Why Potlokwa’s story should inspire us all

More partnerships essential to helping underprivileged girls across the world

Potlokwa, a 13 year old girl from South Africa, spent much of her youth in a camp called Mamelodi, frustrated, intimidated and hungry.

Youth unemployment, drug use, crime and poverty plagued her community, and she felt helpless. She witnessed her mother struggle to provide food for her and her little brother; she watched as her small family was forced to leave a rented room and move to a tent in a squatter’s camp. She constantly had to go and fetch clean water, which not only took hours, but made her prey to the bullies loitering by the taps.

Potlokwa attended school but struggled with the stigma of living in a camp. Children and teachers alike would laugh and ridicule her about where she lived without understanding her struggles and harsh realities. She only had one friend she could turn to for support, and all the adults in her life were examples of what not to do instead of the role models she needed.


Even at an early age, Potlokwa knew she wanted to help others like herself and her mother; she thought there might be ways to help people generate more income through entrepreneurship and education. But she didn’t know where to start and what was possible.

And then our Goal programme – which provides girls with life-skills training through sport – was introduced to her school. At first Potlokwa was too shy to join; instead, she hovered on the outskirts and strained to hear the lessons. She was fascinated by the topics like sanitation and saving money, but she didn’t have the confidence to enrol.

From shy to confident

One day, a Goal leader asked her to join the group. Potlokwa was thrilled. She felt like she was part of something. She found community.

Things began to change. Potlokwa made many friends. She suddenly had a plethora of positive role models to inspire her. She learned about her fundamental human rights and how to access community services and support. And perhaps more importantly, she discovered her voice.

Her shyness was transformed into confidence and her reluctance into boldness. Now recognising her value and power, she holds her head up high with a new sense of determination and inspiration.

Through her newly gained friends, mentors, knowledge and skills, Potlokwa knows how she can help her community and improve lives. She wants to become a doctor and start a medical practice dedicated to serving populations living in informal camps like hers. Illness is a huge factor in the poverty in her community, so she wants to improve people’s health so they can work or start their own businesses.

Girls empowerment
Potlowka (centre) with her family


Potlokwa may be just one girl, but her multiplier impact is already evident in the way she now engages with her family and community. Imagine the future of Mamelodi, South Africa, Africa and the world, with girls like Potlokwa leading.

Let’s chase that future and invest in Potlokwa and the other 600 million adolescent girls living in emerging markets just like her. Let’s help them stand up for their rights and fulfil their leadership potential.

More partnerships, more progress

No single organisation or individual can address the needs of the millions of adolescent girls in emerging markets. We need intervention models that support girls at every critical point in their development – an end-to-end approach that ensures they overcome the challenges, obstacles and barriers they will face.

That’s exactly why we held one of the first ever global summits on girls’ economic empowerment this week.


By bringing together over one 130 representatives from government, civil society, the media and the private sector, we facilitated a conversation among organisations and individuals dedicated to championing adolescent girls and young women around the world. We encouraged new partnerships to ensure the best outcomes for girls.

Delegates made over 45 commitments to further champion girls’ empowerment. These include: exploring a partnership between Standard Chartered and the NGO Discovery Learning Alliance to develop educational videos to support and challenge social cultural norms; helping our Goal girls in East Africa find jobs; and expanding entrepreneurship opportunities for girls who aspire to create a micro business.

While partnerships and end-to-end approaches are key, so too is listening to the voices of girls. They know what they want and need.

Potlokwa is one of the girls that should inspire and drive girls’ empowerment. Her voice, and others like her, must be what guides us as we create partnerships and holistic programmes to support girls around the world.