Teen Girls are Leading the Way. How Can Philanthropy Support Them?

teen girls
Greta Thunberg, teen activist from Sweden, has helped amplify climate change movements with her advocacy. (Photo Credit: Greta Thunberg on Twitter)

Teen girls are becoming movers and shakers across the globe in areas like gun violence, environmental activism, and gender equality, as well as advocacy for inclusiveness and systems change of all kinds.

And rather than simply accepting the hands they’ve been dealt, teen girls and young women are taking the lead to change their lives and the lives of those around them. A Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg, has recently made waves and garnered well-deserved media attention for her work around climate change. She has protested outside of the Swedish parliament and has spoken about the need to protect the environment for future generations at Davos and the United Nations. Thunberg has also inspired others her age, mobilizing school-based climate change protests in Sweden and worldwide. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and stands to be the youngest recipient since Malala Yousafzai if she wins.

Yousafzai is an iconic tour de force when it comes to girls’ right to education, beginning her activism as a young girl in Pakistan by speaking out about girls’ access to 12 years of quality schooling. After an attack by a masked shooter, Yousafzai moved to the UK, where she launched the Malala Fund–partnering with community-based organizations to promote access to education–and is now attending the University of Oxford.

We should take these growing efforts as a good sign. Recognizing a problem is the first step to resolving it, and many young adult girls today are more adept than ever at recognizing underlying systemic problems. Donors’ efforts, in turn, are ramping up to support girls in their efforts to improve their lives, and to bolster adults’ efforts to empower, liberate, and educate girls and young women. Philanthropists who want to provide aid to girls in particular have a number of options, many of them poised to help marginalized girls become leaders in their own right.

The Girls First Fund, for example, partners with community-based grassroots organizations in an effort to end child marriage across the globe. Child marriage disrupts girls’ potential for education and freedom of choice, and increases their likelihood of experiencing sexual and physical violence. Girls First Fund donors include the Ford Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and others. Grants are focused for now in the Dominican Republic, Nepal, Niger, Uganda, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Global Fund for Women, meanwhile, boasts an Adolescent Girls Fund (which partners with organizations like the Ms. Foundation and FRIDA- Young Feminist Fund), focused on girl-led leadership efforts in areas that can increase young women’s potential for the future. Grantmaking for this fund is primarily focused on the issues that often affect girls ages 10-19: boosting access to education, ending sexual assault, and ending early/child marriage.

The NoVo Foundation, too, is a major champion for girls in the U.S. and around the world, especially those who are marginalized in multiple ways. In the U.S., the Foundation’s work for adolescent girls focuses on eradicating poverty and lessening the effects of trauma on girls on color, particularly focusing on mental health, preventing sexual assault and treating its effects, and improving access to health care and quality education. In the Global South, the NoVo Foundation focuses on providing grants to community organizations that serve girls who live in deep rural areas, experience domestic servitude or sexual violence, are involved in migration, or have survived political crises, war, and/or natural disasters. So far, the Foundation has funded efforts to help over half a million adolescent girls with $120 million of grants across 80 countries. With many recent efforts to end sex trafficking of girls and young women, and current fundraising initiatives for vulnerable girls, the NoVo Foundation is an ideal choice for donors who want to get involved in philanthropy that directly benefits girls.

Finally, the Girl Scouts of the USA is another organization focused on promoting leadership for girls–unique in its focus on girls from young childhood to young adulthood. While the Girl Scouts have traditionally relied on internal funding from membership fees, they are now focusing more on philanthropy, particularly as more feminists are getting involved in fundraising as the last few decades’ efforts to promote female leadership are reaping benefits.


Teen Sexual Assault Education Summit Moves Online(Opens in a new browser tab)

NoVo Accounted for 17% of US Funding for Women’s Rights(Opens in a new browser tab)

Girl Power: Helping Empower Teen Girls in Grantmaking(Opens in a new browser tab)

Author: Laura Dorwart

Laura Dorwart is a writer with bylines in SELF, The Guardian, The New York Times, VICE, and many others. Follow her work at www.lauradorwart.com.

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