I examine here how development institutions visually represent women in the global South. I explore, in particular, how the figure of the adolescent girl is presented as a vehicle for “investment” in future growth and an ideal neoliberal subject of development. From the 1990s onwards policies promoting the use of “positive,” active images of “poor women in developing countries” were adopted by international NGOs, donor governments, the World Bank and other development actors. This was the result of several closely interrelated factors: first, widespread critiques of existing – and still prevalent – representations of “Third World women” as a homogeneous category of “passive victims;” second, the transformation of concepts of participation, empowerment and agency; and third, a growing emphasis on extending women’s labour as a strategy of global capital accumulation.