POVERTY ALLEVIATION AND GIRLS EMPOWERMENT
A Discussion at the 2008 Global Philanthropists Circle Annual Meeting, September 23, 2008, The Rockefeller University Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Dining Room, New York City
Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson, BRAC
Maria Eitel, President, Nike Foundation
Peter Buffett, Co-Chair, NoVo Foundation
Moderated by Surita Sandosham, Senior Director, Global Leaders, Synergos
SURITA SANDOSHAM: Let me introduce myself. My name is Surita Sandosham. I work at The Synergos Institute. And it gives me great pleasure to moderate this panel, which is around Poverty Alleviation and Girls Empowerment. Now if Oprah Winfrey was on this panel, Dr. Abed, Maria Eitel and Peter Buffett, I know that she would want to get out talent scouts on social innovation.
One of the things I want to do before we go into a discussion about girls empowerment is to just have you close your eyes for 30 seconds and think about a girl that’s engaged in your life. It could be your daughter, your granddaughter, a niece. It could be the girl who works for the grocery store down the road. It could be the girl you saw when you were in a car in a very busy city driving through to do your development work.
I want you to close your eyes, just for 30 seconds, conjure her up in your heart and mind. And for those of you not sitting, please sit down, so that you can go through this reflective process. Thank you.
Let your eyes open now.
[VIDEO THE GIRL EFFECT -- AVAILABLE AT WWW.GIRLEFFECT.ORG -- PLAYS]
SANDOSHAM: Thank you.
Our guests today are Fazle Abed, Founder of BRAC, which is a large NGO focused on poverty alleviation and empowering communities. It is based in Bangladesh, but has a very wide global reach. Maria Eitel, who heads the Nike Foundation -- they’re looking at ways of unleashing the ripple effect to invest in girls that will have a drastic impact on humanity. And Peter Buffet, who runs the NoVo Foundation with his wife Jennifer, who are looking at ways to build partnerships and collaboration around investing in girls and their communities and their families.
It gives me great pleasure to moderate this panel -- we’re going to have a little discussion with them. The overall question that they’re going to address in their perspectives around how they’re investing in girls is can the investment in the empowerment of girls impact the economic growth and health and well-being of community? That’s a question that they’re going to be answering today.
Let me start with Dr. Abed, if I may, to ask him about his perspective about girls empowerment and what the people at his organization have been doing. I have to say also a little bit about the partnership that has come together with the NoVo Foundation and the Nike Foundation.
Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson, BRAC
FAZLE HASAN ABED: Well, we have been working for the last 35 years in Bangladesh with women as our prime focus as change agents in our society. In our microfinance program, we have 7.4 million borrowers, and we give out nearly $1.2 billion annually in small loans to poor women. So women have been our prime focus.
But recently, for the last 10 years, what we have done is also work with girls. We found that girls empowerment is very important in the sense that they’re very vulnerable and at an age that you can really mold, provide them support in terms of playing and skills, and provide financial services to them. Many of them now are doing wonderfully well, and finding themselves getting more confident, and also bringing a new kind of future in the process of change that the girls are making for themselves. Through this, we are hoping that the entire new generation of girls coming up, with education and training and financial services, as well as activities and common employment generation will ultimately change our society. So that’s what we are hoping to get out of the activities that we have promoted in Bangladesh with girls.
We are now working with about 600,000 girls, providing them with life skills training as well as income generation training. And we are providing them the space in which to play and interact with each other. And we find that this is having a great impact with them. So, we have been thinking about a new kind of generation of young people who we are hope ultimately will change our society and bring about welfare, well-being to their families, to their communities. And also bring about change in terms of wealth creation in our society. So we are looking at the poverty alleviation strategy in empowering girls.
SANDOSHAM: Thank you.
Peter, would you like to say something what’s the purpose behind the foundation and why girls, and why do you think that this will have a major impact on society at-large?
PETER BUFFET: Sure. I come at this from someone who has a father who is very well-known in the investment world, and his investment strategy was always actually very simple: look for something that was undervalued in the stock market, know that it’s sound, and invest in it and wait. And know that the market will catch up to what you’ve identified as something valuable.
And so when the foundation increased in size, which it did substantially in 2006, my wife Jennifer and I really wanted to take a hard look at where we could best spend our investment dollars, because that’s what they are. And the beauty of course in the foundational world is you don’t have shareholders you have to report to, so you can take risk and try things that maybe nobody else has tried.
We knew we wanted to take risks, but we knew we also wanted a great return if we were going to do it. So, when we met Maria and her team, and we started to learn about the impact of adolescent girls in the developing world, and probably everywhere in the world, honestly. It was just obvious. It was not really too difficult. And you look at the video, and you can see why, of course we’re going deeper than that in terms of what we’re learning and we’re going to these places and witnessing it first-hand. But it really is a pretty easy buy-in, in terms of realizing that if nothing else, everything that Fazle Abed just said is true, plus of course they are the mothers of every child coming into the world, period. Nobody else is going to be somebody’s mother, except an adolescent girl.
So if they are empowered, if they find their place in the world, if governments recognize them, if their community recognizes them, but they recognize themselves, and again you see these phenomenal lights in every community in these girls’ faces. They are going to bring in the next generation. And, again, it’s the easiest investment to make.
SANDOSHAM: Okay. Maria, would you like to speak about the general effect from the perspective of Nike?
MARIA EITEL: Sure. Thank you.
Well, like Peter, the board of directors at the Nike Corporation wanted to do something with the Nike Foundation that would have long impact and might be a good investment and he could have done anything with the Nike Foundation. And I can guarantee you that I had every suggestion in the world when I was given the wonderful task of deciding what to do with the Nike Foundation. And I went on a journey in speaking to all the most insightful people in the world, and I kept hearing “ women, women, women” everywhere I went. But, I thought, well before they’re women there’re girls, right? And if we wanted to get to the root cause of what was happening in the world, we’d probably want to go to where the root cause was and catch that critical inflection point of adolescence, where the future of the world is really determined. And if you really think about it, at adolescence, that girl either is put into a child marriage, she’s pregnant, she’s HIV-positive, and really she starts on a downhill spiral. Or, at that inflection point, she goes in an upward spiral, and she has less children, she has healthy children, less children, wealthier families.
So that was really impactful to us, as we looked at what would be the best investment we could make. But, in addition to that, it just really struck us that that breaks the back of poverty. We do all these things every year, every day, we spend all this money, all the time and resource, on solving these problems, that unless we get at the root, how do you break this intergenerational cycle of poverty? So we saw in girls the face and the ability to get at the intergenerational aspect of poverty. And we looked to people like Abed, who had already invested in women, and microfinance being a women-baked solution that actually works. We said these are the kinds of solutions that we want to look deeper.
The foundation then said, “ Well what kinds of assets are already going into girls?” And this is probably the thing that shocked us the most. We tried to find out how much is the world currently investing in girls, and it was a Herculean task, because we don’t really know because girls are invisible. We don’t actually track girls. We don’t actually know what’s happening to them. So this incredible power and force of change is invisible, not only as we look at the world, but also invisible as we track data. And so how can we know what to do?
We were able to figure out that about a half of a cent of every dollar is invested in girls. And we were being generous about that, because we thought we’d be attacked about the number. But that is just such an insignificant investment given the potential upside of investing in that.
SANDOSHAM: So you each sort of talked about the complexity around adolescent girls, and we also know that the systems don’t really support them in many of these developing countries. There is patriarchy. It’s just, if they survive, right, this notion of invisibleness and so my question to Dr. Abed at the moment is, what’s going on the ground for you that you want to talk about, that’s actually addressing some of these root issues, and the systemic issues that impact girls?
ABED: Well you find that in most developing societies, girls are the ones who don’t get educated. It’s the boys who get preference. So some time ago we decided that we wanted to have girls education, and therefore we started the schools. We now have 50,000 one-teacher schools with 1.5 million children in them, and 70% of them are girls in our schools. We wanted to, at least in our schools, try to make amends against girls. So we started that, but we found that after primary education, many didn’t get secondary education. So we thought that they would probably lapse back right into illiteracy if we didn’t provide them another opportunity to keep their literacy as well as to improve their situation. So we started girls class -- so those who went to secondary schools, and girls who didn’t -- all come together so they could organize themselves. We had books for them, so that they could read and keep their literacy.
And then, we decided that maybe we should also provide them training. So we started life skills training based on reproductive health, about body health, well-being, family, all kinds of issues came up. And then we decided that we would also provide them financial support, financial training, financial management. And also provided microfinance for them. So the combination of this, elevating factors and I think they are managers, they are using their money well and earning more. So we find that providing some help to girls, not only just through education, but also organizing powers, organizing themselves, so they can empower themselves, this is very important too.
So the studies have shown that education is the only pathway for the empowerment of girls, but we also think that those who do not have the access to a secondary and higher education, one could provide them empowerment in other ways or organizing help and providing them support, financial as well as educating. So that they could in fact have the benefit of changing their route from their mothers to something good in these outcomes -- they can do much better changing their society and their families, and this is happening all over Bangladesh.
SANDOSHAM: That’s great, thank you.
I’m wondering, Peter, Maria, whether you want to share any stories regarding intervention that are comprehensive ... I mean there needs to be comprehensive strategies to actually have an impact. And in your funding across the globe, are there any examples you want to share with our audience?
BUFFET: Maria will cite examples and I’ll do color commentary.
EITEL: Abed is so modest. It’s phenomenal what BRAC has achieved. It is absolutely phenomenal. This is an organization that has done what everyone dreamed of, which is to go to scale in countries where actually the number of schools, the number of programs that we have, is absolutely spectacular. And that’s why of course we came to work with BRAC.
What’s amazing about it is the fundamental insight that drives the work. So, when you think of girls, people do think about, “ Oh, girls’ education, that’s the logical solution.” But what we find in the actual context is it’s insufficient. It’s a one-legged stool for a girl. There are too many other factors that play in her life to let that simple statement, “ Just get her in school,” actually be a statement that can hold and sustain.
So what we’ve done is a lot of work around the economic role that a girl plays. And not to see her as ... she starts off in the world in her family as not being as economically-positive. The birth of a girl is not seen as a positive. It means a cost. It’s something that is not seen as economically-valuable. Why do you invest in that girl?
So we started with that fundamental economic equation, and said, “ How do we shift that? How do you make her valuable in the family and empower her?” Because that will then give her the ability to not engage in transactional sex, to not have to do all these things that she has to do because her body is that only asset.
The linkage that we’re trying to make here is between that economic reality. In the household today, a girl is the plumbing assistant. She carries water. She’s the electrical grid. She carries firewood. She’s the insurance policy when someone gets sick and she has to drop out of school. She’s the healthcare system. When someone is ill, she’s taking care of them. So to not see her as an economic actor is so inauthentic to the role she’s currently playing.
How do we shift the equation? And what Dr. Abed was describing is a different reality of saying a girl isn’t this little, micro loan. It’s about to start a small tomato business and then keep herself in school. And if she’s able to do that herself, she’s not vulnerable. So finding those points of vulnerability and finding different things that she needs to be able to sustain herself is what you find, in reality, is that she’s dependent on something else. Something will fall through, and she then is the one who will bear that burden in this poverty context.
The beauty of a safe space is it provides a place for a girl to go, and to get those life skills, to get that social network. Think about all the things that have made you the girl you imagined in the moment of silence, which is a wonderful idea. What are all those things that actually do make success? It’s not just one little thing that makes success for her. And these programs really address that. And they’re not holistic in the sense of trying to be everything. It’s holistic in the sense of what are those critical, absolutely critical features that will mean that she will become pregnant very early, HIV-positive. How do we catch her at that inflection point, before that happens, in a safe space, give her those things that she needs and connect her to an economic trajectory that eventually gets her to where she needs to go, so that she has the choice of what she’ll do. Because, ultimately, that’s our goal, is to get her to the position where she has a choice of what she will be able to do. Right now, she never has a choice in the equation that she’s handed as she’s born.
Peter Buffett, Co-Chair, NoVo Foundation
BUFFET: First of all, starting with birth, the fact that a human being could be born and already be defined as something less-than, various people experience it all over the world, and that’s the start. And then, we talk about adolescent girls, but the truth is, we’re trying to allow them to be adolescent girls. They are not considered adolescent girls; they are considered you know one thing until they’re about 11 or 12, and then they’re considered something else. And it’s all around value. And they’re way more valuable at home, or married, than they are actually being able to make these choices in their lives.
So, again, the inflection point is critical. And when you’re there, and you’re sitting in a group of girls that are able to show you that they’ve started a small business, and they have a different relationship with their brothers and their fathers and their families and their communities, because they’re relative suddenly as something other than the thing that people always thought of as a girl. It’s an extraordinary thing. The pride, and again just the value, the pure value of someone at 12 or 13 or 14, when they realize that they have a place in the world, that they have a choice in. And the other side of it is what you also see when you’re sitting in a group of girls, and like any group, there’s always a few that stick out in the wild. There is somebody that’s a leader, or somebody that you know ... you can just see it in their eyes and their face.
My wife asked one of these girls what she hoped for, what her dreams were, and she literally had to repeat the question a couple of times, cause she didn’t understand it.
So, when you see someone that from an outsider’s point of view has all the possibilities and aspirations or certainly potential for aspirations, and you realize they don’t literally know what you’re asking when you talked about hopes and dreams, because they have to stay home and take care of the mother. And they have to provide the firewood, and they have to do all these things. It’s extraordinary, because you know power is there, and it’s just how to unlock it. And so obviously we’re all hoping that we can do a little bit of that everywhere we go.
SANDOSHAM: So one of the questions is how do you measure the impact of what you’re doing? And that could --
BUFFET: Good question!
SANDOSHAM: I am going to keep channeling a question that I know that is in preparation for what you guys want to talk about.
BUFFET: Perfect. Who wants to start?
ABED: I think there are a lot of quaint little studies on educated girls, marrying late, having less children. lower mortality. They’re down to much lower. Infant mortality is much lower among educated women. I think I read somewhere that four years extra education will cut down 50% mortality of our children. So all kinds of studies are there in terms of education.
There the girls empowerment programs that we’re discussing is about 10 years old. Whether or not this had an impact ... well I am sure that there is an impact, but I don’t think there’s any measurement as such.
But I’m sure that this is going to have an impact in time, so not only income in programs but also how well fed are their children, number of children they have, the ages at which they will marry, all of these issues. So we will be looking at this now that our program is becoming large, and our donors, like Maria, will know do exactly what we’ve achieved. So we will be doing studies on our girls program.
EITEL: Okay, this is my favorite topic, and it’s the hardest. It is the hardest. There is so little data, as I said earlier, because we haven’t been counting girls. So one of the first things we have to do in the global community is to age and sexes aggregate data, so we know what happened to girls. Because we could have all kinds of data about girls, the foundations and aid organizations were just tracking them. So that’s my sort of appeal before diving in.
But we do know some pretty amazing things, actually. We know some pretty shocking things about girls. We know that the leading cause of death for girls is pregnancy and child birth. Just that sheer fact is amazing. That that’s the most significant threat they face, and it’s something that they don’t have control over of course, especially in the case of child marriage. And the younger you go, of course, the greater the rates of death are. And we know quite a bit about the positive impact of education on economic income in families on a generational basis, which is a very compelling argument, if you just care about sheer, sheer economic growth numbers.
We know that girls are the epicenter of the HIV epidemic. And that if you don’t address adolescent girls, if you’re trying to do anything around HIV, you are not going to succeed. They are the prevention strategy today, if you look at the charts and the numbers, which we’d be happy to show people basically. And the numbers at which their infection rates are increasing are just absolutely, spectacularly, phenomenal. Seventy percent -- it’s 50-70% over just one year girl increase in greater infection rates to boys. So two-thirds compared to boys. It’s really, really something that has to be addressed.
We know simple things work. For instance, MIT did a study that showed if you very simply tell a girl that having sex with an older man has a higher propensity to contract HIV than a younger man, they found a 70% decrease in sexual interactions with older men. Telling a girl how to wash her hands has enormous impact on diarrhea, which of course is a huge cause of death in children. So there is a lot of this information out there, and what we’re trying to do, what the Nike Foundation is doing, like with the girl effects you saw, is trying to get this message across -- that “ the girl effect” is if you affect her, you affect everyone. You don’t just improve her life; you improve everyone’s life around her. And the economic story of that, and we’re actually looking to now start to run some of these numbers, what happens if a girl has two children instead of seven, and they’re healthy, and they are contributing economically to a country’s growth? Just common sense will tell you this is spectacular in terms of potential impact. We just haven’t done it in such a way to measure that produces numbers that we can throw up. And so that’s what Abed and BRAC are helping us do, is be able to have, because we’re able to work at such a large scale there, and to be able to have the population measure that and show that.
The other thing we know, which is learned from the BRAC programming is how important detail is with girls. So, the 600,000 girls that are participating in the program there, there were 43,000 of those girls that had access to those other services, not just microfinance, but the training and the protective health information, the social network of coming together in a safe space. And those girls actually maintained their income and used it to benefit the family. The girls who were not having those extra services, money generally goes to the father or to someone in the family.
And we also know -- and is my last statistic -- is about men compared to women. Ninety percent of the income in the hands of the girl or a woman goes back into the family compated to 30-40% for men. So just get that simple equation running at you’ll see how much more than yields.
So the appeal is that we need more data -- we do.
But, at the same time, we don’t need to wait for more data. We don’t need to be sitting around saying, “ Oh, we just have to study this and we have to study that.” We know these things. It’s time to ask.
One I have some great frustrations in meeting with large players -- and also with small players, since everyone has a role that they can play on this. There’s two things that people love to say. One is, “ Oh, girls’ education, that’s great. Someone else can take care of that.” And then, the second reaction is sort of, “ Oh, that’s interesting; but it’s not a big issue.”
I think this issue is the issue of our time. We are not addressing this pivot point. We’re not addressing core issues. So this measurement is really key, but I just would appeal and don’t want to wait for it, because many things we can do as we’re compiling the data.
SANDOSHAM: It’s great to hear you’re a risk-taker. Peter?
BUFFET: We have a fundamental rule at the NoVo Foundation: We work with people that are smarter than us.
So that helps. That’s one thing I recommend for everyone.
The other thing is, again, we’re talking about measurement and evaluation. And you know one of the components is to stick with something for a time. You know, we don’t expect results in one year or two years or three years. In fact, I honestly don’t expect to see the full results of our work. It will happen beyond my lifetime. We’re going to spend ourselves down. It’s very important for us to, in our field, with knowledge certainly, so we want the measurement and evaluations. It’s incredibly important.
But, you know, we also want to make sure that the mechanisms to get money into this field, stay long after we’re gone. I use the term “ philanthropic colonialism.” You know, the idea that you’re doing it for you over the world, and I don’t think anybody here has to worry about doing that. But it’s critical for us that it’s not about us, and not only is it about the girls, but it’s really about the ripple-effect. It’s about the world. It’s about the fact that we can probably address how is poverty, but the environment, all sorts of gender issues, you know, whole governments can change if we can start to empower girls as through our lessons in the developing world.
So monitoring and evalution are critical -- we need that information going forward. You know what works, you know what doesn’t, but you also don’t want to get so hung up on it, that you’re not taking the risks and you’re not there for the long term to see what plays out over time. Something may not work in the first two years, but then you get some unintended consequence that’s decided what’s a result of something. So sticking with it is one thing I would say.
SANDOSHAM: So thank you for your inspiring perspectives. I just feel the energy in this room of folks wanting to get up and ask questions, because many of you I think I engage in similar issues around the world and have stories to share, but also want to ask questions. So feel free to put up your hands, and we have mics. If you could identify yourself -- Jin Zidell would like to speak.
Jin Zidell of Blue Planet Run
JIN ZIDELL: Jin Zidell is my name and water is my game, and I’m saying that as a full-disclosure, cause I do believe in transparency and full disclosure. Maria, you have mentioned a word “ root cause,” and I’d like to know in the hierarchy of root causes, where would you place a mister panel? Where would you place access to safe drinking water?
EITEL: Well I would agree that water is an absolutely critical issue. And girls are going to be managing water, so it’s a very important issue obviously in the rural context. I guess in Bangladesh, girls spend six hours and 45 minutes doing chores each day, and a boy will do five minutes. So, you just look at that equation, of the six hours a lot is composed of collecting water.
In Ethiopia, where I was recently, I basically shadowed a girl for a day, which is something everyone should do. I consider myself somewhat fit, and none of us could keep up with her going to collect water. It was, and I’m happy to share it with people, we have a wonderful video of this girl, Kidan, as she did her chores of the day. And the calories burned that goes into that is something that people also don’t calculate. So here we were, fit, well-fed, well-hydrated, and we could not keep up with her as she was carrying this thing that we also could not lift.
So the calorie burn there is extraordinary. And if you think because of carrying that water and the extra energy that she’s burning, she’s also going to be pregnant. So what does that mean? A malnourished or a handicapped child, because they were not getting sufficient nourishment, because she was underfed.
That is a critical issue in the equation, because chores are the center of what takes their time, what makes her incapable of doing other things. And as Peter described, there’s this opportunity cost, there’s this thought that she’s most valuable doing those chores. A belief that she’s most valuable for the immediate need. But she’s not.
Her greatest value, when we talk with economists about this, they’ll tell us the greatest value of that girl is for her to be educated and contributing and driving economies from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, et cetera. Her role is the least efficient use of her labor actually. But the problem is that the poverty necessity mandates it at that very early moment. So addressing the issues like, of course, the water collecting is a huge issue, because generally disease-borne water is more likely to be carried than if it was delivered through proper mechanisms. And of course we know that diseases by water are a huge cause of death. So I would say very important, and I’d also say interlinked. Whenever I hear root causes, I think about their linkage, the linkage of that issue.
ADELE SIMMONS: I’m Adele Simmons from the Global Philanthropy Partnership. And I wanted to thank everybody, but build on what you said, Dr. Abed, which is that the girls education piece attracts a lot of attention. But there is a lot of other stuff around it that’s important.
I remember a study that we did at the Fair Labor Association, and what girls who were working in the factories wanted most was the opportunity to open a bank account, because that would enable them to have more control of their lives. Keep in mind, these are the kinds of things that we don’t always think of when we think of girls, but they’re important.
SANDOSHAM: Any other questions?
EITEL: Can I comment? So I’m really happy that you made that comment, because it goes to the heart of what the actual programming is on the ground and Abed spoke to one aspect of it, that’s probably become quite familiar to people: microfinance.
One of the things that we’ve done is the majority of our portfolio that we’re investing in together at the NoVo Fund is economic mechanisms. We have savings programs for girls, we have micro insurance for girls, and we’re playing with all these tools and seeing which ones work, but savings is fundamental. And two of our grants are exploring the rural and urban environment and how do girls save in those two different environments, because you’re absolutely right -- without savings, then they have no safety net when something occurs. And the reason that they want savings so badly is that they know they’re the ones who are going to have to jump in when something goes wrong. They know that they’re gonna keep themselves in school or have their own ability, their own empowerment. The savings becomes the symbol of empowerment, because they have a resource beyond their body. And they see their peers, who when they didn’t have savings, have to resort to transactional sex or other things and watch their lives go down, or get married, or all these other things. But the savings account becomes a symbol of empowerment, actually, and these other financial tools are essential for success in micro-finance, in micro-insurance, in savings, etc.
SANDOSHAM: There’s a question back there?
AYLA GÖKSEL: I’m Ayla Göksel from Turkey with the Mother Child Education Foundation. I want to go back to when Maria started talking about the development world and how it says that “ women, women, women” and now you say “ girls.” Maybe we have to go even further back. There are a tremendous amount of studies that are being done about childhood development that show that change really occurs in the earliest years of the child. So, even when the girl is adolescent, it’s actually too late.
We actually started investigating equality of opportunity to males and females at the earliest years, which can be as early as three to five. As I said, some of the stuff there is common sense as you pointed out. We know that if you provide pre-school education to a girl, that it will increase her chance of success in school, which will increase the parents’ intention to continue to fund her education. It will mean that she is more knowledgeable then, and it just goes on the upward spiral.
It just starts upwards. That’s just one thing that I wanted to point out, that while it’s wonderful that there is so much focus on girls’ education, I’m afraid that we may even be too late at the adult stage, because a lot of the decisions are actually made by then about the child’s life and also the community. It may be more difficult for them to change their values and perfections.
And that brings me to my second comment about any -- and I’m sure BRAC has lots of insights Dr. Abed can share -- but we found in our work that any work that we do with girls or young children or women, it has to be done with the whole community. There is no sense in going in and saying, “ Right. We’re going to empower your girls,” if you don’t talk to the mothers, the fathers, the elders, and get them to actually buy in on this. And participating in different training for them as well. So how do you work around this, both intergenerational and community-wide and society-wide effect?
And finally that will bring me up to the challenges. And one of the challenges that we found in any community work, it was actually the males in that community. We found that once you get girls to open up -- if they can get the courage to open up -- they’re far more open to change and to innovation. But, we found it’s more difficult to work with the males. So we devised a number of programs and initiatives, whereby we integrate the fathers. But it is the same in Bangladesh or in the old countries that we know are very much patriarchal communities, like Turkey is in many respects.
SANDOSHAM: So there are two questions. I guess one around the holistic approach and inclusion of communities. Do you want to take that question, Abed?
ABED: Yes, I think, before you can organize works and so on, you do contact the elders to get their support, and without the support, it’s just difficult to organize girls into groups. So we find that that’s not a very difficult one in the sense that the girls want to come together and set up their clubs or set up their payments. Not many members of the family oppose that. I think in most cases we get their support.
We are also trying to now get the boys clubs also, because we also find that the boys also need empowerment in the sense that many of them are not going to school and need support. So we are trying to get the community as a whole. But then we are focusing on girls, because I think they are the ones who get diminished in the process of adolescence in most societies, particularly the female role tends to become prominent at adolescence. And we find that that’s the time that we need to get them together for organizing them so that they are taking power.
Maria Eitel, President, Nike Foundation
EITEL: I might just add to that. When we looked at where investment was going, there is quite a bit, if you went to the Gates Foundation, there’s maternal and child health, or if you look at any organization there’s investment in primary education, but almost no investment in ... but not in secondary education. And so one of the reasons that we’ve chosen the focus, it’s not because we don’t believe what you said is equally-important. It’s that we did basically an investment analysis and felt that there was really almost no investment there.
GÖKSEL: Well those are different. Maternal and child health is different than primary education, which is very different from early childhood education.
EITEL: I am agreeing with you. It is a statement, not a disagreement here.
EITEL: What we felt what we wanted to bring to the field was to create the incentive to have those other things occur, because right now, the family doesn’t have incentive to get the girls down their own track. And so trying to create that economic incentive at the end of the equation. So our theory of change is getting her from the home into that proper education that you’re talking about, the pre- and then primary and then secondary. It’s a trajectory, and right now, there’s no incentive at the end of the trajectory. We felt that if we really focused our energies around that area, and brought this economic equation in, we could help shift the equation and see that what you’re describing is essential, because it is essential. You have to get that part of the equation as well. Our view is that it is a continuum as opposed to a single point in time.
And then on the men and boys issue, this is a very exciting part of the portfolio. We’ve now touched on really two of the biggest pieces of the portfolio and of investment. And it is true -- unless the communities support and agree, you get a wonderful girl whose all empowered like the girls Peter described, but she goes out into an environment that is completely unreceptive to an empowered girl, which can be life-threatening actually, as we all very well know. It’s the tall poppy syndrome.
And so it’s exciting about the men and boys work. And we have a partner there called Instituto Promundo working on this. And in India, we’re working the same model, which is starting very early with boys and talking about gender roles and seeing this work on the ground is just spectacular. And to talk to boys, and they tell you, “ Well, before I lived here,” and they would define what it means to be a man, and “ It needs to be tough, it needs a father and a lot of children, it needs to hit your girlfriend in public, so people see it and see how powerful they are.” And then they go through the program, and they talk about, “ Oh, now to be a man is to be responsible, and to take care of your girlfriend.” And what was my favorite part was that the boy looked at me and had all the best girlfriends now.
So it’s a very interesting shift that occurs. And, once again, the short term gain is not only a “ pious” return. There are long-term gains if you can get a look at that longer trajectory.
We’ve also seen some wonderful changes occur with fathers and daughters, where a daughter will say, “ My father actually talks to me now and is interested in what I have to say. And when I talk to him about the amount of money I brought in from a tomato field.” It shifts that dynamic. So some of the most emotional, frankly, work that you can see is on the ground, because the shift is so dramatic. The second thing about it that’s so dramatic is how quickly it occurred. Within a generation, you can see that shift start to happen. Things that people talk about as “ cultural” or “ societal” things that have gone on forever, but it comes back to the truism that money talks. Now that girl is an asset. She’s bringing value, and she just shifts in her equation and I know I’ll bet you’ve seen that very dramatically in the context. So that’s a very important piece of work.
SANDOSHAM: So there’s a question from Kathy?
KATHY ACKERMAN-ROBINS: No, that was exactly my question.
SANDOSHAM: Okay. Anybody else? Back there.
ELSA ECHAVARRÍA: Elsa Echavarría from Colombia. I am wondering how this girl that is going to go to school is going to replace the carrying the wood and carrying the water, all those tasks that she had before. You know? So she’s gonna be very busy in school. I mean ... I know that what you’re doing is very good, but I’m wondering if it can be that practical.
EITEL: Yes, of course it’s a critical issue, because she is performing critical functions for the family. But what we’re trying to do is shift the fundamental economic equation. If she’s bringing income into the family, then she’s bringing other assets that can supplant that. And it depends on exactly what environment and how the program is designed, but what we’re finding is that value and then the chores get distributed more differently in the home, because she is seen differently. We’re seeing boys have to take on more chores in the family. And families having to distribute that difference. So, if you want an overnight change, and even when they start these little income streams start reflecting at very small scales, a little bit and a little bit, so it’s a gradual shift. But what’s exciting to see is when those chores start to be redistributed.
That doesn’t always happen of course. This is a high-risk venture. We’re playing in difficult territory.
SANDOSHAM: So we have five minutes more. And what I was going to suggest is perhaps we have some concluding remarks. One question I have for the group is that it seems to me that you guys have created a pretty innovative partnership, not only around investment, but really working with partners on the group. Is there something you’d like to share with the folks here in terms of either joining you guys, or you know, lessons from this partnership in terms of what they can be doing in their own work?
BUFFET: Sure. I’ll just say again that when we were suddenly presented with this responsibility and opportunity with this larger foundation, it was clear that we didn’t want to feel about some bureaucracy become a big organization with a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of things. But we wanted to also have maximum impact. And so I did take a page from my father’s playbook, in the sense that you know that Berkshire Hathaway is famously very small -- the home office is about 12.7 people or something like that.
So the idea is, again, finding good people doing great work, wherever it happens to be aligned with your mission. You know, get the mission clear and so that’s really what we’re doing. That’s why partnerships I feel, what’s exciting for us is that we’re not only trying to show in terms of the work we’re doing some hopefully new thinking and exciting ways to change the world. But the way we’re operating is also an example. So, again, we’re as small as we can be while deploying a pretty large amount of money, because there’s people out there doing great work.
You don’t have to learn all this stuff and start from the beginning. There is great work being done. And when we met Maria, we knew that we’d found somebody that we wanted to essentially invest our dollars with to see change happening. And so that one of our kind of tenets that we want to operate, and it makes life a lot easier, because, again, you’re not overseeing some giant organization, just investing in a targeted way with great people.
EITEL: Well this issue is so big. And there’s so much work to be done with so little investment, so we’re trying to find ways to mobilize resources and move institutions. And one of the ways that we’ve found that’s most impactful is that in some cases, it is new dollars. In some cases, it’s getting people to work differently, like I said about measurement.
Or just to make incremental changes, or just to say, well we do programs, they’ll be 50% girls ... but when we do programs, we won’t assume that they’re being included, so we’re trying to help create this knowledge base about how one can contribute, no matter what area your investment is in. You have the ability to ensure that girls are in the game, that they’re participating. Then there is just a need for more resources, period, end of story. There is not enough resource going into this area of work. And there needs to be more, if we’re going to have that kind of impact that girls can actually have.
And so, as you saw with the girl effect, it’s not branded. I have this wonderful gift that the company has given us, which is that we aren’t trying to get attention to this. We do sports and kids all over the world, and that’s what Nike tries to get PR about. But this work is really about trying to be a global corporate citizen in a different way.
All the materials are on the website -- girleffect.org -- which we were able to fund together with the NoVo contribution. Anyone can go to girleffect.org and contribute or be empowered.
So we like to say there’re three things that everybody can do: count girls, invest in girls, and advocate for girls.
But even if you just start talking about girls, put girleffect.org on the bottom of your email. It’s amazing how much of an impact that can have, because you are all influential people. And people to start to notice. Each of you saying, “ Hey, you know, girls really matter.” The multiplier effect is phenomenal. If there is something that everyone can do here, it’s just talk about girls, talk about what you heard about here today, just to get that buzz going. Send people to girleffect.org. They can see that video. You can use that video when you give a talk. You can use it for anything. All the things that are on girleffect.org are all publicly available.
There’s a ten-point action plan for girls on there that says, what can I do if I’m in government? What can I do if I’m a foundation? All these different actions that people can take, and we have a report called Girls Count, which we’d also be happy to send everyone here, which was just written by Ruth Levine of the Center for Global Development together with the Population Council, which is wonderful and important, and there it goes into much more detail about what each -- you know whether you’re a foundation, or a private -- whatever your role is, what can you do to take action for girls.
And then, I just think Peter or Jenny sort of took a really bold move to invest in our ability to do this work. But what we want is to move the field though. Maybe there is a grouping of you who are part of this community, who have been wanting to do something for girls. And then there’s a way to invest in that together, or might be we’re trying to find different groupings of people who have an interest to do the work. That’s very exciting. So hopefully that will have an enormous impact. And then, I guess the only other thing I want to say is that I’m so happy to sit on a panel with two men, because all the men in the room, it’s particularly important that you talk about girls, because when a woman talks about girls, and when I sit up here and talk about girls, it’s a little predictable. I am a woman; it’s that little thing that people go, “ Of course, you’re women talking about issues that are important to girls.” It’s not just an issue that is important to women! This is an issue that’s important to the human race, and the survival of the planet and the growth and the prosperity of the planet! End of story.
If men think about it in those terms, and we shift perception, then we shift the way that the world will invest in this issue. So I really am happy to feel that -- I’m happy to have male colleagues up here. And support people like Abed with investment, because the work they do and the work that our other partners are doing is really ground-breaking and really phenomenal.
SANDOSHAM: So, Abed, the last comment for you about this partnership and how innovative it is.
ABED: Well we have partnership with governments, with multilateral organizations. They all give us large sums of money for education on healthcare and so on. But the problem is finding funds for girls programs. And I think we have got a big partner with us, Nike Foundation, with the branding and the communications that they have. So I think we are delighted to have them as a partner and I am sure that the girl effect is going to have a much bigger reception in the world, and hopefully there will be more money for us, so that we can extend our program. Thank you.
SANDOSHAM: Thank you all for coming, and we are I think about to break for lunch. So they’ll be more opportunity to talk to each member of the panel over lunch.