Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda

One in eight people in the world is a girl or young woman 10 to 24 years old. Young people are the fastest growing segment of the population in developing countries, and their welfare is fundamental key economic and social outcomes. But girls in developing countries face systematic disadvantages over a wide range of welfare indicators, including health, education, nutrition, labor force participation, and the burden of household tasks. This CGD initiative examined ways to improve the welfare of girls and young women in developing countries.

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Despite the critical role they play in key economic and social outcomes, many girls and young women in developing countries face a wealth of challenges.

Because of poverty and outdated social norms, many poor girls are forced to marry at very young ages leaving them vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, and physical exploitation among other dangers. Lacking a full range of economic opportunities and devalued because of gender bias, many girls are seen as unworthy of investment or protection by their families.

Building on work for the UN Millennium Project Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, and work on global health and demographic change, the Center for Global Development teamed up with the Population Council and the International Center for Research on Women to:

  • Summarize evidence about the importance of girls and young women within economic and social development;
  • Recommend effective investments that will give adolescent girls in developing countries a full and equal chance for rewarding lives and livelihoods;
  • Provide the rationale and policy roadmap necessary to mobilize such support from national governments, donors, private sector and civil society; and,
  • Inform the public about ways in which we can all contribute to improving the situation of adolescent girls in poor countries.

The product of this partnership was a report called Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda report. It describes why and how to provide adolescent girls in developing countries a full and equal chance in life with targeted recommendations for national and local governments, donor agencies, civil society, and the private sector. Girls Count provides a compelling starting point for country-specific agendas to recognize and foster girls' potential. Learn More

Girls Count was a three-year initiative generously co-funded by the Nike Foundation and the UN Foundation’s Better World Fund.


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The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest bilateral development agency. CGD’s work focuses on strengthening USAID’s position as a leading development agency by providing research and analysis on the agency’s various development initiatives and operational reforms.

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The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent US foreign assistance agency with a focused mission of reducing poverty through economic growth. MCC’s model of assistance is predicated on key principles of aid effectiveness, including country ownership, transparency, and sustainable results. CGD provides regular analysis and research on the policies, operations, and effectiveness of the agency, along with ideas for innovation and adaptation.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is the US government’s development finance institution. It is a leading agency in implementing President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative and the Electrify Africa Act. CGD’s work focuses on how OPIC can most effectively promote economic opportunity and growth.

Interagency Development Initiatives

The US government often coordinates the work of various agencies through initiatives aimed at particular development challenges. CGD’s work looks at the impact of these interagency initiatives by exploring their ability to deliver on development goals.

Recent US administrations have sought to incorporate key principles of aid effectiveness into their foreign assistance architecture while proposing reforms to boost operational capacity. CGD regularly evaluates US efforts to implement these reforms and principles, which cut across agencies, sectors, and initiatives.

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As the lead agency on foreign affairs, the Department of State takes the lead in a number of areas of development policy, particularly at the nexus of development and democracy. State is also tightly linked to USAID and houses PEPFAR.

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US Treasury leads the Administration’s engagement in multilateral development assistance, participates in bilateral policy dialogue with developing countries, and provides technical assistance related to public financial management in many developing countries. CGD’s research focuses on how the United States can more effectively leverage its role in multilateral institutions and recommendations on how these institutions can adapt to an evolving development landscape.