When Girls Lead, Nations Follow

Bold, brave, smart, kind, sporty and she speaks out against injustice (including unfair bedtimes). That's my nine-year-old daughter. When we recognize the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, our hope is that all girls will have the freedom to speak out. When we are inspired to action by the words of the Girl Declaration, we are reminded that a great wave of girls' untapped potential can be unleashed to create transformative power -- not only for girls individually or even collectively, but globally.

And yet, too many girls are out of school, are living in poverty, are married young and are not safe from harassment, discrimination and violence. It is not only a matter of injustice, but also of economics and opportunities. We know in our hearts, in our gut, in our minds -- and as supported by reams of data -- that investing in girls has an outsized return. So, we agree on the what, but can we also agree on the how?

Five days a week I am dedicated to helping build a world where all children have the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive. Seven days a week I am dedicated to being the very best parent I can be to my own daughter. Whether the child we are working for is in Haiti or in our own homes, the key to long-lasting transformation is letting her lead the way. This is why The Global Fund for Children chooses to support community-based organizations that are small, nimble, tenacious and inspiring. We understand that they are often fragile and burdened by the very circumstances they are fighting to transform. But they know the children in their own communities, they understand their needs and their potential to change the world is worth the risk we take.

One such organization is Akili Dada in Kenya which works with girls from severely underprivileged backgrounds in rural communities; most are at risk of dropping out of school and falling prey to cheap labor or early marriage. Akili Dada sponsors these girls to attend the best high schools in Kenya and equips them with leadership skills. Each girl develops and implements projects in her own community, demonstrating and affirming the leadership abilities of adolescent girls. The organization's ambitions are large and achievable: to create a new generation of African women leaders.

Like many of the organizations we work with, Akili Dada doesn't have a huge staff or shiny business cards or a large budget. But the girls they work with are entering universities, mentoring younger girls and heading proudly into futures of their own making. Innovation can be small and quiet, succeeding when it directly addresses a problem with solutions that last. The Global Fund for Children sees innovation at work on a daily basis in small organizations where we are often the first -- and only -- American funder.

As we approach International Day of the Girl Child, and every day, we are doing all we can to ensure that innovation grows and girls' lives are transformed today and in the future. Last year, we invested $1.4 million in 107 local organizations whose programs specifically address the needs of adolescent girls. We trust these girls to lead us just as they trust us to understand their potential to lift themselves and others out of poverty. As nations look to the future, let's ensure that not only are girls included, but that they are leading the way. It will be a great day when the biggest injustice a girl fights is her bedtime.