Corporate funding for girls — put your money where your mouth is

If one were to look at funding girls as a means to accelerate development as a line graph, the inflection point could be pinned to 2009 when the Nike Foundation, among others, produced their Girl Effect film. This viral video is credited with inspiring action across the private, public and non-profit sectors to empower girls.

It’s fitting that the start of this movement can be, in part, credited to a corporate actor: business has played a huge part in spreading the gospel of girls to audiences far and wide. Campaigns by brands, like Gucci’s Chime for Change, public displays of girl power, like State Street Bank’s “Fearless Girl”, and investment from Coca-Cola and others as part of DFID’s Girls Education Challenge have shown how companies are committed to working with girls.

But what do they tell us, really? While companies are excellent at communicating intention, they are notoriously silent on one of the most critical pieces of information needed to develop the sector: their inputs. This lack of transparency isn’t limited to their work funding girls; but without sharing more about their challenges, failures and investments, companies will struggle to move the needle to create impact for girls.

Our recent I.G. Insights report, The State of Funding for Girls highlights best practice and offers recommendations on how to fund girls. It’s no secret that the opacity among corporates makes this difficult.

We proudly featured the work of Standard Chartered Bank and their Goal programme, which publicly discloses its investment as part of a Clinton Global Initiative commitment.

In her interview, Director of the Goal Programme Natasha Kwakwa was open about challenges the Bank had faced.

Like many companies, the Bank’s community budget is based on a percentage of its pre- tax income. ‘We have experienced times where the pot of funding hasn’t been as big as perhaps we would have wanted it to be,’ Kwakwa said, referring to 2016 when, in the wake of an economic downturn in several Asian markets, the Bank posted an annual loss.

The team worked with their NGO partner, Women Win, to address these challenges, by supporting them to seek outside funding. As a result, programme momentum continued to grow.

Other companies were not so forthcoming with their information. We stipulated two requirements for all of our interview subjects: they needed to be willing to share their investment data, and to be open to speaking candidly about challenges.

One company got cold feet after interviews had been conducted, and we pulled their case study from the final publication.

Having worked with and for many companies (including Standard Chartered), I can understand the hesitance to share this type of data. CSR programmes, as opposed to corporate foundations, have no legal obligation to report.

There can be concerns about internal and external scrutiny over spending from a ‘cost centre’ like a CSR budget when that information is made public. And not many companies like to admit when something they’ve tried as failed, even if they have learned from it.

This lack of transparency is holding the sector back from achieving the shared value many of these companies purport to desire. In 2015, we reviewed corporate investment in girls’ education; a map of 32 companies’ investments showed clusters around technical and financial skills for secondary school girls and little investment in areas like reproductive health, or the key transition from primary to secondary school.

With more sharing among each other, as well as with foundations and individuals also funding girls, companies could get higher returns on their investment, understand where in the ecosystem investment is needed, and who they could work with to achieve their desired impact.

Our call to companies is this: the benefits of sharing your work with girls far outweigh the perceived consequences. Try it and see — it may set off a chain reaction that creates a new inflection point in the girls’ funding graph.

For more, see the report The State of Funding for Girls.

Alisha Miranda is the Managing Director of I.G. Advisors.


Originally published at www.alliancemagazine.org on July 26, 2017.