Girl power – the business of investing in girls

September 18, 2018

The private sector has a key role to play in the empowerment of girls in society. Josefin Smeds identifies just some of the ways in which leading businesses are taking bold action to invest in girls. 

Imagine being one of the 600 million girls in the developing world on the brink of adolescence. With the right opportunities, you attend school, and when you’re ready you marry. But the more common scenario is that opportunities disappear as you hit adolescence. You stop school because your family needs you or can’t afford your school fees, or because you are pregnant or pressed into early marriage. At this point your prospects and those of your children diminish, and so the cycle of intergenerational poverty continues.

There has been progress in terms of women’s and girls’ rights, with more girls in school than ever before, less girls married before they turn 18 and increased legal protections for women and girls. However, women’s participation in the workforce has not risen in the last 20 years, indicating that girls’ education has not resulted in the expected economic participation and empowerment. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that countries with the largest gender gap in the workforce lose up to 30% of GDP per capita.

These challenges require bold action, and business has a key role to play with payoffs not only for society but also their bottom line. Girls are important stakeholders for business – they are consumers, family members of employees, future workers and leaders. Supporting and advancing their development, and integrating their rights into companies’ operations and communities, is paramount to the success of not only society – but also for business. The 2010 McKinsey study “The Business of Empowering Women” found that 34% of companies that invest in programmes that target women have measured improved profits while an additional 38% expect to experience improved profits.

There are many ways business can invest in girls, for example through their education so that they get the same chances as boys. This can be done through programs that empower girls with skill-based training. Business can invest in women for example through their employment protections and income, so that mothers can invest sustainably in their children and their children’s education; in childcare so that women can afford to work and so that children can learn from a young age. Companies can also ensure that their products and marketing practices empower girls and women rather than the opposite. It is important to remember that empowering adolescent girls is not only an investment in an individual girl – it’s an investment in everyone around her.

Standard Chartered Bank, a multinational banking and financial services company, is a great example of what business can achieve when they put girls first. Standard Chartered operates in many low-income countries. In order to address gender inequality and support socio-economic development, the bank developed the Goal program in 2006, which empowers and equips adolescent girls through sport and life skills education. Now operating in 20 countries, in collaboration with the NGO Women Win, Goal helps girls build their confidence while educating them in areas such as communication, health, hygiene, and financial literacy – with the objective of helping girls transition from education to paid work. In 2017, Goal reached over 95,000 girls in 24 countries!

One of the keys to the success of Goal is joining forces with experts. By partnering with Women Win, they are able to tap into their expertise in using sports as a tool for social change. Women Win also provides a network of local NGO partners for program implementation, at the same time ensuring global consistency in the quality of Goal.

Julie Wallace, Global Head, Community Engagement, Standard Chartered Bank says, “As a bank, when economies grow, the business grows. Our main motivator is inclusive societies and economic opportunity for girls and young women.”

Another example comes from Girl Effect, a non-profit using the power of media and technology in 66 countries to build youth brands and mobile platforms that empower girls. One example of their approach to development is “Yegna”, an Ethiopian youth brand that uses music and storytelling to raise awareness of issues like child marriage, sexual harassment, gender-based violence and the importance of education. In a country where one in five girls marries before the age of 15, Yegna shifts perceptions of what it means to be a girl. When setting a course for a program to advance girls, Natalie Au, Girl Effect’s Global Gender and Safeguarding Director urges, “Go ask girls. They know what barriers they face and what resources they need to overcome them. Girls can set their own path; we’re mere enablers to make that happen.”


Josefin Smeds is a Researcher at Global Child Forum.

Global Child Forum is a leading forum for children’s rights and business dedicated to innovative thinking, knowledge-sharing and networking. In addition to its forums, the organisation delivers research perspectives, best practices and risk assessment tools designed to unlock opportunities for business to integrate children’s rights into their operations and communities. Is your company ready to take action for girls, or children’s rights more broadly? Check out the Global Child Forum Pledge for Children’s Rights and Business, an urgent call for business to create tangible initiatives and forge partnerships which advance children’s rightsFor more information, please visit: @GCForum