Asian University for Women and IKEA Foundation Celebrate Pathways for Promise – the World’s First Initiative for Ready-Made-Garments Workers to Attend University for Free

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From factories to degrees, Pathways for Promise seeks to break aspirational barriers for women employed in the ready-made-garments industry through access to higher education

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS AND CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH – Media OutReach, Tuah Kepri – Asian University for Women (AUW) and IKEA Foundation announced today the first year’s success of their joint Pathways for Promise pilot program, the world’s first initiative to offer Ready-Made-Garments workers the opportunity to pursue a fully funded undergraduate degree. Out of hundreds of apparel worker applicants, in January 2016, 15 Pathways for Promise students embarked on their higher education journey on full scholarships from IKEA Foundation. Partnering with five factories in Bangladesh, AUW requires that the factories continue to pay selected students’ wages while they are enrolled. These women began their studies in the Pathways for Promise English, Math and Computer literacy immersion year, preparing them for rigorous studies at AUW’s liberal arts and sciences undergraduate program. As these women enter into their second year of studies they validate the program’s success, showing 100% retention.

Now Pathways for Promise students, former garments workers, study their English and math skills
Now Pathways for Promise students, former garments workers, study their English and math skills

“It is an honour to witness the success of Pathways for Promise students. I commend their courage, commitment, and dedication to the opportunity that has changed the trajectory of their lives. Pathways for Promise is integral to realizing AUW’s mission to empower women through education and to cultivate women leaders. The IKEA Foundation is thrilled to have supported the pilot phase of this programme,” said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation. “The Pathways for Promise model echoes the IKEA Foundation’s commitment to continually seek the most innovative programmes to help women who might not otherwise have opportunities to thrive. It is empowering these talented women to contribute to the sustainable human and economic development of Asia.”

In 2015, realizing the untapped pool of human potential among the more than three million female garments workers in Bangladesh, AUW set out looking for a key partnership to help launch Pathways for Promise. AUW introduced the concept to its longtime supporter, IKEA Foundation, which responded enthusiastically in light of the program’s alignment with the IKEA Foundation mission to empower women and girls. IKEA Foundation has provided full scholarships for over 200 women to study at AUW to date, amounting to more than $12 million in philanthropic support.

“We are so grateful to the IKEA Foundation for the support they have given AUW to pilot such an important program as Pathways for Promise,” said Kamal Ahmad, co-founder of AUW.  “By focusing on talent that lay hidden among the millions of workers, AUW and IKEA Foundation have powerfully demonstrated how talents even in the most unsuspecting settings can be harnessed to great effect.  Pathways for Promise forcefully demonstrates that no segment of any society has a monopoly on talent.”

Pathways for Promise students enjoying their studies
Pathways for Promise students enjoying their studies

Today, Pathways for Promise has more than one hundred students. The program directly reflects AUW’s Charter, which mandates that the University seek out talented Asian women in general, and in particular women from rural, poor or other disadvantaged backgrounds. AUW has leveraged the Pathways for Promise approach to reach high-potential women from other marginalized communities, such as the Rohingya ethnic minority or daughters of microfinance borrowers.

One Pathways for Promise student shares, “At the Pathways for Promise Talent Show hosted by AUW in October 2016, I performed a dance for my schoolmates. I danced with a bottle on my head, which is a symbol of luck. It is a sign of bad luck if the bottle falls and breaks, but when I danced in front of my classmates at AUW, the bottle on my head didn’t fall! In fact, I knew it wouldn’t fall, because I know I am so lucky to be in the Pathways for Promise program, and I believe I am going to have a very good four years here!”

The pilot cohort will graduate in 2021, taking leaderships positions in the fields of their choice, ranging from running their own apparel manufacturing site to working in public health throughout rural Bangladesh. To learn more about Pathways for Promise, visit

About Asian University for Women (AUW)

Founded in 2008 and located in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Asian University for Women is the first of its kind.  AUW is a regional institution dedicated to women’s education and leadership development — international in outlook, but rooted in the contexts and aspirations of the people of Asia.  Students from 15 countries attend AUW.  AUW exists solely to support a rising network of women leaders, entrepreneurs and change makers from across the region. It seeks out women who have significant academic potential, demonstrate courage and a sense of outrage at injustice, and are empathic to those in need.  A majority of AUW’s students are first in their family to enter university; 98% of AUW’s students are on full or near-full scholarship funded by private donors from around the world.  75 percent of AUW graduates immediately find employment in their home countries, while about 25% go on to pursue graduate studies. AUW graduates or former students have been admitted to Stanford, Oxford, Columbia, Brandeis, Surrey and a host of other leading universities in the world to pursue higher degrees.

asian university for women
asian university for women

About the IKEA Foundation

The IKEA Foundation (Stichting IKEA Foundation) is the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies. We aim to improve opportunities for children and youth in some of the world’s poorest communities by funding holistic, long-term programmes that can create substantial, lasting change. The IKEA Foundation works with strong strategic partners applying innovative approaches to achieve large-scale results in four fundamental areas of a child’s life: a place to call home; a healthy start in life; a quality education; and a sustainable family income, while helping these communities fight and cope with climate change.