03 Jan 2020

Girl Capital: We will not wait 99½ years

The World Economic Forum just released a report with a happy fact; the gender gap is on track to be bridged. The timeline for success however is not so reassuring; it will take a century. 99 ½ years to be precise, and this is unacceptable.

The future of the world depends on girls and women having equal opportunities to be healthy and happy, to dream big and to realise their fullest potential. However, the reality of child marriage, adolescent pregnancies and the employment and income gender gaps are desperate. Over 130 million girls across the world are currently out of school[1], roughly 4 in 10 young women are married before the age of 18 in South Asia, and in developing nations as a whole, over 10 million unintended pregnancies occur among girls and young women aged between 15-19[2].

What lies beneath these statistics are stories of individuals unable to achieve their future goals and hopes. The fundamental causes are deep-rooted social, cultural, economic and political barriers- big and complex – that hold girls down from education, life skills and a chance at financial autonomy. The cruelest manifestation of all this is the inability of an entire generation of girls to dream. Imagine a life without the freedom and hope to aspire.

India girls image

Girls need foundations and opportunities upon which to pursue and achieve their ambitions. These are neither audacious nor should they be improbable. Girls should have a foundation in education – (primary and secondary) an opportunity to get life and employability skills, financial independence – and the confidence and voice that this brings with it. At every stage, though, we know girls are not allowed to stay on that path, and many drop out at various stages, exposing them to the grave risks of child marriage, trafficking, teenage pregnancies, malnutrition and poverty.

Girl Capital strategy is CIFF’s bold attempt to change this harsh truth for girls and young women between 5 and 25. We have the luxury of dreaming the big dream. Ours is that girls are no longer regarded as liabilities but are treasured as assets and are treated as the equal citizens of the planet that they are.

Our Theory of Change focuses on six key actions – education, life skills, technical and vocational training, income generation and social norm changes.

We are confident a combination of these will have a direct impact on child marriage, age of first pregnancy and female labour force participation. We also anticipate progress across CIFF’s portfolio, such as lower instances of low birth weight, improved adolescent sexual and reproductive health indicators and reduced trafficking. While the direct outcomes are reason enough, the force multipliers make it even more strategically important. The ultimate impact is agency to negotiate choices and make decisions, as well as resources and earnings to reduce poverty and inequality.

Girl Capital pictureGirl Capital is an integral component of the CIFF’s pivot towards realising the demographic dividend. It will focus on specific catalytic points that will enable girls 5-25 years to stay in school, choose if, and when, to get married and to start a family, improve not just their living standards and life outcomes but also those of their children. This will potentially break the intergenerational cycle of poverty of injustice on the planet.

“Young women and girls’ rights are obviously human rights, but they are also amongst the smartest and most effective ways to achieve national and global goals.” Executive Director for India, Hisham Mundol, speaking on Girl Capital during the Neutral is Not Enough event at UNGA 2019.


Girl Capital is a global strategy but will start in India – building on a foundation of investments that are live. These include Udaan (cash transfers to get and keep girls in secondary school in Rajasthan, India), Educate Girls (which aims to get 1.5 million Indian girls into primary school – tackling 50% of India’s education gender gap across four of the most populous States in India) and Manzil (ensuring life and vocation skills, on job training and apprenticeships to more than 100,000 in and out of school girls.) Keeping Girls in School in Africa – where traditional and religious leaders are championing girl education – and Girls First Fund (unleashing the power of local civil society organisations and champions to fight child marriage in eight countries in Africa and Asia) are some of the investments outside India.

While we are pursuing adventurous objectives, we are deeply cognisant about how hard the task we are taking on will be. Much of what we are attempting is new territory for CIFF and we are trying to shift deep rooted barriers. There are very few proven ideas out there and we will operate in a learning mode for the initial stages.

It is of equal importance to call out what is that we will not do. We must push for progressive changes and development, but the way we succeed in this is to ensure we are realistic with our strategy. We need to be focussed and catalytic. We cannot be the ones to solve all foundational challenges, so we will take a measured approach and influence others where possible to address areas that we cannot.In this context, Girl Capital will involve considerable effort in proof of concepts and evidence building, which will require an innovation and learning mindset. We propose 2020 to be one of building a foundation – distilling learnings, establishing partnerships and coalitions and exploring investments in Africa. We see 2021-22 as the learning phase, where we review our Theory of Change, start to plug evidence gaps and undertake course correction.

What we will not do is wait 99 ½ years. The world cannot afford to. 


Synapse growth chart

Manjula Singh, Director of Girl Capital, India

Manjula is the director of CIFF’s Girl Capital programme, and is based out of our Delhi office.