Invest in Girls and Transform the World

by Kathie Thomas

An adolescent girl stands at the threshold of adulthood. In that moment, much is decided. If she stays in school, remains healthy and gains real skills, she will marry later, have fewer and healthier children, and earn an income that she’ll invest back into her family.

But if she follows the path laid down by poverty, she’ll leave school and enter marriage. As a girl mother, an unskilled worker and an uneducated citizen, she’ll miss out on the opportunity to reach her full human potential. And each individual tragedy, multiplied by millions of girls, will contribute to a much larger downward spiral for her nation.

– “Girls Count: A Global Action & Investment Agenda,” The Coalition for Adolescent Girls

This week in New York City, 1,167 executives, NGO and philanthropic leaders, and heads of state have gathered to pledge their commitment to changing the world at the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative (#CGI2010). I have been following #CGI2010 on Twitter and YouTube from St. Louis. I was pleased to see such a great emphasis on empowering girls and women.

In fact, on Tuesday, the #CGI2010 agenda included a plenary session called “Empowering Girls and Women,” and a number of small group discussions and breakout sessions on related topics.

During the plenary session, the Girl Effect, a movement dedicated to adding value to the lives of girls across the globe, premiered its latest social action video. With that in mind, I wanted to share a little bit about girls in the developing world and the potential solution to ending poverty that they provide.

Empowering girls with better educations and more job training is proven to better their lives and those of their families.

You see, adolescent girls and young women have the power to break the cycle of poverty by continuing their educations at age 12 rather than getting married and having children. That’s because everyone benefits from a girl’s education. According to the Girl Effect fact sheet and media kit:

  • An extra year of primary school increases a girl’s wages by 10 to 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school increases her wages by 15 to 25 percent.
  • Girls drive 70 percent of all agricultural production in developing countries.
  • Girls reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families, as compared to boys, who only invest 30 to 40 percent of their income in their families. This money goes toward food, business investments, and educating siblings and future children.
  • When a girl receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. Greater income means greater educational opportunities for these children.

Additionally, national economies benefit greatly from educated and employed girls. The Nike Foundation, which created Girl Effect, says “when 10 percent more girls go to secondary school, the country’s economy grows by 3 percent.”

For instance, according to the Girl Effect media kit, “Kenya would gain $27 billion in potential income per generation if its female secondary school dropouts continued their education. Brazil foregoes an average of $17.3 billion per year as a result of girls’ joblessness. India sacrifices a potential of $100 billion over a lifetime due to adolescent pregnancy.”

Yet, despite their proven potential, girls are still an unrealized economic force. The Girl Effect fact sheet says:

  • Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school.
  • Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls.
  • One-quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18; 14 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth in developing countries each year.
  • Medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.

Compared with women ages 20 to 24, girls ages 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die from childbirth, and girls 15 to 19 are up to twice as likely, worldwide.
According to the Nike Foundation, only “about half a cent of every international development dollar is directed to her; 99.4 percent goes elsewhere. The world is missing out on a tremendous opportunity for change.”

But together we can help. Visit GirlEffect.org to make a donation or learn ways to mobilize your friends and communities in support of girls across the globe.

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Kathie ThomasKathie Thomas is the Director of Innovation and a senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard. The global Innovation practice group Kathie leads offers proven tools and approaches for helping organizations and teams inject a new level of innovation and productivity into their strategic planning and program development.

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  1. Hi Kathie

    Thank you for this – this is such an important issue and one thing which really could change our world for the better. Thanks for posting!

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