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More Than a Trend: Why We Must Focus on Women and Girls

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Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Unreasonable.is.

By Daniel Epstein

Today, with so many initiatives focused on women and girls, the conversations around the importance of gender dynamics may feel trendy. I agree. That said, I’m writing this post because I believe that this trend is warranted, it’s accurate, and it needs to pick up momentum and transform from a trend to a movement. We have a long way to go in convincing the world about the importance of investing in women and girls globally. Yes, a lot of people are talking about it, but in my mind, not nearly enough.

Focusing our efforts on women and girls, especially those living in poverty, is critical if we are ever going to have a chance at living in a world in which no one is limited by their circumstances. I’d argue there is possibly nothing more important that we can rally behind.

Let me answer the question “Why women and girls?”

It is estimated that 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty and are more likely than boys to be uneducated, to be married at a young age and to be exposed to HIV/AIDS. Why should you care? Here are a few statistics from the Girl Effect Factsheet that help illuminate the situation. Although international development plays a critical role in changing these dynamics, less than 2 cents of every international development dollar goes to girls. All this makes me believe that we need to start aggressively looking at new solutions and experimenting with new models that aren’t dependent on international development to drive more resources to women and girls in poverty.

Moving beyond “why” and focusing on “how”

But talking about the importance of removing constraints for women and girls isn’t enough. Though this conversation is important, it’s time we also go beyond explaining “why” and begin to experiment to better understanding “how” – how we can most effectively impact women and girls in poverty. At Unreasonable, we are doing our best to put our money, actions and focus where our mouth is. And we are always looking for collaborators in the process.

So, in November 2014, we launched the Girl Effect Accelerator in partnership with the Nike Foundation (watch the TED-style presentations of the participating entrepreneurs here). This was the world’s first accelerator dedicated to working with entrepreneurs who are positioned to measurably benefit millions of women and girls in poverty (… and we really mean it).

Our goal with this partnership is to work with the fastest moving startups in emerging markets who are keen to put a dent in poverty, and align their trajectory around key issues that affect women and girls in poverty — issues that their business is uniquely positioned to take on. Each of the 10 participating companies agreed to measure their impact on women and girls on a quarterly basis and into perpetuity.

We are just now identifying their measurable impact on girls and by the end of this year, we should have some very interesting data. It’s this data, combined with ongoing conversations with the companies, that will allow us to begin to pull insights from our entrepreneurs — further identifying scalable solutions to meet the needs of millions of girls. In the process, we will discover patterns in regards to both what is working and, equally as important, what is not.

An accelerator isn’t enough …

When we were first in conversations with the Nike Foundation around launching the Girl Effect Accelerator, we were thinking of launching a distinct fund devoted exclusively to investing into companies already positioned to benefit girls in poverty. However, upon further reflection, we realized that launching a sidecar fund focused on girls, though impactful, was the wrong posture. Instead, we need to bake the measurement of how all our companies at Unreasonable affect women and girls in poverty (not just some of them).

So in May, when my partner Ashok Reddy and I launch Unreasonable Capital, we have agreed to ask 100 percent of the investments in our portfolio to track a core metric highlighting their impact on women and girls in poverty. Yes, there’s always more that can be done and yes, it will be difficult to draw direct lines of attributable impact for all of our companies. But at a base level, we believe that what you measure is an indicator of what you value. And what you measure will ultimately change behavior.

It’s just the beginning …

This is just the beginning for us. We are new to the space of looking at how for-profit entrepreneurs can have a meaningful and measurable impact on the issues surrounding women and girls in poverty. And what’s beautiful is that we are not alone in any way in this endeavor.

As just one example, a new series of accelerators oriented around the needs of girls has been recently launched called SPRING. SPRING will launch its first regional accelerator in Nairobi, Kenya this summer and has plans to spread across Africa and cross-continentally in the years to come. SPRING is just one of a handful of accelerators launching that are oriented around the needs of women and girls around the world.

And in reality, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We would have never been able to launch the Girl Effect Accelerator without our co-founders at the Nike Foundation — who brought over a decade of experience and expertise around working with girls in poverty to the program. In short, although Unreasonable is entering this space humbly, we are doing so with ardent conviction. We are here to stay. We are hungry to learn. And we are looking to collaborate and conspire with anyone interested in changing the statistics that unjustly burden girls in poverty.

So, is focusing efforts on women and girls a trend? For all our sakes, I desperately hope so, and I hope it is a trend that lasts.

Image credit: Flickr/U.N. Foundation

Daniel has an obsession. He believes to his core in the potential of entrepreneurship to solve the greatest challenges of this century and he has dedicated his life accordingly. Today, he is the founder of the Unreasonable Group, of the Unreasonable Institute and a number of other "Unreasonable" companies.

 

3p Contributor

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