Improving the lives of adolescent girls: three lessons learned from SPRING

Improving the lives of adolescent girls: three lessons learned from SPRING

On International Women’s Day, we are reminded of our responsibility of pursuing change, whether this is by celebrating women’s achievements, calling out gender inequality, economically empowering women, or challenging the status quo. In this blog, Hind M’Hamdi, researcher on our SPRING evaluation team, gives insights on how the programme has pursued this change.

Our SPRING thematic research identified ‘what works’ in making use of businesses to reach and empower adolescent girls – and why these strategies gained traction. This research is a five-part series examining themes that cut across the SPRING programme.

1. When we talk about adolescent girls, we need to recognise that this is a broad and heterogenous group. To reach them, businesses need to adapt and cater to girls’ different needs and challenges. SPRING’s diverse target group – girls aged 10-19 from different social and educational backgrounds – required businesses to customise their approach to reach and meet the needs of each sub-group. For instance:

  • We found that reaching younger girls was especially challenging. Businesses often had to work through “gatekeepers” such as male family members and community leaders – awareness and education campaigns work better for this sub-group of adolescent girls.
  • Approaches centred around targeting girls as customers of products or services are better suited to older girls. Businesses should carefully consider the limitations younger girls face – their limited income, ability to move freely or make decisions, for example – all of which impact on their economic decisions.

As a result, some businesses had to significantly adapt their approach. This shows us that any intervention focused on large and heterogeneous groups of the population should allow some flexibility for customising to beneficiaries’ diverse needs and challenges. Whenever we want to know ‘what works’ to empower adolescent girls, it’s vital to remember how diverse this group is.

2. Targeting adolescent girls as ‘end users’ is a more effective approach for reaching girls than engaging them in the value chain. But interventions aiming to reach girls at scale should consider value chain engagement. Engaging girls in the value chain was not the most effective route to reaching and empowering adolescent girls at scale. SPRING businesses that targeted girls as end users of products and services succeeded through prototypes proved to be more successful.

We found little evidence that engaging girls in the value chain helped the businesses grow. Not only did they reach fewer girls – they also faced significant challenges along the way, making this approach less sustainable. Where businesses were able to successfully include girls in the value chain, however, they provided ongoing training and support. This goes to show that:

  • Start-up businesses are not the most effective mechanism to improve the lives of girls. Interventions aiming to do so should better consider the maturity and capacity of these businesses.
  • Older girls are better suited to approaches that aim to include girls in the value chain. It is also likely businesses will have to provide additional support to ensure girls are fully included and able to participate in the value chain.

3. There are several tried-and tested-methods to successfully reach and empower girls while growing a sustainable business – but how effective and useful they are, depends on the specific business aims and the abilities of the target group. Successful businesses that were able to reach a large number of girls and that had the most effective prototypes generally:

  • Used technological solutions, hired girls as peer mobilisers or ambassadors, engaged gatekeepers such as parents and teachers, and invested in understanding and responding to girls’ needs through the continued use of Human Centered Design (HCD).
  • Offered products and services focusing on health and wellbeing, including sexual and reproductive health. These are important topics for adolescent girls – which could explain why these businesses reached the most girls.
  • Developed appropriate costing strategies and business models for their prototypes. This supported the performance of the business as a whole and enabled it to invest in reaching girls.

As we celebrate the potential and achievements of women and girls around the world, this year’s International Women’s Day challenges us to rethink our ways of empowering girls – and for us researchers, the SPRING experience offers a lot of useful and interesting ideas for how we can improve the lives’ of girls and help them stay safe, learn, earn, and save without harm.