What would happen if you applied economic theory in an unconventional way to try and understand how a girl might change the course of humanity?

At my desk one morning, I watched Nike’s “The Girl Effect” campaign videos on YouTube hoping to find inspiration for new Impact blog topics. The videos instantly reminded me of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s award-winning book, Freakonomics. The collaboration between a leading economist and the author/journalist explores the application of economic theory to diverse and seemingly unrelated topics. Most know it as the butterfly effect, or chaos theory, where small changes in an initial condition can produce large variations in future outcomes of a dynamic system.

It dawned on me, the incredible synergies between the campaign, the book, and the work we do here at USAID.  It put into perspective the reason we ensure all of our programs are women-centered.

There’s no denying the abundance of gender inequality around the world, particularly in developing nations. There is no denying the billions of dollars in lost productivity due to the fact that millions of women are denied the right to education and the ability to work outside the home. Women’s rights are more than just a moral imperative; they are the key to progress.

So how might a girl change the course of humanity?

Assume this initial condition: A 13 year old girl stands at a crossroads with two choices before her: school or child marriage. The problem is it’s not usually a choice.

Married, she is more likely to die from childbirth at an early age; she is more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases; she is more prone to become a victim of partner violence; she never receives an education; and she is unable to contribute to society in a way that has a larger social impact and helps to push the human race forward.

With an education she marries later in life—to someone she chooses. She decides the timing of her children and is in a position to make decisions about her own health. She invests money in her children’s health and education, and is able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Other people recognize her value and contributions, and begin to understand that all girls have value.

Multiply that scenario by the 600 million girls in the developing world and it’s easy to comprehend how a small change in an initial condition is capable of determining the course of humanity. That is powerful.

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.