Across the developing world, millions of adolescent girls are at risk of missing out on education and health care, severely hampering their future prospects. Jaspal Bindra, Group Executive Director and CEO Asia at Standard Chartered, on why this is one problem the world – including large banks – can’t afford to ignore
Chhaya, 23, works for Standard Chartered as an intern in our Mumbai office. Looking at her, dressed in smart business clothes and mingling with colleagues, you wouldn’t know that she spent her teenage years at a women’s refuge in Mumbai, estranged from her family in a Maharashtra village.
Multinational corporations don’t recruit girls from the slums, do they? When you can employ the best graduates from the best universities across India , why pick an intern whose background can only be described as underprivileged?
To us, the answer is obvious. As an international bank with a focus on Asia, Africa and the Middle East , we serve a diverse customer base across multiple markets. To support our customers effectively with the products and services they need, our workforce must be as diverse and inclusive as possible, whether in terms of gender, geography or socio-economic profile. As such, Chhaya meets a business need for Standard Chartered.
We didn’t just employ Chhaya as our intern; we invested in her long term future through Goal, a Standard Chartered programme which uses sport to help adolescent girls pull themselves out of poverty. Her traineeship with the bank is the latest step on a journey that began when she was a teenager: what started as a community investment initiative for us has now evolved into a clear business benefit.
There are many good reasons why it is worth giving Chhaya a chance to work for a high-profile bank and gain a foothold in the formal economy. Across developing countries, millions of girls like her are at risk of missing out on the education, health care and basic life skills they need to gain independence later in life.
The stories are depressingly similar. A girl runs away from home to live on the streets, or drops out of school to care for her household, or gets married very early and becomes pregnant quickly. The upshot is that her earning potential and life chances are severely reduced. This affects not only the girl herself, but also her family and the education and employment prospects of her children.
The economic costs of failing to educate girls are huge. Female education is linked to higher productivity, strengthened human capital and higher returns on investment. India alone misses out on potential growth of about USD33 billion per annum, and in sub-Saharan Africa the cost is estimated at USD5.3 billion.
Businesses, too, are affected, including Standard Chartered. The girls who miss out on reaching their full potential could be our future customers and employees. As a financial institution, we have a clear incentive to help empower women – not just our female customers and employees, but also women more broadly in the communities where we operate. Strengthening diversity and inclusion within our organisation is not merely an HR issue, but a business imperative.
We want gender diversity to be reflected in everything we do – from supporting the aspirations of women entrepreneurs and offering women only branches, to recruiting and retaining the best female talent.
Reaching out to adolescent girls is particularly important. The age between 12 and 17 years represents a unique window for positive change; by the time girls reach adulthood, it is already too late for many to turn their lives around. In terms of social return, you can hardly make a better investment than girls’ education. Studies have suggested that when women and girls earn income, they reinvest about 90 per cent into their families.
But Standard Chartered is a bank. What can we do to help girls pull themselves out of poverty? We thought long and hard about this back in 2006, knowing that we had to find a way to make an impact. When it comes to girls’ education, the biggest asset we can offer is our skills and experience. Standard Chartered is present in many countries where adolescent girls are at risk of missing out on the opportunity they deserve. We have a huge staff volunteer force who could teach girls basic financial literacy and life skills that would help them grow in confidence and develop their full potential.
However, we needed something else, something to constitute a fun framework around the teaching. So we came up with Goal. In many parts of the developing world, girls get few chances to play sport at school or at home. By working with NGOs to offer safe facilities for young women to come and play netball together, we could provide a platform for helping them to make the most of their futures.
Chhaya is just one of 13,000 girls in five countries who have gone through the 10-month Goal programme in the past five years. Joining Goal from the women’s refuge in Mumbai, she learnt how to play netball and soon began teaching others as one of our Goal Champions. Meanwhile, the health, hygiene and financial literacy modules taught by Standard Chartered volunteers helped her grow in confidence.
Our initial target for Goal was to reach a modest few dozen girls in Delhi . After three years, we had reached 1,600 young women in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. People were starting to talk about the programme, and more and more girls were turning up at the Goal netball courts to join in. Today, there are additional Goal programmes running in China , Nigeria , Jordan and Zambia . In 2010 alone, we reached almost 12,000 girls. By 2013, we aim to reach 100,000.
The total number of Goal beneficiaries, however, is likely to be much larger. For each girl reached through the Goal programme, increased knowledge and awareness is brought to an estimated 50 mothers, fathers, siblings and community members.
But as a bank and large employer, there is more we can do. We can help the Goal girls to join the formal economy and reach their aspirations, whatever they are. As a start, we have offered some of our Goal Champions, including Chhaya to become trainees at Standard Chartered. This helps them, but it helps us too. If we are to create a diverse and inclusive organisation, we need to cast our net for talent more widely; it may be found in places where we least search for it.
We realise that we can’t take everyone, so we encouraging our partners, suppliers and clients to consider employing some of the Goal girls, too. Together we may be able to make a real difference.
With her pay, Chhaya has been able to finally to leave the women’s refuge. She is considering a career in banking and hopes to one day buy her own house. In the past, this would have been the stuff of impossible dreams. Now, it is within reach for her – as it ought to be for the millions of adolescent girls across the world whose vast potential is at risk of going to waste.
As far as we are concerned, unleashing the great potential of girls is not just critical for economies and societies; it is crucial for business and certainly our GOAL.