Experience has taught us seven truths about adolescent girls. When we understand these truths, we get closer to the girls we want to work with and that means we're better informed to deliver the solutions girls need to lift themselves out of poverty.
1. I'm not a sector, a youth or a woman. I am a girl.
Girls' lives aren't neatly divided into sectors; they're far
more complex. While still at school they are dealing with issues of
health, safety and their family's economic survival.
Most development programmes target youth (15-35) or women of reproductive age (15-49). Girls aged 10-14 - the crucial time when they go through puberty, may drop out of school and may become sexually active - fall through the cracks, while girls aged 15-19 struggle to fit into programmes aimed at older boys and women.
To unleash her potential, we have to recognise an adolescent girl's unique needs. Otherwise, at best, she will be ignored; at worst, she will be harmed.
2. I know myself and my situation better than anyone else. Talk to me before you do anything for me.
Community leaders or family members can tell you what they think
about girls' needs, abilities and potential, but only girls
themselves can tell you what they care about, what's cool, what
they aspire to and the biggest factors that stand in their way.
To make programmes or policies succeed, we need to harness girls' intuitive understanding of their world.
3. Many decisions I make, or my family makes about me, are based on risk and how I can stay safe.
Risk plays a part in every decision girls and families make.
Girls are pulled out of school to protect them from wayward male
teachers or peers. Even extreme decisions, such as child marriage or female genital mutilation, are often rooted in
families' desires to keep girls safe until marriage.
Risk is real for girls every day. So they need safe environments to grow, learn and to be girls.
4. Connecting with girls isn't easy for me - but it makes me stronger.
Girls are often isolated from society at puberty - the moment
they have the most questions about themselves and the world. When
they are told to drop out of school and help at home, their social
Networks are powerful. Friends help girls to stay safe and give them the social assets and confidence to succeed through adolescence and deliver their potential to the world.
5. My trust is earned. I don't trust other girls just because they are girls; I need to know I can count on them to keep my secrets.
Girls often don't trust each other. If their secrets - which can
be anything from a crush on a boy to a plan to escape an arranged
marriage - got out, the consequences could include a beating, early
marriage or being forced to drop out of school.
Building trust takes time, but is worth it. Once trust is built, girls develop long friendships. They share knowledge, skills and ideas, and that sharing provides a source of confidence, pride and joy.
6. I don't plan for the future: help me create small, tangible wins to turn my dreams into reality.
When girls dream they aim for an unreachable target, such as
becoming president, or set their sights low, just a small step
above their present situation.
They aren't aware of good accessible professions, such as the small business owner or the community health worker. They do not know how to achieve their goal, lack role models who have been there and done it, or have a fatalistic attitude about the future.
Girls need encouragement and exposure to things outside their world to dream achievable dreams. Then they need the training and support to create plans toward tangible successes. These are steps on the path to achieving bigger goals.
7. I am an economic powerhouse: when I have economic opportunities, the world wins.
Girls with economic opportunities grow in value in their communities and their communities grow with them. Girls invest in themselves, their families and other girls, creating a ripple effect that can lift entire communities out of poverty.
Economically active girls postpone marriage, have their first child later and have fewer children. The knock-on effect on the economy can raise entire countries.
The Nike Foundation supports programmes to empower adolescent girls, unlock their economic potential and give them the skills they need to flourish. Every day we work with incredible people and organisations to ignite adolescent girls' potential and unleash the girl effect. We are particularly indebted to Judith Bruce and the Population Council for their thought leadership on adolescent girls.
It starts with a girl.