Why It’s Cool to Invest in Girls

Why is it cool to invest in girls?

Girls have the potential to end poverty for themselves — and the world. Girls become women who solve great problems, support their families and communities, run businesses, run countries, and wage peace. And we are dramatically under-investing in girls today.

You often hear about “investing in women and girls,” with investing used as a synonym for supporting. Usually, the reference to investing means funding (or donating to) girls’ education, providing a student loan, or investing time or other resources to support girls. In most cases, it does not mean that a financial investment has been made into a company that directly and positively impacts girls. Moreover, it’s even less likely to mean investing into a female-run company. It’s incredibly rare to hear about an actual investment — one with an anticipated return of capital, plus an upside — in a company that positively affects or involves girls.

And what would that look like, anyway?

For public company investments: Would you count Pixar Animation Studios (owned by The Walt Disney Co.), and the positive impact of the film Brave? Or, perhaps Procter & Gamble, which owns the brand Always and ran last year’s “Like a Girl” campaign? Among entrepreneurial companies, what about GoldieBlox, which sells products that encourage girls to be excited about engineering, or HelloRuby, whose books and apps encourage girls to learn to code?

These products and campaigns are positive and important. But, investing in these companies  does not directly help improve the lives of girls who are living in poverty.

There are 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty around the world. So, the next question becomes: What is the potential of actual investments in companies that directly and positively affect the lives of these girls? Imagine being able to target your investments towards companies whose missions are to change that — creating assets that help these girls to learn, earn, be safe, save, and invest. Companies that are directly aiming to improve girls’ lives — not incidentally — and intentionally unleashing the power of girls.

Could positive investments in girls be game-changing?

Harnessing the power and potential of girls is the aim of a new project called SPRING, from the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), Nike Foundation, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). SPRING will accelerate early to mid-stage ventures with products and services that improve the lives of girls in poverty.

As the project’s Investment Director, I’m lucky enough to have a good inside view. There’s nothing to invest in — yet — but the project is currently looking for its first 18 ventures to accelerate. Over the next five years, this project is looking to grow and to help raise investment capital for more than 80 companies that are directly focused on improving the lives of adolescent girls living in poverty, in eight countries around the world, starting in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda in year one). Our goal is to reach up to 200,000 girls during the life of the program (5 years) and 50 million girls by 2030.

Additionally, we seek to inspire others to take on this challenge through business. We’re not saying SPRING encompasses the whole solution. But we are saying: What if business, innovation, and financial resources came together to be a big part of the solution toward ending poverty for adolescent girls and their communities?

There is a growing group of investors who are raising their hands and saying, “I want my investments to work for a better world for girls and women. I want to know what types of companies are taking into account what girls and women really need and want, and then, designing with and for them.” These companies and investors are saying they value the potential role girls could play in distribution, sales, production, ownership, and leadership, and as customers and beneficiaries. And that they value girl-centered design — or girls as part of the design process from the start.

If you want to follow along on this journey, check out @springaccel to stay tuned for news about SPRING.

If you’re inspired to start investing in positive, girl-focused ventures, start looking around. What would such a venture look like? It might look different in New York City than it would Nairobi. But it would share the characteristics of a good investment.

My definition of positive, girl-centric, and girl-focused? Respectful. Safe. Smart. Helpful. Useful. Dignified. Fun. Imaginative. Relevant.

Imagine what that would look like: Cool.

Suzanne Biegel is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.