Reaching the most marginalized girls in Benin using a data-driven approach

MasterCard Foundation

Africa is home to over 275 million girls under the age of 18. According to UNICEF’s projections, while most regions will have a similar or smaller number of girls by 2030, the number of African girls will grow by 30 percent between 2015 and 2030. These statistics tell us that there is an urgent need to deepen our investments and efforts to improve the lives of young women and girls, especially the most vulnerable ones.

Often development programs fail to reach these girls because they are hard to locate and difficult to engage. Their days are often long, filled with household chores and work outside the home, leaving no time for school or for the training programs that may be available in their communities. These girls are often missed by formal methods of data collection. They are not counted and invisible, but they are there, full of extraordinary, untapped potential. Unless they are subject to specific recruitment efforts, they are likely to receive a disproportionately low, even negligible share of the benefits. Programs that do not apply a targeted, evidence-based approach often reach those with more available resources, leaving the harder to reach and most vulnerable behind.

Listening and responding to girls’ needs is critical, but first, we must reach out and make them visible. By using relevant and accurate data we can find and shine a light on these girls and, in doing so, we can better understand the obstacles they face.

Mapping, Targeting and Training Benin’s Future Leaders, a year-long collaboration between Mastercard Foundation and Batonga Foundation, was implemented to do exactly that. This pilot program was designed to go beyond the paved road in Benin and reach girls typically left out of formal schooling and development initiatives. Using the Girl Roster™  tool, 2,000 girls living in Savalou and Bohicon – two of the most marginalized regions in the country – were identified and mapped. Of this group, aged 15 to 24, 1,600 were recruited to join girls’ clubs where they received mentorship and training in foundational and transferable skills. At the end of the pilot program, 90 percent of the girls had either started a small business or were enrolled in further training.


Key learnings from this partnership with Batonga Foundation include:

  • The value of using a data-driven approach: The Girl Roster™ tool is an innovative, cost-effective cell phone application, developed by the Population Council. It was used to map villages, survey households, locate girls, and help increase their access to resources and services. The application is both a household questionnaire that captures how many girls are in the catchment area and a rapid analysis tool that breaks girls into meaningful segments by age, schooling, and marital, childbearing, and living-arrangement status. The data collected by the Girl Roster™ tool provided a comprehensive and detailed snapshot of the universe in which these girls live. This understanding helped the program develop customized interventions that benefitted the most vulnerable in each community. Additionally, mentors and appropriate locations for the trainings were identified within the host communities based on Girl Roster™ data.


  • The importance of including girls and mentors in program design and implementation: Batonga partnered with Aflatoun International to customize their curriculum on social and financial literacy. The mentors that delivered the program were girls identified through the Girl Roster™ data. They were deeply involved in co-creating and adjusting the Aflatoun curriculum to meet the needs of the most marginalized girls. At the local level, having local girls as peer mentors was critical to ensuring ownership, relevance and scale at the grassroots level. “Participation in the clubs means that people look at us differently in the community. We are given more value,” said a girl from Azonkangoudo.


  • The need to use an inclusive market systems development approach, looking for and addressing root causes of exclusion: A surprising finding from the program was that girls are reluctant to enter the formal education system and would rather pursue training through girls’ clubs. This calls for action at the education system level to deepen reform efforts in building infrastructure, and market relevant skills in formal education and training institutions to make school more relevant, valuable, and feasible for girls considering re-enrollment.


  • The importance of using credible partners to influence others in Benin and the global development community to use data-driven approaches to reach the most vulnerable girls. At the national and regional level, Batonga was joined by 40 members from the development community from eight countries in Francophone Africa to form a regional thought leadership network to discuss strategies for scale in using data-driven approach such as the Girl Roster™ tool and data to reach more vulnerable girls.

Germaine, a Batonga mentor said, ‘’we play, we learn, we dance, we work, we share our feelings. Batonga liberates so many girls who have been held back.” We join Germaine and all Batonga girls on International Day of the Girl Child to celebrate the freedom, creativity, energy, strength and potential of every single girl in Africa and around the world. We call for greater collective efforts to use data-driven approach to close the gender gap and to strengthen the meaningful inclusion of the most vulnerable girls in education, employment and development programs.