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Ann Lesley Cotton (born 1950 in Cardiff) is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2006 Queen’s New Year Honours List. The honour was in recognition of her services to education of young women in rural Africa as the founder of CAMFED.
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.
In 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. 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 addition to being the recipient of the Order of the British Empire award, Cotton has received several other awards including:
- 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)