Lifting Young Girls From Poverty With–What Else?–An Accelerator

Focusing on girls in the developing world is a proven strategy. These companies just need a little boost to do it.

Lifting Young Girls From Poverty With–What Else?–An Accelerator
[Illustrations: Lunarus via Shutterstock]

Women tend to be more responsible with money than men. That’s not a statement based on stereotype; research has shown that educated girls in developing countries will reinvest 90% of future income in their families, compared with a 35% rate for educated boys. And still, there are 250 million adolescent girls living in poverty.


The Girl Effect Accelerator, a partnership between the Nike Foundation and Unreasonable Group, has a singular mission: to scale up projects in the developing world that benefit girls in poverty. Launched in November 2014, the two-week program offered mentorship, financing, and networking to 10 for-profit projects, with the ultimate goal of rapidly scaling them up.

“We now know that each year, more than $120 billion is spent in international development assistance, yet this system has yet to produce the game-changing results we all want for the world. We are launching this program because we think that by welcoming entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors into this conversation, and positioning their prowess around girls in poverty, we may be able to see results we are all hoping for,” says Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Group and director of The Girl Effect Accelerator, in an email (watch our video series on some of the Unreasonable Group’s other work here).

The accelerator selected 10 projects, which in total operate in over 30 countries and averaged over $2 million in revenue in 2014 from customers that live on less than $2 per day, according to Epstein. These ventures are, in other words, already somewhat established. They have proven that they can make a difference. The projects include Bridge International academies, a fast-growing chain of schools that can educate over 100,000 kids for $6 per month on average; Embrace, a company that produces an affordable “infant warmer”; Paga, the top mobile payment service in Nigeria; Soko, a platform that lets women and girls sell to international customers on their mobile phones; and Greenlight Planet, which sells solar home lights to families that are off the grid.

Over time, the accelerator will track three measurements to determine whether the accelerator was a success: increase in project investment dollars; growth or decline in revenue, cost, team size, customer base, and geographic expansion; and an additional metric tracked semi-annually–unique to each project–looking at its impact on girls. “Likely the biggest shift that the first batch of companies experienced was that they have each identified the impact they are having for girls in poverty and they have all agreed to track this one metric on a semi-annual basis–to gauge both the breadth and depth of their impact for girls in poverty now and over time,” says Epstein.

Interested in participating in the next Girl Effect Accelerator? You’ll have to wait for Epstein and his colleagues to find you. There is no formal application process; instead, the program will spend six months scouring the earth for startups with the most potential to make a difference for girls in poverty.

“We have learned from experience that the ventures who are moving the fastest and who have the most potential to put a dent on history are least likely to take the time to fill in an application,” says Epstein. “They instead remain laser focused on the mission of their business.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.