GFC’s Beginning: A Moment of Obligation
While traveling in India on a Rotary scholarship in 1990, Maya Ajmera stepped onto a train platform in Bhubaneswar and encountered a surprising scene. Amid the chaos of the train station, a group of children sat in a circle, listening and answering questions while a teacher led them in simple learning exercises.
After the lesson, Maya learned that the children lived, played, and begged on the train platforms. Wanting to provide them with a pathway out of poverty, two teachers offered the children free education, clothing, and food. The small school operated on only $400 per year, serving 40 students who would otherwise have no opportunity to learn.
Inspired by this powerful model, Maya founded The Global Fund for Children (GFC) in 1993, with and Echoing Green Fellowship. She believed that small amounts of money, when given to innovative, community-based organizations, could make a lasting impact on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. At the core of Maya’s approach was a desire to foster global citizenship in children through the power of children’s books. Using proceeds from the sale of Children from Australia to Zimbabwe, which Maya co-authored, GFC made its first community investments in 1997, including a grant to the train platform school that had inspired her to create GFC.
Growing Impact and Sustainability
Within just two years of awarding its first grants, GFC had increased its grantmaking budget tenfold. By its tenth anniversary, GFC had launched a suite of strengthening services to help its grantees grow and thrive, including management support, technical assistance, and networking opportunities. GFC also attracts other funders to its grantees and increases grantees’ visibility to help them garner international recognition for their work. The result: a global community of strong grassroots organizations that are tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.
At the core of GFC’s commitment to strengthening its partners is the Maya Ajmera Sustainability Award. Established in 2005 and renamed in 2012, this capstone grant, beginning at $25,000, provides GFC’s most exceptional grantees with a special infusion of funds toward their sustainability, and rewards them for their commitment to positive, long-lasting change in children’s lives.
Under Maya’s 18 years of leadership, GFC also developed a dynamic media program. In 1997, GFC began a groundbreaking partnership with Charlesbridge Publishing, enabling a portion of the proceeds from book sales to support GFC’s grantmaking. Published under the imprint Global Fund for Children Books, the award-winning collection comprises more than 30 children’s book titles. In 2005, GFC expanded its media program to include a documentary photography fellowship in partnership with the International Center of Photography in New York. GFC also invested in several documentary films—including War Child, Going to School in India, The Revolutionary Optimists, and Big Sister Punam—that share the stories and voices of vulnerable children and raise awareness of the issues that confront them.
Maya stepped down from her position as president of GFC in 2011 and remained on the board until 2013, having grown her initial vision into a thriving global organization. To date, GFC has awarded more than $35 million in grants to over 600 organizations in 80 countries, touching the lives of nearly 10 million children worldwide.
Celebrating Everyday Heroes
GFC finds and invests in grassroots organizations that demonstrate exceptional promise and that address cutting-edge issues affecting children today:
The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project / Nyakagyezi, Uganda
In 2005, Jackson Kaguri and Maya met at a conference where Jackson shared his story: HIV/AIDS had devastated his home village in Uganda, leaving many children orphaned. Jackson wanted to start a school for children affected by AIDS so they could have the childhood they deserved. GFC became one of the first funders of The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in 2006, and today the organization reaches more than 775 children annually with its programs. Jackson is a distinguished scholar, an internationally recognized human rights advocate, and the author of the book A School for My Village.
Prerana / Mumbai, India
Based in Mumbai’s largest red-light district, Prerana works to protect the human rights of sexually exploited women and their children. GFC supported Prerana’s Night Care Centre, where children of sex workers received an education instead of witnessing the harsh realities of prostitution. Founded by Priti and Pravin Patkar, the center helped to discourage second-generation sex workers and was one of the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Over the course of Prerana’s eight-year partnership with GFC, the organization more than doubled its budget and reached thousands of children.
The Afghan Institute of Learning / Kabul, Afghanistan
Founded by Sakena Yacoobi, AIL began as an underground system of schools for girls during the Taliban regime, with GFC among its earliest supporters. After the fall of the twin towers, Maya offered AIL additional support for boys’ education programs; GFC then became a seed funder of AIL’s schools for boys, which integrated a specially designed peace and tolerance curriculum. When GFC first funded AIL, the community-based organization’s budget was only $25,000. Today, AIL has a budget of $1.5 million, and its programs reach more than 400,000 Afghan women and children annually.
Community Sanitation and Recycling Organization / Phnom Penh, Cambodia
CSARO addresses the needs of Phnom Penh’s waste-pickers, half of whom are children who pick through garbage to help support themselves and their families. Through a variety of programs, CSARO helps adult waste-pickers to improve their living and working conditions, while also providing educational outreach to child waste-pickers. “Curbside classrooms” offer lessons in numeracy, literacy, and reading, as well as lessons in how to avoid hazardous waste and administer basic first aid. GFC became CSARO’s first US-based institutional funder in 2008.