Girl smiling in Uganda

How girls in Uganda got the World Bank to take notice

Incredible results from a Ugandan programme for girls are helping to win over girl effect sceptics

The girl effect has the potential to end world poverty. The theory behind this bold statement is simple: by investing in girls we can prevent child marriage, teen pregnancy, the spread of HIV/Aids and - crucially - break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. And who better to prove the theory right than girls themselves?
Results from a project in Uganda have recently convinced a senior economist at the World Bank to take notice of the power of the girl effect.
In a blog post about the results of a two-year study into 'Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents' (ELA), Markus Goldstein confesses to having doubts about the girl effect: "I have to admit, I was sceptical (maybe it was that video)," he writes. "But, in a new paper written with my colleagues… I found a reason to rethink my scepticism."
The reason for that rethink is the impressive results delivered by ELA - a programme run by Brac that tackles the economic and health problems faced by adolescent girls in Uganda. Compared with a control sample of girls from villages not taking part in the programme, participating girls were 12.6 per cent more likely to use a condom during sex, 17.1 per cent less likely to have had sex against their will and 2.7 per cent per cent less likely to have had a child.
Designed to provide girls with life skills including sex education and financial literacy, ELA is run from clubs rather than schools so it can reach girls regardless of whether they are still in formal education. These clubs provide girls with a safe space close to home where they are able to talk openly, away from the pressures of family and a male-centred society.
The knock-on effects of the changes in attitudes towards family planning that ELA has delivered are also marked. In the villages where ELA was run, the pregnancy rates were 20-25 per cent lower. Girls were also 18 per cent more likely to say they think girls should earn money for the family.
Crucially, girls who took part were 35 per cent more likely to generate their own income, meaning that by the second year of the programme the cost of running it was just 21 per cent of the increased spending power it helped generate.
"Now, I am still not sure that this will save humanity," Goldstein concludes cautiously, "but it looks to me that putting money into a programme like this, in Uganda (with one of the lowest median ages in the world), is a darn good investment for girls during the critical transition from childhood to adulthood."

So why does it matter if an economist at the World Bank rethinks his belief in the girl effect? Just imagine how much could be achieved in the fight against global poverty if trusted authorities such as the World Bank - which oversees investment programmes worth billions of dollars a year - invested even more money in girl-centred programmes such as ELA.

Do you know any sceptics who need to be converted? Let us know what you think @girleffect.
Read Markus Goldstein's blog post

Read BRAC's report on ELA