As Vice-President and Managing Director of the foundation, the Briton, Lane, has at his disposal a healthy bank account, the freedom to do targeted, long-term interventions - and a crack team of professionals that are able to develop and monitor projects in developing countries with a business sense.
What's more, Lane says, he isn't encumbered with the branding side of Nike - or having to squeeze PR points out of the foundation's projects around the world.
"We've really been given the space to address the issues surrounding adolescent girls. We're not about building markets….We're really free to work where the greatest need is for adolescent girls and not to be driven by a marketplace approach," said Lane.
The six-year-old Nike Foundation is obsessed with the so-called `Girl Effect' - empowering adolescent girls to take better care of themselves, become active and energize other girls so that they can protect themselves from scourges ranging from HIV and AIDS to sex slavery. In many parts of the world, girls are forced into early marriages, have children before they enter adulthood and are seen as little more than assets by family and community members.
Lane cited as an example of what Nike gets back from the foundation's work is learning a lot about social networking - or about specific markets - and that knowledge gets pushed back to colleagues on the brand side. "There is transfer of learning going in from across two very different worlds," he said. And for the Foundation - access to a pool of top professionals from one of the world's most successful and widely-known brands.
"Our advantage, in some ways, is that we are actually small, and the whole concept of the foundation is to really work with multiple partners and agencies and individuals interested in this area to help move the whole agenda forward. We can get very entrepreneurial and leveraged obsessed when we do our work," Lane said in an interview with HUMNEWS following the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York, where the foundation premiered the fantastically compelling three-minute `Girl Effect' video.
Lane, himself a veteran of the international business world - he has an MA in Chemistry from Oxford and a MBA from Harvard and before heading Nike's global running business worked with Roll International and Bain and Company - says he collaborates with "a balanced team that combines professionals from brand management as well as knowledgeable people with field experience from the development side". The foundation tries to maintain very close relationships with its programme partners in the field, spending as much time with them as possible. The nimble nature of the organization allows it to easily shift course mid-stream if evidence shows the need for adjustments.
The foundation, which is supported by Nike Inc. and the NoVo Foundation, is unique in the sense that it has an exclusive focus on adolescent girls in the developing world. They define the `Girl Effect' as: `improving a girl's life in order to improve the lives of those around her; her brothers, sisters, parents and beyond. As an educated mother, an active citizen and an ambitious entrepreneur, or prepared employee - she can break the cycle of poverty.
The Foundation cites stark statistics that underpin its focused mission: nearly half of girls in most developing countries are married before they turn 20, and about half bear children while still children themselves. Half of sexual assaults are against girls younger than 15 and young girls disproportionately carry the burden of HIV and AIDS; in Sub-Saharan Africa 76 percent of infected youths are females.
Keeping girls in school pays incredible dividends, the foundation says. With just seven or more years of education, a girl customarily marries four years later, and has 2.2 fewer children. An extra year of primary school boosts future wages by as much as 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school by as much as a quarter.
Lane knows better than many how to achieve results against a ticking clock: he was a competitive runner in high school and a college rugby player and rower.
Lane credits the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which this year incorporated a plenary session on girls and women, for placing issues related to adolescent girls front and centre. "There was strong recognition that the power of adolescent girls could actually have impact on the many issues that face the attendees of CGI - whether it be health, education, peace and security, or economic growth. Girls were emphasized as a tremendous resource for positive change."
When asked what project he is particularly proud of, Lane points to the foundation's support of an initiative to address the issue of child marriages in the Amphora region of Ethiopia. In less than two years, families are seeing the value of keeping girls in school longer. "We've been able to show people the value of the girl," said Lane.
Lane says more emphasis is being placed on his foundation and others in the development field on results-oriented programming. "The real shift in development is coming with people that are very much focused on outcomes than on inputs: you can distribute a certain number of (anti-malaria) bed nets, but making sure that the outcome of those bed nets being used effectively to control malaria is really an outcome-based orientation."
Asked whether the message to invest in girls is getting through to African leaders, Lane says he is seeing a shift. "We are very much at a tipping point: there are some real visionary leaders in Africa that have recognized this already. There is programming and agencies and people are working very hard to continue to tell these stories (of success). " He pointed to a conditional cash transfer programme directly to girls in Malawi that has had a tremendous effect on the reduction and prevalence of HIV infections among girls there.
--- Reporting by HUMNEWS' Michael Bociurkiw.