Mapping Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs

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

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

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

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