On International Women’s Day 2019, Jess Posner Odede, Girl Effect’s new CEO, tells how her journey of co-founding Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) in Kenya led her to Girl Effect and why she is so committed to empowering girls.
Over the last 12 years I have had the privilege to know and be inspired by so many amazing girls. Working with and beside an incredible community, I co-founded SHOFCO to catalyse systemic transformation in urban slums. Together, we built the organisation to over 600 employees, 9 geographies, and over 250,000 people benefitting from life changing services— this year becoming the youngest organisation ever to be awarded the prestigious Hilton Humanitarian Prize. On International Women’s Day, I take this moment to thank all the women who have supported me on this journey so far, as I start my next chapter at the helm of this incredible organisation, Girl Effect.
I was drawn to Kibera by the incredible resilience of a community and every-day leaders who dared to imagine a better future. This same thread drew me to Girl Effect – I have befriended, lived and worked beside girls who know what they need and want, and are prepared to lead change to act on these choices.
This requires unbelievable determination. Girls the world over have to disproportionately fight for the right to education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and to the kind of opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential.
But the difference between what we can achieve now versus what could be done 12 years ago when I first arrived in Kenya is unfathomable. Through digital technology and innovative research methods, we have the opportunity to close the gender data gap and empower girls to make changes that ripple from their communities across the globe. Through a device small enough to fit into their pockets, girls can access information they can use to act on their ambitions. This access is complex with many social and financial barriers to overcome, but the number of girls accessing mobile phones has doubled in the least three years, and it’s set to double again by 2022 according to GSMA – and the opportunities this creates are immense.
I’ve always been inspired by the innovative and passionate approach at Girl Effect, which works to help girls find a new sense of identity and self-belief, and uses technology to put unprecedented power in girls’ hands. I’ve seen the potential of this on the ground. I’ve seen first hand that when a girl gets a chance, she invests in her community. Now is the time to be investing in her.