The previously untold story of how an unprecedented network of high-achieving women from the world’s largest companies, innovative startups, philanthropic organizations, government, and the arts combined forces to change the lives of girls and women everywhere.
They needed the cows.
Maria Eitel, CEO of the Nike Foundation, is starting her tale at the beginning of her eight-year journey to save the world’s girls. She is telling me about one 13-year-old in particular, the very one who inspired her to invent the Girl Effect, a global initiative that in less than a decade has created or supported groundbreaking programming and research that has put the often-terrifying needs of indigent girls in the toughest parts of the world on the global agenda. “I was in this ridiculously poor part of Ethiopia,” says Eitel, whose title at the time was vice president of corporate responsibility at Nike. The founder and CEO, Phil Knight (along with future CEO Mark Parker), had tapped her to create a not-for-profit arm–but had not dictated a mission. Eitel was in the midst of a yearlong exploration to determine how to make the biggest impact.
In Ethiopia, she followed this girl, named Kidan, through her entire day, watching her strap a filthy jerrycan to her back and haul water, then grind grain as she sat in the dirt. “She was amazingly smart,” recalls Eitel, who likes to talk about creating “that moment of inspiration when you know that a girl believes in herself.” She calls it “ignition,” and Kidan had it–she wanted to be a doctor. “She was such a bright light,” says Eitel. “But we learned that it’s not enough.”
When Eitel spoke to Kidan’s mother about her dreams for her daughter, she found out that the child had already been committed to be married, in exchange for cattle. The mother did not share Eitel’s dismay. “Once I was a girl,” she told Eitel. “One day, there was this commotion and they picked me up and put me on a donkey and that was my wedding. I never saw my family again. So Kidan will just have to be strong.” Kidan’s hope for a career–for anything like the self-directed life that Eitel, and probably any reader of this magazine, believes to be a human right–was effectively over, just as her mother’s had been not so long ago. And her survival? Well, her marriage commitment placed that in greater doubt: In sub-Saharan Africa, says Eitel, more than 90% of deaths related to pregnancy are among adolescents. They needed the cows. (cont … Fast Company)