Girls Invest, a program developed by SDSU associate professor, Dr. Elizabeth Reed, along with other SDSU faculty, Drs. Guadalupe Xochitl Ayala and Ning Tang, as well as several students (Mr. Chirag Palesha, Mr. Vinton Omaleki, Ms. Alma Behar, Ms. Jasmin Garcia), promotes financial literacy, empowerment, and savings among adolescent girls. Stressful economic situations at home and low levels of financial independence can place girls in situations that compromise their safety and health.
The Girls Invest program is similar to other cash transfer models seen on a global scale, where girls receive a cash deposit into a bank account to promote financial security and with the aim of improving life outcomes. Usually, these types of programs are offered on a conditional basis such as enrolling in school or some other type of educational program. “Cash transfers have been linked to improvements in sexual/reproductive health outcomes for girls, including decreased adolescent pregnancy. However, this model is unique because it involves an app-based approach to deliver educational trainings to girls and uses a savings account, rather than the provision of cash directly or into a regular account. By focusing on savings, Girls Invest emphasizes investment in girls’ futures,” states Dr. Reed. So far, Girls Invest has been piloted with 20 girls which has aided in program and app-related improvements.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded an NIH R21 grant to Girls Invest through the National Institute of Child Health and Development. This 2-year grant began in September of 2018 and will allow the program to be evaluated within 200 girls in the San Diego area, using a randomized controlled trial design. The Girls Invest program has two main components: a savings account and the mobile app. $100 is deposited in $20 increments into each participant’s account based on completion of 5 training modules. The app uses techniques such as games, quizzes, and peer mentors to keep the girls intrigued and learning. Each module lasts around 40 minutes and covers the following topics: gender roles, health, and girls’ future education/career; money, power, and relationships; financial literacy, educational loan and scholarship resources, and young women working.
“I think it is an innovative project because of its focus on economic empowerment as a means to improve sexual and reproductive health among girls, but also, the use of a mobile-enabled app seems very appropriate for youth and may be a low-cost strategy to support broad implementation and sustainability in the future” states Dr. Reed. Given the wide use of mobile technology in the U.S. and increasingly across the globe, Dr. Reed is also working with collaborators to develop Girls Invest for adolescent girls elsewhere and recently received funding for adapting the project for girls in Nigeria (working with SDSU Professor Susan Kiene and Nigerian collaborator, Dr. Olufunmilayo Fawole, professor and dean of Public Health Faculty at the University of Ibadan).