Rihanna speaks onstage during her 4th Annual Diamond Ball benefitting The Clara Lionel Foundation on September 13, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris (Getty Images for Diamond Ball)

Internationally renowned entertainer, fashion and beauty icon, mogul and philanthropist: all of these describe Rihanna, but in a new op-ed for The Guardian urging all of us to get involved in the fight for equal access to education, the multi-hyphenate reflects on her childhood in Barbados, where she admits that she “did not always love school,” but “often took it for granted that [she] was even able to go to school.”

Education is a major part of the platform of the Clara Lionel Foundation, which the star founded in 2012 as a philanthropic arm which assists with everything from access to education and healthcare to emergency response around the world.

Clara Lionel Foundation

In The Guardian, Rihanna writes:

The lack of access to education for children around the world is a massive problem, but that does not mean we should throw up our hands in despair and surrender. Instead, we need to take on as much of the challenge as we can manage to set an example and see the difference. This is what has driven me to prioritize global education in my philanthropy and advocacy work. The notion that millions of children are desperate to go to school and are not given the opportunity is something I cannot accept. ...

Education can be stolen from you in a second. As we’ve seen recently on an unprecedented scale, the Caribbean gets hit by natural disasters that wipe out schools, leaving thousands of children stranded.

In other parts of the world, conflict, poverty, deeply ingrained sexism, and bad public policy keep more than a quarter of a billion children and teens from getting an education. Almost a quarter of these children are affected by conflict or crisis, and girls are more likely not to complete school. But that’s just the surface of the problem.

She goes on to share some striking statistics: For instance, did you know that a girl’s prospective income can reportedly rise by up to 20% with each additional year of primary school—a cost that is estimated at just over $50 a year? And as Rihanna’s letter indicates, children in African nations are predictably adversely affected.

In her work as an ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education, the singer also reports becoming acutely familiar with the difficulties securing educational funding, and calls out several countries for doing less than they possibly could to support educational access for an estimated 870 children in 89 other countries around the world, saying:

We are grateful for the generous contributions of those such as the EU and France, and countries that doubled their contributions such as Canada and Ireland. I look forward to seeing additional contributions from countries I know can step up even more, such as Germany and Japan, and seeing those that didn’t contribute – the Netherlands, Finland and New Zealand add their support to help us reach our target.

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Rihanna also flexes her considerable knowledge and experience of the difficulties of rallying support for education, versus equally pressing issues like healthcare, which offer more immediate metrics of success—and accordingly, better optics.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s less important,” she says. “[W]e as individuals can use our voices to empower these leaders to make education a priority. I hope you all join me on social media in calling on world leaders to step up to the global education challenge. ... When it comes to helping the world’s poorest children, as well as the communities and societies in which they live, I’m still learning – and I need others to join me on the journey and use their voices alongside mine.”