Girls Take Center Stage At The World Economic Forum

02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week I'll be heading off to Davos, Switzerland with my colleagues from Nike, Inc. for the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting. It's no surprise that the entire meeting will be focused on the global economic crisis. All the big names from business, government and the media will spend the week asking questions on everyone's mind: Where did we go wrong? What tough calls need to be made? How do we get out of this mess?

The answer to these questions lies in someone unexpected. There is an amazingly powerful force we can unleash to solve the world's problems if we do the simplest thing: invest in a girl in poverty. With all this talk of the economy, it may seem odd to focus on adolescent girls, but we already spend a ridiculous amount of money and time trying to solve the world's ills in the same old way. This financial crisis intensifies the need to invest existing resources more effectively, and a new and effective approach is right under your nose. It's called the girl effect.

The World Economic Forum has made a powerful statement by placing girls on the Forum's official agenda for the first time. Throughout the week -- and culminating at a public session on January 31 -- Nike CEO Mark Parker, Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda French Gates, World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and others will urge the world to invest in girls.

You might be asking, "Why now, of all times?"

Each day I'll be blogging from Davos to reveal how world leaders are answering that question. I'll also share some of the buzz -- people we've all heard of who are talking about girls -- as well as those who aren't, but should be.

Until then, here's some food for thought:

People ask if we can afford to invest in girls right now. I say look at Kenya. Girls who go to secondary school make $2,000 more per year than girls who only attend primary school. Multiply that by 1.6 million out-of-school girls and there's a potential $3.2 billion increase in national income. The same is true in developing countries throughout the world. So the real question is, "How can we afford not to invest?"

(These numbers are from a nifty piece of research on which Jad Chaaban of the American University of Beirut, Wendy Cunningham of the World Bank and Navtej Dhillon of Wolfensohn Center at Brookings collaborated to shed some light on what excluding girls is actually costing us -- more to come on that.)

To learn more about the girl effect before Davos, check out