Mapping Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs

Guest blog by Susan Chaffin, who has 25 years’ experience addressing the challenges facing people in developing countries.

International Women’s Day, less than a month away, is an ideal time to track progress on women’s economic empowerment. Last year I conducted a horizon scanning study based on dozens of interviews and research from over 100 organizations for CARE International as input for their program strategy meetings in the UK.

The study revealed that women’s economic empowerment has been gaining traction among a wider audience, not just among the “usual suspects” of local and international NGOs, development organizations and the United Nations. Large private foundations and global corporations in a range of sectors, including food and beverage, agriculture, pharmaceutical, finance, and textiles, are making noteworthy commitments.

Woman selling cooked food at a market in Vietnam

Stakeholders are in agreement that a rights-based approach, such as that used by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, and programs focusing on women’s increased access to economic assets and skills, such as Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program or the Cherie Blair Foundation are equally valid. WE Connect International, Citi Foundation, the Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), and bilateral donors such as USAID, DFID, and SIDA also support access to capital along with capacity and skills building for women entrepreneurs.

An increasing number of inclusive business initiatives such as the Coca Cola Company’s 5by20 initiative, which is working toward enabling 5 million women entrepreneurs in their global supply chain, and Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Program are effective. The HERproject managed by Business Social Responsibility (BSR) in partnership with Merck for Mothers, Timberland, J Crew, Levi Strauss, and Microsoft, is a successful initiative aimed at integrated education on reproductive health, self-esteem, financial literacy and life skills into the supply chains employing women textile workers.

Woman in rural Ethiopia

Mobile phone technology has been a boon to reaching scale in development in general. The GSMA’s mWomen and mHealth programs leverage mobile technology for reaching women. Similarly, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), whose partners include USAID, Vodafone, Qualcomm and Johnson & Johnson, disseminates information through mobile phones on maternal and child health to provide affordable services.

Umbrella organizations such as The Center for Financial Inclusion and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) support women’s access to financial products and services, including mobile banking, insurance and financial literacy, as do microfinance networks such as Accion, Women’s World Banking, the Grameen Foundation, and Pro Mujer which also partners with women’s health care providers in Latin America.

Development organizations like the International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Labour Corporation, (ILO), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) play a major role in women’s economic empowerment through multi-stakeholder initiatives. International NGOs such as Technoserve and CARE partner with SAB Miller, Cargill, Danone, Nestlé, General Mills and Unilever to create market-based initiatives supporting female entrepreneurs and farmers and agricultural innovation.

Women making ceramic cookstoves in Cambodia on a GERES project

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), founded by the UN Foundation, partners with governments, NGOs, and corporations to reach 100 million households with clean cookstoves and fuel by 2020, in an effort to improve women’s health and increase productivity. The US State Department launched wPower, a program that aims to empower clean energy entrepreneurs who are female across East Africa, Nigeria, and India, in partnership with USAID, Solar Sister, the MacArthur Foundation, CARE International, GACC, and others.

Girls collecting water in Ethiopia

The H & M Conscious Foundation, in partnership with CARE International and WaterAid among others, has a program specifically designed to promote women’s economic empowerment because water is “women’s work” all over the world. Likewise, another corporate giant, Procter and Gamble, aims to increase access to water and sanitation as do NGO’s such as and Charity Water.

Amidst this proliferation of programs there is at least one initiative focusing on gender disaggregated data collection to make more informed decisions. Data2X, founded by the Clinton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the UN Foundation in partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Banking Alliance for Women and the Inter American Development Bank, aim to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through getting an accurate picture of women’s lives via gender disaggregated data.

The amount of activity on behalf of women among some of the world’s most influential institutions is making historic inroads against gender inequality.

Susan Chaffin has 25 years of experience addressing the challenges facing people in developing countries, especially at the base of the pyramid (BoP). Leveraging experience in 65 countries and work for development organizations such as IFC, USAID, UNDP, DFID, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, the Bill and Melinda Gates and MasterCard Foundations, Visa International, CGAP and the SEEP Network, she devises innovative supply chain solutions incorporating mobile technology and access to finance. Through SBC Global Advisors, Inc., her emerging markets advisory firm, she conducts impact evaluations on inclusive finance, small and medium enterprise development, agriculture, health, education, clean energy and IT sectors. Susan is currently the Team Leader for M & E on the SPRING program enabling economic assets to adolescent girls funded by the Nike Foundation, UKAID and USAID.


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