Ann Lesley Cotton – WOMAN of ACTION™



A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this woman, one female soul that sold bake goods to make her dream into a reality.  After visiting a part of our world where she experienced a reality whereby girls were commonplace only in lower school, and once secondary education became a requirement, more than half of the girls vanished.  

Her investigations told her that this fact was not due to her first thought, that girls stayed home to work the fields, care for the homestead.  The fact was that girls were being put into second place, that their families simply could not afford the education costs, that these girls were not only capable, that they dreamed of having a full education.  

This powerhouse made it her personal mission to change all that; living a lifelong devotion to ensure education for all.

She has worked the last two decades of her life to ensure that this dream materializes. !!!





Ann Lesley Cotton

Ann Lesley Cotton

“Education is the key to a successful nation – to both the men and women of the country”.


Ann Lesley Cotton is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was awarded an Order of the British Empire in the 2006 Queen’s New Year Honors List.  The honor was in recognition of her services to education of young women in rural Africa as the founder of CAMFED.

  • born in 1950 (63 years ago) in Cardiff
  • nationality: United Kingdom

Young people and education have been the focus of Ann Cotton’s life and she has a passionate belief in the power of education to transform lives. In her early career, she established and led an education center for girls excluded from mainstream education in London.

Ann Cotton went on to work as an Educational Assessor and advocate for children in care in Lancashire, UK. Whilst at Boston University in the US, she studied the multi-cultural education system of Massachusetts before returning to the UK to study Human Rights & Education at the London Institute of Education.

Following research into the constraints on girls’ education in Zimbabwe, Ann Cotton founded CAMFED in 1993.

camfed header logo

She is most well known for her work in CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), a charitable organization that aims to help the women and children in different parts of Africa such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania. Ann’s involvement in the organization includes the development and improvement of programs that promote the education of girls and the empowerment of young women in these areas.

ann cotton camfed

Through CAMFED, Ann has become a significant contributor in improving the treatment of women throughout Africa; her efforts in constantly promoting women’s rights and welfare have resulted in the government and other non-governmental organizations acting for the betterment of the women in society.

Ann is a talented social entrepreneur, and her entrepreneurial skills and strategies have enabled CAMFED to be the successful organization that it is today. Through Ann’s leadership, CAMFED has strategically grown to becoming one of the major organizations in the area of women’s rights and welfare in Africa. When she was asked regarding her role as a social entrepreneur in the growth of CAMFED, she answered:

“A social entrepreneur is someone who witnesses the pain and struggle in the lives of others and is compelled to act and to work with them. You need to be absolutely dogged. You need to listen to the people experiencing the problems, and their ideas need to crowd out the words of the ‘can’t be done-ers’. There will always be children who don’t fit the institution and whose sense of exclusion is reinforced day by day. Their experience shaped my approach to children and young people in Africa.”

camfed 24 millionBut aside from being a skilled social entrepreneur, what really made CAMFED so successful is Ann’s outstanding passion and love for her ‘fellow women‘.

Ever since she was a child, Ann already had a desire on the inside of her to help women and children; this desire was fully materialized when she founded CAMFED.

Throughout her career, Ann has tirelessly worked with numerous organizations (aside from her very own CAMFED) to promote the welfare of women and children.

She also prefers to do hands-on work, actually going in with the volunteers in giving relief and aid to the women and children that need help. It is this desire to help women that has kept Ann focused on her work.

In an address she gave to students, Ann said:

“My advice to others who want to get involved in any social effort is first and foremost for them to find their passion, to get to a point where they have no choice, where they have to act, have to get involved. One has to care enough to let go of fear, to care enough to risk failure and look upon not trying as failure. And listen always, and most carefully, to those experiencing the problem you want to try to solve.”

camfed standardsFor her efforts in changing the lives of the young women of Africa, Ann has received multiple awards and accolades, which include the famous Order of the British Empire Award and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Her organization, CAMFED, has also received the International Development Charity of the Year Award for starting a significant change.

But apart from all the physical awards that she has received, what is most rewarding for Ann is seeing ‘positive change‘ in the lives of the women she has helped.

She says:

“What satisfies me most is seeing the change in others, such as when I meet a girl who received an education because of CAMFED and is now doing wonderful things she would not otherwise have had the opportunity to do.”

In 1990, Cotton went on a research trip to Zimbabwe for a master’s thesis to study why so few girls attended secondary school. She realized that Africa would never conquer poverty and disease unless its women were educated. She also found that families that could not afford to educate all their children would give priority to boys. She knew that educated women were more likely to not contract HIV/AIDS, to marry later, and to have fewer children who were healthier and more likely to go to school.

Africa-MapsIn 1993, Cotton launched CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education) to address the problem. The agency started out by selling baked goods to send 32 girls to school.

In 2000, Ann Cotton went on to study at the School for Social Entrepreneurs. She has an MA in Human Rights and Education, is an honorary Master of the Open University, sits on the Board of the African Studies Centre and is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cambridge University.

In 2004, Ann Cotton was named UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2005 was awarded both the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and a Beacon Fellowship.

As of 2005, CAMFED supports more than seventy thousand (70,000) children in schools residing in several countries on the continent, including Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, and the aforementioned Zimbabwe.

In 2006, Ann Cotton received an OBE in honor of her services to girls’ education in Africa and in 2007 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge.

Meet Ann Cotton. During a trip to Zimbabwe in 1990, Ann Cotton realized that Africa would never conquer poverty and disease unless its women were educated. By selling baked goods, she raised enough money to send 32 girls to school then founded her own organization.



Currently, Ann never stops in her passion of seeing lives changed.

She constantly involves herself in her organization’s work, and even in the age of sixty, tirelessly works for the betterment of the lives of the young women not just in Africa, but also of those around the world through her inspiring life story – that changing the life of a Woman can greatly affect an entire nation.

camfed seed money campaign

Browse the Camfed site to pick a project to fund. You can contribute to four-year scholarships, furnish solar power to light a school, or support the Seed Money Program, which teaches financial management and offers small business grants.

Camfed believes that financial knowledge is crucial to shifting the balance of power in poor communities.

ann cotton 100_0407-333x250Business, management and financial literacy training is a service that forms a core part of all our work – from the committees who manage Camfed’s work at local level, to parent support groups and young women. Since 1998, Cama – our alumnae network – has helped thousands of young women to set up new businesses.

Camfed offers small grants to Cama members to launch their own enterprises. Cama start-ups have included a range of shops, livestock businesses, and batik making. A charcoal briquette-making project in Rufiji, Tanzania won a 2011 award from the International Labor Organization and a prize of US $10,000.

Research conducted in 2010 by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Zimbabwe and Tanzania found that 93 percent of businesses started with Camfed business grants earned a profit, with 92 percent of women surveyed putting some of their profits back into their businesses and nearly 83 percent contributing to essential household expenses.

The nonprofit believes that girls’ education is the strongest weapon against poverty and AIDS in Africa. In sub-saharan Africa, 24 million girls can’t afford to go to school. She might get married by age 13, and 1 in 22 will die in childbirth, 1 in 6 of her children will die before the age of 5. … but research shows that if you educate a girl, she will earn up to 25 percent more and reinvest 90 percent in her family, and be three times less likely to become HIV-positive, have fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five.

Find out how you can help!

Camfed2012 – Cambridge University Ann Cotton OBE, Founder and Executive Director of Camfed International, delivers a public lecture at Madingley Hall on 5 March 2012.

This lecture explores the history of girls’ education in Africa over the past 20 years and describes the current status quo in the 5 countries in which Camfed is working. Ann describes the Camfed Model that supports girls through primary and secondary education and on to securing livelihoods in the rural areas of Africa.

The lecture is chaired by Dr Kate Pretty, Principal of Homerton College, University of Cambridge, and introduced by Dr Rebecca Lingwood, Director of Continuing Education.

Please note that the lecture proper begins at the 7:40 minute point in the video.

‘Since its inception in 1993, 1,065,070 children, primarily girls, have benefitted from Camfed’s education program across a network of 2,798 schools.’ reports the Huffington Post

But even beyond education, Camfed trains young women to be self-supporting, and empowers them to become leaders in their communities. The essence of sustainability.

Camfed is Ann Cotton’s baby. Young people and education have been the focus of her life.

And while she has an educational pedigree second to none, it is her heart that has won her the highest of accolades (Entrepreneur in residence at Cambridge University, Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, UK Beacon Fellowship, and has received an OBE) and has brought weight to the notion that ‘every child has a right to an education‘.

Ann Cotton OBE: The justice and imperative of girls’ education in Africa



ann ORDERIn addition to being the recipient of the Order of the British Empire award, Cotton has received several other awards including: OBE in honor of her services to girls’ education

  • 2009 Women of the Year
  • 2005 Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year
  • 2004 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship (awarded by eBay founder Jeff Skoll)
  • 2004 UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year
  • 2003 International Development Charity of the Year (Award received on behalf of CAMFED)



social-mediaThe Xtraordinary – Ann Lesley Cotton

one leap – beta ONE LEAP

TRUSTLAW – Ann Cotton

Architects of Peace – Ann Cotton

Twitter – @AnnCotton

Facebook – CAMFED




A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this persevering female of vision into our Alumni with open arms, looking forward to a lifetime of collaboration in creating positive change for all women.



Brava Ann!



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