Helping girls and young women in developing countries transition from school to work isn’t always an easy path. In many places, early marriage and childbirth prevent girls from pursuing an education, putting their earnings potential—and future prosperity—at significant risk.
The Bank’s Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI), launched in 2008, is helping girls in seven countries better navigate that path, and today, a few of those girls—from Afghanistan, Jordan, Nepal, Liberia, South Sudan and Lao PDR—told a rapt audience at the Bank's Washington headquarters how. Through AGI-sponsored job and life skills training, they have started small businesses, stayed in school and mentored other girls who might follow in their path.
“I am no longer that same adolescent girl,” said Phennapha Phommachanh of Lao PDR, of her life before getting involved in AGI training. “I became a model for young adolescent girls. I help them find jobs. I want to help them find a life equal to others.”
Bank President Robert Zoellick said the AGI gives the Bank a valuable opportunity to invest in young women—a group often overlooked in traditional development programs. “Young girls must have a fair chance to lead a productive life,” he said. “Their well-being has a huge effect on families and communities.”
Though AGI countries are still in pilot phase, some are reporting early results. In Liberia, 2500 girls are currently receiving job and life skills training; in South Sudan, 100 village Adolescent Community Clubs provide a safe place for young women to receive training and socialize.
There’s more to come. Zoellick announced  today that the Bank plans to expand the AGI to Yemen and Haiti next year. Haiti’s program will focus on providing training to 3,000 young women to ease their school-to-work transition and improve employment and earnings potential. In Yemen, cash transfers will help adolescent girls attend, and complete, school.
Indeed, several guest speakers at today’s event emphasized the importance of reaching girls early, to keep their educations on track. An extra year of secondary schooling can raise girls’ future wages by 10 to 20%.
Said Maria Eitel, President and CEO of the Nike Foundation, an AGI partner: “If we invest in that girl now, then the multiplier effect around her is extraordinary.”