What Does it Take to Build Girls’ Economic Potential?

Today as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl, I’m excited to see increased attention turning towards one dimension of girls’ wellbeing that policymakers, donors, researchers, and advocates have historically shied away from discussing – economic empowerment.

Efforts to support girls have traditionally focused on three things – increasing education, delaying marriage, and delaying childbearing. There are signs that the tide is changing, and more people are recognizing the importance of explicitly addressing economic empowerment. For example, the World Bank recently announced increased financing to advance girls and women’s empowerment through the East Africa Girls' Empowerment and Resilience program (EAGER), the Sub-Saharan Africa Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Plus project (SWEDD+), and a scale up of the Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment program (AGILE), all of which include components focused on expanding girls’ economic opportunities as they transition into adulthood.

So, what do we know about how to build girls’ economic potential? The Center for Global Development partnered with CGAP, the Population Council’s GIRL Center, and the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab (Africa GIL) to organize a session on economic empowerment, as part of the Girls Deliver Pre-Conference on Adolescent Girls leading up to the Women Deliver 2023 Conference in Kigali, Rwanda in July.

The session was designed to explore what economic empowerment means for diverse segments of adolescent girls, why laying the foundation for later economic achievements is critical during adolescence, and what this could look like in terms of building adolescent girls’ resources and agency, while considering their context. I moderated the discussion, which began with reflections from three speakers: Blessing (an adolescent girl advocate from Zambia), Wei Chang (Africa GIL), and Rani Deshpande (CGAP). We then opened the floor to an engaging conversation with audience participants.

Three main messages emerged:

  1. We must look at economic empowerment using a multi-dimensional framework. Economic empowerment is not simply a question of equipping adolescent girls with opportunities and resources, but also of ensuring that girls are able to exercise control over them. 

  2. Education can happen in all spaces, not only in classrooms. We must ensure quality of education and include socioemotional skills instead of simply focusing on school attendance or completion. It is also important to recognize and address the realities of out-of-school girls, by exploring alternative approaches in education.

  3. We must tailor programs according to girls’ life stages. Adolescent girls are not a homogenous group; they face different challenges and have diverse needs.

CGD is collaborating with the Population Council’s GIRL Center and the World Bank’s Africa GIL to write a report on building the economic potential of adolescent girls in Africa. Look out for more on this!

You can also read the full recap report of Girls Deliver 2023 here and a preview of a CGAP report on financial inclusion for adolescent girls and young women here.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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