Girl Power in the Pipeline

By Maria Bobenrieth, Executive Director, Women Win

Girl Power in the Pipeline

Meet Laxmi: an ambitious young woman from India, netball player, confident leader and now, aspiring lawyer.

Just three years ago, the introduction to Laxmi would have been a bit different. Coming from an underserved community in Delhi, her chances to go beyond basic public primary school were slim. So, what changed? She enrolled in Goal – a sport and life skills programme implemented through the Naz Foundation, supported by Standard Chartered Bank and Women Win. She was spotted immediately as having high potential, and chosen as a leader of her peers. She is now a community sport coach (CSC), where she supervises a site and mentors other upcoming young leaders.

Laxmi had the idea to teach what she was learning to the mothers in her community. As the budding social entrepreneur that she is, she developed a ‘give-back’ project through a DFID-funded Leadership programme. The mothers now meet regularly to learn about topics germane to their everyday lives, such as sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, and financial literacy. Laxmi is financing the programme through collecting private donations. (I know first hand, because she didn’t hesitate to ask me to contribute when we met recently in Delhi!)

Unfortunately but in many ways understandably, Laxmi’s own parents are trying to convince her to settle for what they believe is a more accessible job after high school, working for the transportation system or at most becoming a teacher. However, despite the resistance and doubts, she keeps her sights steady on law school and has even managed to save money from the small stipend she earns as a CSC to pay her own tuition, if necessary. She cannot and will not be selling or taking tickets at the Delhi metro. Her immediate next programme aspiration is to jump to a hgiher level of coaching, by becoming a part-time Goal Sport Coach to further develop herself professionally and help finance her law studies.

One huge factor in Laxmi’s favor is that she has access to clear, achievable steps in her leadership development. Through the Goal Programme, the Naz Foundation has designed a path or pipeline, on and off the pitch, for girls and women like Laxmi.

In the last seven years, Women Win has demonstrated that sport can have a powerful effect of building economic, emotional and physical self-determination in girls as well as changing the cultural limits placed on them. Sport provides a unique opportunity to build leadership muscles and practice using them. When given these opportunities, in the context of a safe and enabling environment, girls and young women can practise use their knowledge and skills to drive change in their own life and in their community.

For the long term success and growth of these types of development programmes, community-based organisations must build, develop and maintain a pipeline of skilled, prepared leaders from within. Enterprising organisations, like Naz, reduce cost-per-participant, become more sustainable and are able to reach scale faster through this strategy. Furthermore, creating these leadership pipelines creates role models and reachable next steps of progress. We know the talent pool is there. Laxmi and others are proof of this.

Most private sector companies agree that helping young people evolve from life skills to employability skills is a worthy and business-savvy investment. There are initiatives that aspire to support tertiary education, employability and/or women’s-specific entrepreneurship, all recognized as key and proven engines in the reduction of poverty.

However, I spoke recently to a manger at a major global brand, about linking the Goal programme for adolescent girls and young women to their women’s entrepreneurship programmes. Although she recognized the link, she confessed that this was out of the scope of her portfolio. I really believe that this short-term thinking and silo approach is a miss.

Although private sector supports of programmes exist across age ranges, there is a gap in the coordination of these efforts at every level. Moreover, the infrastructure, systems incentives for community building organisations to coordinate at grassroots level simply mirrors the lack of coordination at corporate level. We need intra-sector approaches that build leadership pipelines, within or across programmes, to provide growth opportunities and avoid.

Development for female entrepreneurs, skilled laborers and other professionals starts with adolescence. This does not mean that every programme targets that age group, however, this will require intra-sector alignment and investment. We must start with children, move through adolescence and into young adulthood to build and reward young women who, like Laxmi show talent – they are highly innovative, persistent, have found a cause that inspires them, have boundless energy, and have a very positive vision of the future.

Finally, sports can be the thread as a win on the pitch can lead to many other wins in the life of a young woman.

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