SPRING wanted to identify, build and scale businesses offering products that economically empower young girls.
A search and selection process to target the “unusual suspects” to create the first cohort of entrepreneurs improving the lives of girls in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
Girls are pretty invisible when it comes to business. That’s a big mistake.
Technical Director, SPRING
Adolescent girls are one of the most powerful forces for change on the planet. Yet an estimated 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty around the world, struggling with systemic problems in education, job training and employment opportunities. To help transform the lives of adolescent girls, a unique accelerator called SPRING was launched to identify, build and scale businesses offering products that can economically empower young girls. Businesses selected by SPRING, a collaborative effort among UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Nike Foundation, and US Agency for International Development (USAID), gain access to funding, advise, mentorship and market intelligence so they can prototype products and refine their business model to be more girl-focused. SPRING will launch first in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda in 2015 and then expand to five additional countries.
Context Partners, with its expertise in community-centered design and deep experience in prize challenge design, was chosen to develop SPRING’s search and selection process. The focus was on finding and engaging entrepreneurs with existing businesses that have physical, digital or financial assets that could help girls learn, earn, save, protect themselves and invest in their future. These might include concepts such as a business-in-a-box, like a solar energy kit owned by girls who install and repair the product; a company that produces clean fuel and therefore reduces girls’ time and labor spent seeking firewood; a digital service marketplaces that enable girls to buy and sell their time for services such as housecleaning; perhaps a bike sharing service where girls are mechanics and bike renters.
Our research took us to three African countries, where we spoke with entrepreneurs, existing incubators, and potential partner organizations, who provided insights into the design of the applicant selection process. We discovered tremendous potential—in sectors such as agriculture, health, energy, financial services and home products—with products like sustainable, affordable sanitary pads made from banana leaves, and a gravity-powered light that enables girls to study at home at night. At the same time, however, we discovered that many of these businesses don’t identify as girl-centered because girls don’t actually purchase the product, creating a hurdle for our search and selection process.
As a result, the search and selection process created by Context Partners takes a highly personalized and targeted approach to create awareness and generate excitement among the “unusual suspects”. The outreach strategy—along with the actual selection process—is highly localized, with inquiries directed to local staff in the three target countries and numerous in-person events. And because SPRING will continue for multiple years in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the SPRING team is creating a pipeline for future accelerator classes through the current outreach and selection process.
SPRING will build a marketplace for products that increase adolescent girls’ economic participation in society. Most importantly, as new businesses continue to become involved in SPRING, they will form a growing network and a movement of companies empowering girls to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of their families and communities.