative Life Skills Assessment Tool to gather data and apply the learning from this experience to scale this project to reach more refugee girls in the Middle East.

Who benefits?

Our program is designed to support girls throughout secondary school, a critical time for many girls, as this is the time when cultural and societal practices pressure them to marry young and begin a family. Lack of positive role models and extreme poverty also push girls out of school early and keep them and their families trapped in the cycle of poverty. When girls have been displaced, education has been disrupted and there is a critical need to restore some normalcy to their lives. Meeting with Social Mobilizers and other girls to participate in the Life Skills program will provide some stability. We will use our Life Skills Assessment Tool as one measure of success as well as school persistence rates, dropout rates, and reductions in early marriage to evaluate the program. This project will help thousands of girls take hold of their futures by giving them the skills and confidence to achieve more.

How is your innovation unique?

With more than 15 years experience working on girls’ Life Skills Education in 9 countries, Room to Read is a leader working to bridge the life skills and gender equality movements. Several organizations are working to provide education and life skills to refugee girls and boys in the Middle East. Very few, however, can rely on our experience, evidence-based models, supported by thorough scientific research, monitoring and innovative evaluation tools that enable us to quickly scale our impact in new countries. Through these sophisticated tools, Room to Read is able to assess the impact of life skills training on short and long terms outcomes (from a social, economic, gender equality, health and community engagement perspective) for girls, their families and their entire communities.  For this purpose, we will design a rigorous evaluation, comparing outcomes for young women participating in the Room to Read program as compared to young women who are not in the program.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We have confidence in our Life Skills curriculum and mentoring approach for girls and are comfortable with applying it to Jordan, a country where we just started working through our Literacy Program. While we have not yet specifically worked with refugees, we have extensive experience with girls living in poverty, girls who come from ethnic minorities and migrant communities in Africa and Asia. We will apply our experience to this setting in Jordan and beyond. To ensure this project is sustainable we will need to identify and work with local partners in Jordan who can help us contextualize our materials so they are appropriate and relevant to the girls, and help ensure the program is sustained and scalable over time, in Jordan and beyond.

Tell us more about you.

Room to Read is a US-based NGO partnering with low-income communities and governments in 14 countries throughout the world to improve primary school literacy and opportunities for girls. We have more than 1,000 staff members, most of whom are local-nationals in the countries where we work. We have a small fundraising team of two in Australia and in Indonesia we are implementing a literacy project focused on school libraries and local book publishing.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

In Jordan, Syrian refugees are overwhelming the government schools; many schools have two shifts a day and class sizes of 75+ children. Parents are keeping their daughters out of school, believing that work or early marriage are better options. We will work with schools and community centers who are serving this population. Other countries in the region such as Lebanon and Turkey are also experiencing similar challenges; we feel this project could be replicated in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

We will first implement this project in Jordan, in 3 to 5 schools or communities with large numbers of refugees. Our materials will be adapted and tailored to the local context; we will work with local partners to do this. Once the materials are adapted and implemented in Jordan, they can be applied and scaled for use in neighboring countries where there has also been an influx of refugees. There is potential for us to collaborate with other international NGOs to work on a regional basis.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for less than one year.

In-country Networks

We are developing children's storybooks in Arabic by training local writers, illustrators and publishers to produce high-quality children’s books in Jordan. Perspectives of refugee children are incorporated into several stories, and 500,000 books will be distributed with a priority on reaching refugee children. We are providing technical expertise and are working with the private and public sectors, and building relationships with the MoE, UNHCR, UNICEF, and the Queen Rania Foundation.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Room to Read one of the few organizations with strong evidence-based girls’ life skills and mentoring programs in multiple countries; we have been recognized for innovations in the field of girls’ education. Our team of in-house technical experts and consultants will lead this project, with support from our Global Office for project management, research, finance and accounting, and legal teams.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

San Francisco, California, USA


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Building on the learnings from 16 years of program implementation, we will grow our impact by working with local partners to help schools integrate and mainstream girls’ life skills and gender equality education into the regular school hours.

Who will implement this Idea?

A project manager would support the project, with technical staff (social mobilizers) and local consultants leading the implementation. Technical staff would come from our global headquarters in San Francisco.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Young, adolescent refugee girls struggle to complete formal education—their schooling is highly disrupted by the challenges and vulnerabilities of their refugee status in a foreign land. Cultural, familial, and societal pressure these girls to drop out of school, marry young and/or start working early. These girls are at high risk of early marriage, domestic violence, exploitation, and illiteracy—all exacerbated by lack of access to quality education that speaks to their experiences.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Building on the learnings from 16 years of program implementation, we will grow our impact by working with local partners to help schools integrate and mainstream girls’ life skills and gender equality education into the regular school hours. We have an amazing network of donors, board members and volunteers who invest time and money to support our mission and who passionately believe that world change begins with educated children. Donations came from the Americas (63%), Australasia (14%), Europe (9%), East Asia (9%) and South Asia (5%).

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

Impact: By 2021, we will have designed, contextualized and implemented a life skills education curriculum for refugee girls in Jordan. Question: How do we adjust our model to maintain quality while lowering costs to ensure replicability so that local partners can take over our approach?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

We will use our Life Skills and Knowledge-Based Assessment Tools to see how girls progress in life skills proficiency and in the learning of some key topics (including their health and human rights). We will also measure school persistence rates, dropout rates, and reductions in early marriage to evaluate the program. We will then design a rigorous evaluation, comparing outcomes for young women participating in the Room to Read program as compared to young women who are not in the program.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

In Jordan, we will start with a two-year project to be implemented in five to ten schools or community settings. We will apply our Life Skills and Knowledge-Based Assessment Tools to measure success and make the necessary adjustments at the end of the program. Finally, we will advocate with government officials, as well as other national and international partners to enable them to take over and replicate our approach.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $1,000,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • More than 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Program/Service Design

Attachments (1)

RoomtoRead - IDEO UserExpMap .pdf

User Experience Map


Join the conversation:

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Expert Feedback Question 4: In your expert opinion, does this Idea pass the ‘do no harm’ principles? Do you believe that there may be any unseen or undocumented risks?

- Experts shared, “I don't see any issues here, though a strong influence to postpone early marriage may be seen as controversial (maybe?) from some of the refugee communities.”

Expert Feedback Question 5: Based on your experience and expertise, is this an Idea that you’d like to see brought to life? Why or why not?

- Experts shared, “This would be a good follow up program to any efforts to help with resettlement and assimilation into a new country. I would like to see partnering with other organizations.”

Looking ahead in the development of your Idea, the following are some questions that may be helpful to consider and integrate into your contribution!

- How will you learn more about the unique needs of refugees and inform your curriculum?
- How much thought have you given to the types of life skills that girls in emergency situations will require, and how are those life skills different from the ones you are currently teaching in non-emergency situations?
- What is the Skill Assessment Tool?
- How do you select, train and develop your mentors?

Join us for Storytelling Office Hours Tuesday, July 25, 2017 from 8:30AM - 9:30AM PST! RSVP at by Monday, July 24, 2017 Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an Idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - August 6 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your Idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

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Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Lauren Hadi

Our technical assistance work relies on collaboration with local partners. One key aspect of this project is to build the capacity of local organizations and/or governments to sustain the work over time. Local partners also help us contextualize the program to meet local needs and to ensure cultural sensitivity in the given environment.

Room to Read’s Life Skills Assessment is designed to measure girls’ life skills learning and development. The tool helps Room to Read ensure our programs are leading to the results intended, and deepen our understanding of the program’s impact across countries. Ultimately, Room to Read will use findings of these assessments to inform our own program design and also to provide invaluable information about best practices in life skills programming and measurement to governments, stakeholders, and the global education community.

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