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Girl Effect Ripples Beyond CGI 2010

By Susan Carey Dempsey on September 23, 2010No Comment

Among hundreds of hours of panel discussions, millions of dollars in commitments and dozens of programs and partnerships undertaken at the Clinton Global Initiative, one of the galvanizing moments was the premiere of the new video, “The Clock is Ticking,” illustrating what the Nike Foundation calls the Girl Effect. onPhilanthropy sat down with Maria Eitel, Founding CEO and President of the Nike Foundation, to talk about the heightened attention to empowerment of women and girls that has taken center stage at CGI 2010:

This is the most attention that adolescent girls and poverty have ever gotten. It can have a profound transformational impact on adolescent girls, which can change the trajectory of their world. It’s exciting to see.

The Nike Foundation decided six years ago to focus on adolescent girls and poverty.  Its central tenet is the Girl Effect, the belief that improving a girl’s life will improve the lives of those around her: her brothers, sisters, parents and the community beyond. They see an educated mother, a more active citizen, a responsible, ambitious entrepreneur. The numbers tell the story. With 7+ years of education, a girl marries 4 years later than she should have otherwise and has 2.2 fewer children. One extra year of primary school boosts eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent; with an extra year of secondary school, wages rise 15 to 20 percent. When girls and women are enabled to earn income, they reinvest into their families. Eitel describes it as an important ripple effect:

The Girl Effect is clear; the economic case for it is very profound. By investing in their education, we help young women and girls avoid early pregnancy, HIV, forced marriage. That completely changes not only their personal trajectory, but that of their family, their community and indeed their country.

Eitel pointed out that the common wisdom that young women are held back by cultural barriers has proven to be erroneous, that once family and community members are educated to the economic benefits, attitudes can be changed:

We need to work with them and their families to help them understand that the best economic decision for a young woman is to complete school, and to marry when she is better prepared to care for herself and her children, better educated and empowered. If her only asset is her body, she will always be vulnerable.

The danger is that the current spotlight on young women’s issues turn out to be just passing attention.  Real budgets need to shift, Eitel said, echoing a concern voiced throughout CGI that some commitments represent re-packaging of current projects. She stressed the importance of nonprofits, foundations, corporate and individual philanthropists making an effort to examine their own priority programs, whether they be in healthcare, economic development, environmental protection, and ensure the participation of young women:

My main message to them is:  Pause, carefully look at what you’re currently doing, and make sure you haven’t assumed that you’ve included adolescent girls. Be sure that they are. It’s a dangerous assumption to think that girls are included in health systems, when they often are neglected once they get beyond childhood immunizations. Whatever the focus of your philanthropy may be, you can amplify its impact, make it more effective by making sure adolescent girls are included. It’s smart philanthropy, to invest in a girl. She becomes your partner for impact.

In addition to healthcare and education, Eitel stressed the Nike Foundation’s commitment to protecting land rights for girls, as announced early in CGI 2010. Along with the Rural Development Institute (RDI),  Omidyar Network and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Nike Foundation committed to creating opportunities for poor, rural girls in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia by helping strengthen their rights to land:

Since land is often the most important asset for the rural poor in the developing world, this commitment will help economically and socially empower girls with land rights to help reduce their vulnerability to poverty, food-insecurity, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDs, and the problems associated with early marriage.

Nike Foundation’s work represents the investment of Nike, Inc. and the NoVo Foundation; together they have established and expanded numerous programs aimed not only at women and girls, but at boys and men as well. As an example, Instituto Promundo, a Brazil-based NGO, has conducted gender attitude programs using social marketing campaigns, group discussions and peer outreach in 20 countries over seven years. The results include a reduction of gender-based violenece and an expansion of HIV/AIDS awareness. An evaluation found that men who participated in the program reported fewer symptoms of STIs (from 23% at baseline to 4% after one year) and much higher levels of condom use (from 58% to 87%).

A countrywide healthcare program in Rwanda, in which Nike Foundation is partnering with several government and nonprofit partners, aims at girls age 12 and over. Eitel points out that many girls in developing countries are neglected once they pass the point of immunizations in the first five years of life. They’re overlooked until they become pregnant in their teens, at which point much time has been lost, when they could have had access to better nutrition and preventive healthcare. Beginning with a half-million dollar pilot project, the program will scale up to $50 million invested in teaching girls about their bodies, about nutrition and obtaining access to community-based healthcare services.

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