Gender equality

Promoting the economic prosperity of girls
A dedication to investing in girls
Nike Foundation
Support for projects in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Liberia and India
No. of employees:


The Nike Foundation invests exclusively in the girl effect - the social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate. Today, adolescent girls represent the most powerful force for change and poverty alleviation in the developing world. The work of the Nike Foundation is supported by Nike, Inc. and the NoVo Foundation, a collaboration which has enabled exponential impact of the Girl Effect.

The Girl Effect is the powerful social and economic change brought about when girls have the opportunity to participate in their societies. It highlights the power of investing in girls as the greatest way to alleviate poverty in the developing world. This is due to their largely untapped economic potential and evidence that suggests girls are more likely to reinvest their income in the prosperity of their families, leading to improved education and health outcomes for their children. Joined by the NoVo Foundation, the Nike Foundation has stated its intention to create opportunities for girls and highlight their role in ending poverty.

Further information:

Dilemma: Overcoming obstacles to the promotion of girls' economic prosperity

The scale of the issue

More than 600 million girls live in the developing world and more than one-quarter of the population in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa are girls and young women aged 10 to 24. Out of the world's 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. For millions of girls across the developing world, there are no systems to record their birth, their citizenship or even their identity. Less than half a cent of every US dollar spent on international assistance programmes is invested directly in girls.

The impact of investing in girls

Existing research indicates that girls' impact can reach much further than expected. For example:

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children
  • An extra year of primary school boosts a girl's eventual wages by 10 to 20%. An extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25%
  • When girls and women earn income they reinvest 90% of it into their families, as compared to 20 to 40% for a man

In instances where girls are starting small businesses, the majority of girls use the money to go back to school, and often put the remainder towards their siblings' education and their family's expenses. The pragmatic investment of such returns transforms the family's view of her into a 'good investment' and a source of prosperity for herself and her family. The Nike Foundation characterises this as the 'girl effect', because with a shift in opinion within a girl's family comes a broader societal shift in thinking towards the role girls can play in alleviating poverty and attaining improved health and wealth. In this way, businesses, communities and society as a whole can benefit from promoting the overall health, education and prosperity of girls.

Obstacles to investing in girls

However, girls across the world remain a vast untapped resource within their families and in society as a whole, largely due to the constraints of poverty and restrictive cultural practices. Girls are often viewed by their families as the caretakers of the young, old and sick, as the carriers of wood and water, and in the most desperate situations, as collateral for the debt-stricken. Some families believe that there is little future return from investing in a girl's education. Without increased hopes and prospects of something better, there can be little incentive for her, her family or her community to change the status quo. Most importantly, it is not known where many of those 600 million adolescent girls are, as many are not at home with their families or at school, but may be in early marriages, domestic service or trafficked.

The dilemma for business is: how to overcome cultural and economic constraints in order to help girls fulfil their potential in society as a valuable resource to support flourishing communities and economies?

Challenges: Culture, poverty and discrimination

When analysing the impact of investing in adolescent girls, the Nike Foundation among others seeking to promote change, found the following challenges:

Challenge 1: Accessing girls

Many adolescent girls remain isolated from society and are kept at home by virtue of cultural traditions that stipulate, for example, that girls and women should be responsible for housework and childcare. While boys gain entry into public life when they reach adolescence, in contrast girls are often withdrawn into their families and distanced from society.

Girls are also often seen as a family's insurance policy and the primary carers within the family, in many cases restricting them to unpaid domestic work. This makes the task of accessing girls difficult as they are isolated from society, and provides business with a challenge if it wants to recruit girls and young women. It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty, facilitating the transfer of illiteracy and ill-health to the next generation.

Challenge 2: Challenging cultural norms

Girls' opportunities can be stifled by their 'gatekeepers'; members of their family and community who take responsibility for many of the decisions affecting their lives. Their attitudes can determine whether a girl attends school, at what age she marries and whether or not she can get a job.

Challenge 3: Increasing girls' access to education

Girls who miss out on education are more likely to marry young and have more children, decreasing their economic potential:

  • For every boy who is out of school globally there are three girls
  • Less than 6% of the poorest girls in Africa complete primary school in 10 countries
  • In 11 countries in Africa and Afghanistan, the literacy rate for girls aged 15-24 is less than 50%

Challenge 4: Decreasing child marriage

Girls who are uneducated and without opportunities are not viewed as breadwinners by their families. Poor families therefore often make the decision to marry off girls in early age rather than invest in their education. This results in younger mothers, increased health complications and the decreased potential of girls to be economically independent.

  • In seven areas of Chad, Niger, Mali and Ethiopia over 40% of girls are married by the age of 15
  • In 12 regions of Bangladesh, India and Nepal over 50% of girls are married by the age of 18

Challenge 5: Decreasing girls' vulnerability to HIV

In sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of HIV-infected youth are female. Where girls are heads of orphaned households as a result of HIV in the family, survival can depend on damaging liaisons or sex for money, increasing the already disproportionately high risk of contracting HIV themselves. A lack of health education, combined with the impact of poverty that draws girls away from education, can increase their vulnerability to contracting HIV. As a result, families, communities and entire economies miss out when half their human potential is not utilised.

Good practice: Finding and recruiting girls

Access girls through local networks

Business can search out girls to prepare them for, or include them in, responsible business activities:

  • Schools can help identify potential girl participants through government education officials, school administrations or parent/teacher associations
  • Community structures can reach girls who already take part in public activities via church groups, women's groups, tribal organisations and community health days
  • Public places such as market places and bus stations can be used to publicise information about business recruitment opportunities
  • Business can spread the word about recruitment through girls themselves, especially graduates, who can reach other girls who may otherwise be difficult to find
  • Business can work with trusted women's networks and local women's leaders who have access to girls' homes in order to seek permission for girls' participation
  • Business can support the further education of adolescent girls in the workplace

In addition, communal safe spaces for girls to gather, such as local community facilities, can foster learning between peers about rights and enable girls to share information about accessing essential public and private services (for example job training, skills development and microfinance, or even health education, that may otherwise be out of reach). Business can contribute to and access such facilities in order to educate girls about economic opportunities and foster potential recruits.

Recruit, train and support girls in finding economic independence

Business can support girls in establishing their economic independence in the following ways:

  • Recruit girls publicly, in order to send the message to communities that girls are valuable
  • Work with local partners to train girls in leadership, organisation and negotiation skills, communications and financial literacy and boost their confidence to transmit information to others
  • Support girls' financial independence, for example by giving them a savings account and helping them protect and save their money
  • Encourage girls to become community leaders and teachers, for example teaching a weekly financial literacy class for mothers

Work with girls' gatekeepers

Business can engage with trusted local partners such as women's groups and find ways to increase the opportunities for girls to fulfil their potential and be economically active through employment. In order to access girls, companies must gain the trust of their communities including elders, families and especially fathers, brothers, husbands and mothers. Engagement and training can change attitudes and trust can be built up through on-the-ground partners who have worked in the girls' communities for years. Companies can identify such partners on the ground in countries where they work and facilitate training and awareness raising among target communities.

A community can visibly and formally express its support for training and employment of girls through a public contract, committing to specific behaviours (for example training girls in financial literacy) in exchange for local investment by active companies. Raising awareness about girl-focused programs and initiatives further embeds the concept of the value of girls within communities and reinforces the importance of girls' participation. Business can therefore provide information to communities about the potential for girls to contribute to the income of their family and create opportunities for girls to fulfil this potential through, for example, training and recruitment initiatives.

Understand the differing contexts in which girls live

In order to understand where in the world girls are most vulnerable, business can research which areas are high risk and where a particular effort need to be made to recruit girls. For example:

  • Find out existing data about girls in a particular country from: the national census; department of health services data; World Bank Living Standards Measurements Surveys; urban poverty surveys
  • Consult research institutions for research on girls including: the Population Council; the International Centre for Research on Women; the Centre for Global Development


To date, the Nike Foundation has helped to mobilise over US$200 million working with over 80 partners to invest in girls in more than 50 different countries. The Foundation has also spent the past five years finding, funding and refining the best models of investments in girls.

Examples of projects investing in girls

ELA Kendra/Social and Financial Empowerment of Adolescents (SOFEA) programmes




To provide microfinance and holistic support to girls


The Nike Foundation has so far donated US$690,000 for the ELA Kendra project and US$3,000,000 for the SOFEA project


The Nike Foundation partnered with BRAC, a Bangladesh-based development agency, in 2005 to test and pilot a customised 'microfinance for girls' program called ELA Kendra that provided support to help girls wisely invest their new financial loans. The microfinance programme includes enhanced access to safe spaces, small loans, life skills and livelihoods training. The girls had a 99% loan repayment rate and were more likely to use the loan for their own economic purposes, instead of turning it over to their brothers or fathers. New investment objectives of the SOFEA project include expanding the microfinance programme for up to 80,000 girls in rural Bangladesh as well as reducing grant dependency. Expected impacts include:

  • Increased income for girls
  • Reduced early marriage incidence
  • Enhanced mobility amongst girls
  • Enhanced social networks, confidence and aspirations amongst girls
  • Increased household prosperity




The Adolescent Girl Initiative (AGI)




Employment training


US$20 million from the Nike Foundation, the World Bank and the Danish Government


In 2008, the World Bank, the Nike Foundation and the Danish Government partnered with the Government of Liberia to develop a model that links skills training for girls to the demands of Liberia's marketplace and that can be used in a variety of country contexts. The AGI pilot project will facilitate the employment of 2,500 adolescent girls by providing skills training, job placement, business development service and links to microcredit for aspiring entrepreneurs. The AGI engages employers to help shape training programs and rewards training firms with bonuses for successful placements - the first program in West Africa to use this tactic. Expected impacts include:

  • Increased employment for girls
  • Increased income for girls
  • Improved confidence and social standing
  • Increased household prosperity (including investments in health, home and education)

The project aims to expand to include Afghanistan, Nepal, Rwanda, Sudan and Togo.


The World Bank


Be! An entrepreneur




Encouraging girls to establish successful businesses


So far the project has secured US$700,000


The Indian non-profit organisation Going To School has initiated the Be! An Entrepreneur project, to find entrepreneurs-in-training in India's poorest communities. Girls living in poverty have already gained entrepreneurial skills due to the necessity for them to be resourceful and expert negotiators within their families and communities. Girls are inspired to build on these skills by creating businesses that solve the social, economic and environmental problems they face in their daily lives and enabling them to create jobs for themselves and their communities. Expected impacts include:

  • Increased number of social enterprises started by young people
  • Increased awareness of entrepreneurship as an option for employment
  • Enhanced income for low-income youth generated from social enterprises
  • Greater numbers of children who find their school curriculum relevant to their lives and complete school


Going To School