The Girl Effect & Philanthropy

If you haven’t seen The Girl Effect video produced by the Nike Foundation and the NoVo Foundation, take a minute and check it out.

The video has been around for a while, but I bring it up now because the head of the Nike Foundation, Maria Eitel, has just been nominated by president Obama to run the Corporation for National and Community Service. As Nathaniel Whittemore recently explained:

CNCS is in charge of a variety of programs, including the AmeriCorps program. Under the new Serve America Act, the program is supposed to grow from 75,000 to 250,000 placements, with an emphasis on filling unmeet needs in “an Education Corps; a Healthy Futures Corps; a Clean Energy Corps and a Veterans Corps.”

So here’s the thing, if philanthropy’s biggest opportunity is to figure out how to effectively share information, then spreading ideas becomes a core competency of great philanthropists. The Girl Effect isn’t just a moving video, it is a case study in effective idea propagation. That’s not just my opinion, the authors of Made to Stick literally used it as a case study and deconstructed the video to show why it works.

I think understanding how ideas spread is so important in philanthropy (and yet so poorly understood by a community who seems to revel in making philanthropy sound boring and academic) that I have books like The Tipping Point and Seth Godin’s books in the Tactical Philanthropy Bookstore (it is not a coincidence that the Made to Stick authors found the Girl Effect video on Seth Godin’s website. I’m reading Made to Stick right now and believe me, when I finish it will find its place in the bookstore.

So here’s what’s cool. Maria Eitel gets how to spread ideas. And now she’s in charge of dramatically expanding our national service program. AmeriCorps won’t swell in size AND impact simply because we present young people with statistics on why it is needed and monetary incentives. It will only occur if an certain kind of idea spreads.

Imagine if every foundation understood how ideas spread the way Maria Eitel does?


  1. Great post, Sean. I, too, was excited when I learned of Maria Eitel’s nomination. Your observations about the importance of spreading ideas are right on the mark.

    I was also particularly excited that the video and much of Maria Eitel’s work exemplifies targeted universalism in action. She doesn’t promote investing in girls because it’s politically correct. She does so because it creates the greatest benefit for the most people with the least amount of investment. It’s a powerful way to change the world. This is a core concept NCRP has been trying to advance with our suggestion that grantmakers invest more of their grant dollars for the intended benefit of marginalized communities. It’s a strategic way to maximize impact.

  2. Mary Jane Marcus says:

    A footnote to this blog: Funny you should mention this video. I was at the San Francisco Film Festival yesterday at a panel about Advertising after the screening of a (very interesting) documentary called Art and Copy. One of those present was Dan Wieden, who founded the ad agency that made the Girl Effect video for Nike/Nike Foundation (Nike funded but did not produce the ad). It showed what an amazing message you can convey even without fancy graphics or video. My one criticism of the Girl Effect video is that it unnecessarily exaggerates the effect investing in girls has on society (yes, it can help uplift their lives, but it won’t solve poverty). There is an amazing Girl Effect, so there is no need to make more of it than it is.

  3. Mary Jane, what’s interesting to me about the video is that I could show it to anyone (regardless of their knowledge of philanthropy) and they would come away probably buying into the idea of the Girl Effect. They’ll then tend to be supportive of this concept when they see it in action. That’s powerful.

  4. Miss Karla says:

    First of all, they are not girls they are women. They are the highest rate of poverty and I really don’t think that we need to sell a cow and get to some tribal meeting so that men know women are capable, the fact that 12 million unpaid cases of child support are happening here in the United States shows that men think we are so capable they don’t even need any help.
    These are girls, with undeveloped brains and should be in school with grown men and women scaffolding them into adulthood.

  5. Lucy Beer says:

    Hi Sean
    I’m slow to get on the Girl Effect bandwagon – I just saw it on Oprah the other week. I think the video itself is brilliant, but from a tactical standpoint, their campaign doesn’t connect all the dots as well as it could. I wrote more fully on this here:

  6. Thanks Lucy, I think you are right that the best, most viral videos often fail to fully capitalize on their success. Good advice on your blog.