Innovative partnerships speed up girl development

DFID permanent secretary, Mark Lowcock, on Girl Hub and how partnerships can radically reduce poverty.

A conversation with DFID permanent secretary Mark Lowcock about Girl Hub and the potential of partnerships in development programming

In 2010 the permanent secretary at the Department for International Development (DFID), Mark Lowcock, dove into uncharted waters when he formed a first-of-its-kind strategic collaboration with Nike Foundation. The result? A new initiative aimed at establishing a new way of delivering development programming at scale for girls. Girl Hub opened its first office in DFID's London basement, but quickly opened offices in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nigeria to drive work on the ground.

Q: How did Girl Hub happen?

A: Girl Hub began when Maria Eitel, the president of the Nike Foundation, and I met four or five years ago in the margins of a meeting for the World Bank Gender Advisory Council. After years of working in the sector, I had a Damascene moment. The evidence was there to suggest that if you change the prospects of an adolescent girl on a big enough scale, you will transform societies.

Q: Why DFID? Why Nike Foundation?

A: DFID uses its core capabilities, resources, expertise and a global network to really test ourselves and change for the better. It is an organisation that is not afraid to challenge itself to look at things in a different way and for that reason, the Nike Foundation partnership offered us a tangible way to think and work differently with girls.

Partly due to the marketing capabilities and partly due to the sense of fun and energy we had in the early Girl Hub conversations the potential of the partnership was clear to me. I thought we could get into something that was a brand new approach to changing girls' prospects at scale.

Q: You've been quick to point out that this is a strategic collaboration and not a sponsorship. What is the difference?

A: It was very important to both the Nike Foundation and DFID that we appreciated where we were each coming from culturally. We all understood that we were trying to create a partnership, which is quite different to the way that DFID interacts with other organisations. The power of the Girl Hub collaboration has been to make it something completely different. I think the impact of the work as a result of this way the partnership was set up speaks for itself.

Q: What are your biggest accomplishments so far?

A: In December 2011 Girl Hub Rwanda launched Ni Nyampinga - the first teen brand in the country. And in just seven months, Ni Nyampinga magazine has become Rwanda's largest media publication.

In Ethiopia, Girl Hub was the catalyst for DFID Ethiopia's investment in the £10m End Child Marriage programme, which is on track to reach 200,000 girls in the Amhara region by 2015. And this past May, Girl Hub Nigeria supported a 13-week radio show called Carbin Kwai that was designed to reposition girls in the public discourse and provide a platform for community dialogue.

But we've only just skimmed the surface of what's possible.

Q: How can others use your model to take scope to scale?

A: It is a problem for official development agencies that we can be stuck in our ways of doing things. You can only replicate what we're trying with Girl Hub if you can find a partner who shares your vision and if you are clear about what each party is bringing to the table. But look at the nutrition space - where there is a lot of work going on at the moment. If we could get to the point where there are different sorts of partnerships working to get to grips with that, there is a big prize to be won.