04/08/2017 09:55 BST | Updated 04/08/2017 09:55 BST

We Need Creative Minds To Proactively Disrupt The Development Sector

Say the word 'disruption' and you'll most likely think of Silicon Valley; online businesses that are challenging old, established ways of doing business.

Say the word 'disruption' and you'll most likely think of Silicon Valley; online businesses that are challenging old, established ways of doing business.


You're unlikely to think about adolescent girls living in poverty.


At Girl Effect, we're disrupting the traditional mindset to development challenges. Rather than viewing girls as part of the problem, we enable girls to be part of the solution. Evidence shows that when girls have access to services like education and healthcare, not only do they rise, but they lift the economic prospects of their whole community and the generations that follow. As such, every dollar invested in a girl has a multiplier effect.


But here's the rub: negative beliefs and belief systems.


I don't believe being a disruptor should be confined to the private sector. It's not just about the technology in itself, but an attitude: challenging old, established thinking and realising a new idea, at scale, in a short space of time.

What can those tackling global poverty learn from private sector disruptors?


1.       Challenge the status quo


Disruptors look sideways at a problem and ask: if we were starting from scratch, what would we do?

When it comes to development, £131 billion is spent on aid every year. Much of this investment goes on tangible initiatives, like schools, vaccination clinics, and safe spaces. All of which are vital, necessary and urgent. 

However, our key insight is that you can't just supply services on the ground without unlocking demand for them within the communities you seek to serve.


For example, you can build a school, but girls might still drop out if the norm is for them to marry young and their education is deemed expensive and unnecessary. You can build a clinic, but girls might still not visit because of taboos associated with seeing a doctor. You can develop a training programme for girls to learn new skills, but they still might not sign up if social expectations confine her to the home.


The missing ingredient is this. You can't just build, we need to unleash demand - and not just from girls themselves. We need to change the hearts and minds of those around her too to actively champion her. Otherwise we're throwing seeds on to stony ground.


2.     Make the consumer the boss


Another thing disruptors have in common: they don't just know more about their consumer, they empower the consumer. They put technology into their hands and make them the boss.


This is a theme in all disruptor success stories - AirBnB, LinkedIn - you cut out the middle-(wo)man and put the power in the hands of your consumers.


So how can we apply this learning to tackling global poverty?


To do so, we need to understand the real barriers that hold girls back from their reality; their perspective. So what if we employed and trained girls living in poverty to become data gatherers in their communities, and gave them a voice to tell us and others about what they need to overcome the barriers they face?


Traditional analogue research methodologies can often be slow and expensive, with insights lost in translation or not really actionable.


Firstly, we learned from other tech pioneers to ensure TEGA technology is at the cutting-edge of research. Taking inspiration from Snapchat, all data is erased from the TEGA's device the moment the data is sent. And to ensure identity protection, we have borrowed the approach of online banking security - only the first three letters of a respondent's name are visible on the TEGA device.


Just like disruptors, we've cut out the middle-(wo)man and put a cutting-edge mobile research app directly into girls' hands. We've trained girls living in poverty as digital data gatherers inside the communities that are hardest to reach, through surveys designed for low digital literacy - for example, interviewees can communicate with us and code the video responses with relevant emojis when they are undertaking interviews. They capture and upload insights in real-time, so that the data they gather is available to us and to our partners - such as Oxfam, DFID and Gates - in six weeks rather than 6 months.


As a result, we've surfaced the issues that girls face in some of the most dangerous places in the world and new, genuine and authentic insights into their realities, helping to ensure interventions designed for them are more effective. And we've developed skills and an income for these girls. It's a hand-up, not a hand-out.


3.     Create impact at scale


Here's another hallmark of disruptors: they break down silos to create impact at scale.

Girl Effect is doing this with brands for social change like Yegna and Ni Nyampinga.


Yegna is a multi-platform youth brand in Ethiopia. It's about five girls who come together through their love of music to form a group. Using the formats that people love - radio drama, music, interactive platforms, apps and talk shows - Yegna surfaces real-life issues such as early forced marriage, violence and barriers to education.


Ni Nyampinga is Rwanda's first youth brand. Together, its magazine, radio show, safe spaces programme and app are reaching mass scale, with 79% of people in Rwanda aware of the brand. In the space of five short years, 60% of girls who are regular consumers of Ni Nyampinga are more likely to have high levels of self-efficacy and 67% of adults and boys have more positive attitudes towards gender equality.


These culture brands for social change are working: creating pathways to empowerment for girls and their communities as a whole. Yegna and Ni Nyampinga are not public information campaigns that talk at girls. They are mass engagement initiatives that resonate and create a ripple effect across the whole of society.


Those working in technology, media and the creative industries may believe that "disruption" has become the buzzword in boardrooms of companies around the world.

But my challenge to you is this.


What would happen if we took the best knowledge from the private sector, the creative sector and the technology and media sectors and captured the deep development expertise to take a new look at the biggest global challenges facing our world? 


We are a generation more empowered than any which has preceded us, with the tools and technology to create change at scale - to create new pathways to empowerment for the most disenfranchised on the planet.


We can't afford to spend another 100 years seeing the same old patterns keeping girls - and their countries - locked in an ecosystem of poverty.


We need to stop poverty before it starts, and use all the disruptive tools at our disposal to make that a reality. To create a new normal.