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Nike Foundation launches world’s first accelerator dedicated to the most powerful force for change on the planet: adolescent girls

Business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors gathered in San Francisco this week for the TED-style culminating event of the Girl Effect Accelerator – the world’s first accelerator dedicated to entrepreneurs positioned to positively benefit millions of girls living in poverty.

Sanga Moses, founder of Eco-Fuel Africa, was the first entrepreneur to take the stage. The first and only person in his family to complete secondary school and go to college, Sanga’s life changed five years ago on a visit to his family home. As he neared his parent’s house, he saw his 12-year-old sister in the road, carrying a bundle of firewood for cooking.

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“I wasn’t surprised to see her carrying the wood, because I had done the same when I was her age. But when she saw me I could see that she was crying. She had not been to school for weeks,” says Sanga Moses, CEO Eco-Fuel Africa.

In that moment Moses decided to quit his job as an accountant in the city, take his $500 of savings, and dedicate his life to ensuring that his sister, and girls like her across Uganda and Africa, could have the chance to go to school. Today, his company Eco-Fuel Africa produces cheap, sustainable cooking fuel for thousands of Ugandans – eliminating the need for girls to spend hours collecting firewood, and giving them the time to go to school.

"These entrepreneurs are leapfrogging the absence of electrical grid systems, leapfrogging the absence of schools, leapfrogging the absence of banks. And they are doing it by doing what the best entrepreneurs do: identifying a need, creating a best-in-class service or product and executing brilliantly." – Shaifali Puri, Executive Director of Global Innovation at the Nike Foundation

What brings the companies to the accelerator is a shared belief in the Girl Effect: that when adolescent girls living in poverty are given the opportunity to finish school, delay pregnancy and delay marriage, not only they benefit, but their families, communities and whole nations benefit as well. The entrepreneurs wanted to take the time not only to better understand the girl effect in action, but also to better target their businesses towards girls.

“The accelerator has forced us to focus on probably the most disenfranchised person in the household, which is the girl,” said Anish Thakkar, founder and CEO of Greenlight Planet. “It’s easy to think about an off-grid home that gets a solar light and think that the mission is won, but in many cases the light is not shared equally by every member of the house. We’ve been thinking about how are we organized, and how are we culturally attuned to thinking about the needs of girls. As an organization, we may have to change.”

Through the accelerator, the 10 ventures have had access to mentors and specialists ranging from marketing guru Seth Godin to former experience lead at Google X, Tom Chi and NIKE, Inc.'s Vice President of Innovation & Sustainability, Hannah Jones. Ultimately, the test of the accelerator will be how the entrepreneurs use their businesses to better target, serve, and improve the lives of adolescent girls. It’s a prize worth aiming for because, in the words of Sanga Moses, “When you empower a girl, you change a community, you change a country – you change the world.”