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With new initiative, Michelle Obama is on a mission to improve the education of girls worldwide

© Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS Former First Lady Michelle Obama speaks before unveiling her official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday, February 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Her book, "Becoming: A Memoir," will hit shelves Nov. 13.

By Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune

Former first lady Michelle Obama has launched an international program that aims to support groups and community leaders who work to educate girls around the world, she announced Oct. 11.

The Global Girls Alliance is a collective of smaller, grassroots organizations working to get girls in school and get them educated, officials said. In her role, Obama will work through the Obama Foundation to highlight those groups, promote their work and steer donors their way.

"When you educate a girl, you educate a family, a community, a country," she said during an interview on the "Today" show, where she announced the initiative.

She added, "If we care about climate change, if we care about poverty, if we care about maternal child health, then we have to care about education."

According to the foundation, the alliance has 1,400 members. And while there is no overall fundraising amount, some of the organizations have individual goals, which are outlined on a GoFundMe page.

"We want to lift up the grassroots leaders in communities all over the world who are clearing away the hurdles that too many girls face," Obama said in a statement. "Because the evidence is clear: educating girls isn't just good for the girls, it's good for all of us."

The announcement signals how Obama will use her influence as a former first lady now that she has been out of the White House for more than a year.

It is the first program Obama has launched through the foundation, which is based in the South Side community where she worked and lived. In addition to its programming, the foundation is responsible for constructing the Obama Presidential Center.

During her visits to Chicago, Obama has spoken about her vision for the center and said that it would bring public art to a community with struggling neighborhoods that need it. But aside from her visits, where she often makes time to sit and talk with high school students, Obama has been mostly quiet since the family left the White House.

Obama grew up in the South Side's South Shore neighborhood and touts her Chicago upbringing in nearly every public speech. She was once the primary breadwinner for her family. Yet, her law career was placed on hold when her husband became president and she focused instead on programs promoting girls and healthy children. As first lady, she charmed and delighted the public in speeches, interviews and appearances.

After the family left the White House, she said she was looking forward to returning to a normal life.

But last month, Obama announced that she finished writing her memoir and would kick off her grand-scale book tour here in Chicago at the United Center.

Shortly after the book tour announcement, Obama jumped into a national effort to get residents registered to vote.

She said she was turning some of her attention toward elevating programs that work to educate girls because there are 98 million young girls that are not in school.

In many countries, younger girls get diverted from their education because of work, motherhood and family obligations. In other regions, education is prohibited and opportunities limited.

Still, studies show that girls who are educated earn more, are better able to support their families and tend to be healthier and more engaged.

Although Obama's initiative is new, the programs it spotlights are not, like the Campaign for Female Education, or CAMFED, which has offices in the United Kingdom and States and throughout Africa; Rise Up, which is based in California; and the Study Hall Educational Foundation in India.

Also in the interview on "Today," Obama was asked about a disarming moment during the funeral for Sen. John McCain, when former President George W. Bush, sitting next to her, discreetly passed her a cough drop.

"President Bush and I, we are forever seatmates because of . That's how we sit at all official functions," she said.

"It was a simple gesture," she added, one that showed a moment of bipartisanship. "That's what people are hungry for."

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World News: With new initiative, Michelle Obama is on a mission to improve the education of girls worldwide
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