Case Study: Girls Action Foundation

August 6, 2019


The Girls Action Foundation is a national charitable organization that leads and seeds girls’ programs across Canada. It builds girls’ and young women’s skills and confidence and inspires action to change the world. Girls Action had three streams of activity to examine:

  1. local programs with girls in partnership with schools and community organizations in Montreal;
  2. a national leadership training for young women from across Canada; and
  3. supporting members of its National Network as well as other girls’ programmers with opportunities to collaborate, activities to share experiences and resources to help develop and implement best practices.

In addition to these, systems change work was a cross-cutting theme which at the moment was being implemented through the programs, but which has the potential of becoming a full-fledged stream of its own, if the required resources could be obtained.

Through innovative programs, research and support to a network of more than 300 partnering organizations and projects, Girls Action reaches over 60,000 girls and young women each year.


Girls Action needed to weave its streams of activity plus systems change into a tighter model for impact – including organizational impact goals and a theory of change to clarify how its activities generate those goals. Revisiting the strategic direction of the organization meant examining existing programming and activities to ensure alignment with the mission and objectives of the organization, and tightening activities to more closely align with these. From the network perspective, Girls Action wanted to examine the volume and quantity of relationships with other organizations, as well as the activities in which these organizations were engaged, to ensure that their network-related activities were aligned with organizational objectives.


After significant group discussion and input from several board members, Girls Action developed an integrated theory of change for the organization, including target outcomes for each of their major categories of activity (direct programming with girls, young women’s leadership program and network related work).

The next step was to test those target outcomes to ensure they were realistic and appropriate. First, Girls Action conducted a review of data related to their ELLE program, a leadership development program focused on young women, which revealed a need to refocus program design from a national training program to a more regionally based training program.

Second, to help sharpen their systems change and network activities, Girls Action worked through key questions to develop a Systems Level Theory of Change along with more concrete short- and medium-term outcomes, through which they could position their network and advocacy based work and assess whether this work was achieving its impact goals.

Outcomes and Next Steps

Girls Action Foundation has used this process to develop a more clear understanding of the impact they would like to have through their programming, the emphasis/ effort they should place on each of their activities (programming with and for girls and young women, network activities, and systems change), and the link between specific beneficiaries and activities. They have also clarified how these different activities can support each other.

The process is being continued after the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity Module through a thorough evaluation of the National Network, a review of previous Young Women’s Leadership Trainings, as well as team and board discussions on strategic planning.

In their Systems Level Theory of Change, Girls Action has also begun to develop a deeper understanding of how their work contributes more broadly to the systems-level change they would like to see, and the most important activities on which to focus. Moving forward, the organization plans to continue to identify specific outcomes to work towards.

The most recent development is that we have formed a Board-Management Committee on Strategy that will continue the discussions and make suggestions by the end of 2013.