Creating education equality in Afghanistan with Roya Mahboob and Virgin Unite

Roya Mahboob_The New Now_D4G
Jack Brockway
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 17 May 2022
The NewNow is a group of global young leaders, who were brought together by Virgin Unite. Roya Mahboob is a member of The NewNow, alongside a nuclear physicist (Taylor Wilson), a peace activist (Viktor Ochen), a doctor/social entrepreneur (Uzodinma Iweala), an environmental activist (Farwiza Farhan), and a citizen journalist/human rights activist (Abdalaziz Alhamza). Virgin Unite is supporting these leaders in their quest to tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges, by helping to raise their voices and by fostering peer support and collaboration.

Roya Mahboob is an incredible tech entrepreneur from Afghanistan who became a CEO at just 23-years-old, and was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World when she was 25. She is such an incredible change-maker, and we’re so fortunate to work alongside her at Virgin Unite - as a leader of The NewNow and by supporting her efforts to create education and entrepreneurial opportunities through the Digital Citizen Fund, The BRITE Initiative and the Afghan Dreamers girls robotics team.

Roya is on a mission to use tech to transform the lives of millions of women and girls in Afghanistan and developing countries around the world, which is no small feat. In light of the Taliban’s reinstated ban of high school girls receiving an education, and the news that women must now cover their faces in public and should only leave their homes in cases of necessity, with violations leading to the punishment of male relatives – Roya’s work feels more important than ever. I decided to reach out to Roya to learn more about the situation and why it is so crucial to stand with Afghanistan and create education equality more broadly.

Holly Branson interviews Roya Mahboob

Speaking to Roya made me feel so fortunate to live in a society with equal opportunities. There is a such an enormous cost to denying a girl’s education, and Roya spoke about a 2018 report from the World Bank which found that barriers and limited educational opportunities for girls cost countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.

It was also insightful yet concerning to hear about what’s happening on the ground in Afghanistan at the moment, and what the Afghan people need the world to know. As Roya said:

“They want us to not forget about them, to not abandon them. They want the world to see what’s going on in Afghanistan… Always remember that Afghan women deserve the same opportunities, and have the same rights, to go to school, have jobs and have access to justice.

“Education should not be used as a tool for political gain… It’s not the 1990’s - women and girls in Afghanistan will not give up their rights, and I hope the international communities stands behind them.” I couldn’t agree more, and it’s such an important effort that we all must stand behind. As John Kerry, the former US secretary of state, wrote in an opinion piece after he met Roya:

“Lasting peace and prosperity in a unified Afghanistan will take root only when women have as loud a voice as men have.”

Such true words, and it’s thanks to people like Roya that these voices will be heard.

Support the Digital Citizen Fund and learn more about The NewNow’s young rising leaders.