01/24/2013 08:44 am ET Updated Mar 26, 2013

Davos 2013: A Jumping-Off Point for Young Leaders to Address Girls' and Women's Health

Yesterday, I had a brief glimpse into what it must feel like to be a Bond girl.

I had just arrived in Switzerland for the 2013 World Economic Forum, yet rather than calmly entering Davos, I found myself leaping from a moving Alpine train in heels, with my luggage on one arm and a young Egyptian journalist on the other. It was not the necessarily entrance I was going for -- but it did provide an apt metaphor for why I came to the 2013 Forum in the first place.

I'm here to encourage the new class of young leaders gathered in Davos to think about ways they can help solve one of the most overlooked barriers to global economic growth: girls' and women's health. It's the reason the journalist and I missed our stop and had to jump from the train. Two seconds prior we were talking about the degree to which preventable complications like HIV, malaria, and unintended pregnancies continue to hold back millions of girls and women from reaching their full economic potential. We spoke about how his sector, the media, can work with other groups -- government, business, NGOs, foundations, individual philanthropists -- to address these barriers, and why it is economically beneficial to do so.

It was exactly the type of conversation that I hope will take place on a daily basis here in Davos -- one that leads to action.

The Power of Young Leaders

I am particularly energized to bring this topic to the 2013 Forum because I have seen firsthand what is possible when the World Economic Forum's powerful network of young leaders works together to solve a problem. It's a lesson I have learned over the past six years serving as a WEF Young Global Leader, representing my global health organization PSI.

Through the creation of the WEF Young Global Leaders (under 40 years old) and Global Shapers (under 30) programs, the World Economic Forum has built a unique network of young minds who work together year-round to solve problems, including economic growth, environmental sustainability, public health, and government transparency. And the Annual Meeting in Davos is only one piece of the puzzle. The work between YGLs and Global Shapers is often born from conversations at WEF's Regional Meetings and task-force field missions.

The reason this network and these opportunities work is because they bring young leaders from different sectors together to share ideas, to think outside of the box, to leverage their experience, and to create a plan of action. They talk the talk and walk the walk. I believe it is no coincidence that successful, multi-sector health initiatives such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the Stop TB Partnership came to life directly because of relationships created through World Economic Forum networks.

It's time we apply that formula to addressing the health of girls and women in the developing world.

A Roap Map to Revolutionize Girls' and Women's Health

In the words of Melinda Gates, the global community needs to unleash the "boundless potential" of girls and women which, for too long, has been locked up by poor health and inequity. Today, 75 percent of HIV infections among 15- to 24-year-olds in Sub-Saharan Africa alone are young women, and up to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before the age of 18, largely due to lack of access to modern family planning options. This burden of preventable diseases and complications impacts all aspects of a girl's life, and affects her family, community, and local economy.

The good news is that in communities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a number of breakthrough health innovations have demonstrated dramatic improvements in the health of girls and women, particularly in rural areas where need is greatest. PSI has identified 11 of these pilot projects which with the right investment and partnerships are well positioned to be taken to scale, including access to and use of safe birthing kits, tuberculosis screening and treatment, home-based HIV tests, and new pneumonia treatment regimes for girls and boys under five. Unfortunately, to date, most of these life-saving tools remain on the shelf, waiting to be funded.

The network of young leaders in the World Economic Forum can be instrumental in changing that. By working together and channeling needed private investment into girls' and women's health programs, WEF young leaders can springboard proven health interventions and provide a road map for larger donors to take these solutions to scale. In doing so, we will enable millions of girls and women to go to school, to support themselves and their families, to support their local economy -- to thrive. It works for everyone.

I hope the rest of my discussions at Davos are as fruitful and adventure filled as my conversation with the journalist. It proved to me that the world is full of young leaders who are interested in the topic of girls' and women's health, they are aware of its economic impact -- and they are ready to get involved. The 2013 Forum is the perfect jumping-off point to turn that awareness into action.

Let's get to work.