The Effectiveness and Efficiency of Girl Hub – an ICAI review of the DFID and Nike Foundation Initiative

Photo: The Girl Hub 

By Graham Ward Chief Commissioner of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI)

The Girl Hub was established by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Nike Foundation to help decision-makers and donors do more to address the needs and rights of adolescent girls. On 22 March this year we published a review examining how effectively and efficiently the Girl Hub partnership is delivering impact and whether it should be used as a model for future partnerships. We gave Girl Hub an overall rating of amber-red - meaning that it is not performing well and that significant improvements should be made.


Girl Hub has been operating for two years and has so far spent £2.9 million of its £15.6 million budget. It aims to be a catalyst to empower girls and influence donors and governments. It intends to combine DFID’s development expertise and global reach with Nike Foundation’s experience working in the field of adolescent girls, its communications skills and its approach to business planning and innovation.


Girl Hub is widely seen as playing a useful role in getting adolescent girls more firmly onto the development agenda. We found that Girl Hub has had some positive impacts, particularly on DFID’s strategy and programming. Our report shows, however, that Girl Hub’s measureable impact on girls to date is limited and that there have been shortcomings in planning and governance. Our report makes some key recommendations for DFID:


  • Girl Hub should focus more sharply on how it will make a difference. It should not only measure the success of each programme but also measure how effectively programmes are linked to each other and to wider initiatives.
  • In establishing Girl Hub, DFID did not ensure that the appropriate risk, governance and financial management policies were in place. Girl Hub should implement these policies and processes and ensure that messaging is clear and consistent and that the roles of each organisation are transparent and accountable.
  • DFID should assess the options for Girl Hub’s future in light of the evidence to date.
  • DFID should reflect on the Girl Hub experience in order to learn how it can promote innovation internally in a way that manages risk, including how partnerships with the private sector and private foundations should be implemented.


ICAI’s role is to focus on maximising the effectiveness of UK aid for intended beneficiaries and on delivering value for money for the UK taxpayer. This does not mean, however, that we expect all programmes to be perfect. We recognise that some aid is risky and some is innovative and we welcome that. The idea of Girl Hub is ambitious. It aims to bring new ways of thinking into DFID and the wider development community. We found, however, shortcomings in Girl Hub’s governance and plans to translate its vision into tangible outcomes for adolescent girls. Girl Hub has begun to address some of these issues. We recognise the innovative nature of this partnership but conclude that it is a good time for DFID to re-evaluate whether and, if so, how this model should be continued and made sustainable.


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Comment by Margaret Gardner on April 10, 2012 at 8:08

I was on the board of the YWCA for 6 years and recognise the issues and huge importance of working with young women and girls. The problems outlined here seem more about getting to grips with leadership and overall programme coherence than lack of clarity of mission and vision. I would be concerned that the response will be 'to throw the baby out with the bath water'. Implement learning rigourously and build, personally (and only on a reading of this piece plus an enthusiasm for encouraging young women) it seems too early to give up.

Comment by Jon Miller on April 15, 2012 at 22:02

I did a couple of projects for Girl Hub, working in London and also Ethiopia and Rwanda. Part of the issue here is a cultural one, I think - Nike and DFID couldn't be more culturally different. Nike folks are obsessed with innovation, doing things differently, trying new things. DFID people are focused on risk minimisation, accountability, governance, processes. They're highly risk averse – the “do no harm” mantra rules. 

But from what I could see, the chemistry worked amazingly well, both in London and in country. The projects being rolled out are challenging and ambitious. Of course Girl Hub should be independently monitored. But if it’s assessed like any other DFID venture, it won’t achieve anything. If you remove the risk of failure, you probably also remove the innovation

And as both Margaret and Colleen say, it's early days -  think the Girl Hub initiative really deserves constructive support at this stage. 

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