Exploring how female economic empowerment can boost economic opportunity for entire communities
Luize Guimaraes, Robert Haynie
Bill Gates once responded to a full auditorium in Saudi Arabia by saying that if they did not start fully utilizing the other half of talent in their country, they would never be on the forefront of innovation and technology. An estimated 250 million adolescent girls live in poverty worldwide, unable to build assets or safely raise the income needed for a more prosperous life for them and their families. Cash transfers have yielded positive impacts in terms of providing a minimum social protection floor. But what if more was possible? What if the right public-private partnerships could enable businesses to not only be the engine of economic development, but also improve the lives of women and girls while tapping into an underserved market, unleashing economic opportunity for entire communities in the process?
This question is not new, and the usual answer is to fund projects supporting women-owned enterprises or businesses that eventually hire women. SPRING, MUVA, and IDEÁRIO are amongst those organisations that are not satisfied with this narrow response as they also know that it’s not simply about hiring more women.
Doesn’t the evidence demonstrate the importance of gender diversity for innovation?
SPRING was designed to help small and growing businesses prototype innovative products and services that enhance the economic outcomes of adolescent girls by utilizing in-depth human centred design. Through its four years of working with over 75 companies across south Asia and east Africa, SPRING has tried many different approaches and widened the understanding of how private sector interventions can improve the life of young women and girls in a sustainable way.
The framework outlined below, developed through gathering empirical experience, includes enabling girls to take up a (safe) job, secure (regular) income, or progress in a career as this remains one of the most efficient ways to reduce barriers to female economic empowerment (FEE).
Earning is critical to FEE, but as SPRING has proved, it’s not the only way forward. The private sector can also gain and support FEE by ensuring women and girls have better opportunities to:
- learn. The education sector provides opportunities to focus on more tailored, targeted, and cost-efficient interventions to improve adolescent girls and young women’s ability to learn, progress in school, or acquire important life and vocational skills that have proven to significantly impact FEE.
- save. When women and girls don’t have the necessary agency to autonomously use their resources, then they won’t be more empowered or able to invest in their families even if they earn more. Providing safe mechanisms for girls to accumulate funds, use them independently, and facilitate protection from shocks is key to linking assets and empowerment.
- stay safe. The potential of women and girls is often hindered by external factors that limit their personal growth, including violence, harassment, and injury. Interventions that can help girls avoid harm directly support FEE.
- be healthy. Because women and girls engage in a disproportionate share of domestic tasks and are more often victims of employment malpractice, products and services that help improve nutritional status, redirect time spent on unpaid labour, improve physical and mental well-being, as well as delay childbirth are enablers of FEE.
This framework, developed by SPRING, enables more critical analysis of the potential impact at scale of these five direct outcomes for girls and young women: earn, learn, save, stay safe, and be healthy. Businesses themselves can benefit through four different channels:
- Through value chains by providing opportunities for older girls to earn income through roles that fit the needs of the business as well as girls (e.g. as employees, suppliers, sales agents, franchisees).
- By putting girls and young women at the heart of business design, considering them as end users, and hence offering products and/or services to be purchased and/or used by them directly.
- By including women and girls as trainees through technical or life skills training, which can also be a form of marketing and growing the future customer base.
- By indirectly offering products or services that are used by someone other than girls and young women (such as by parents or teachers), which also benefits girls (e.g. offering school loans to girls’ parents or training teachers to make them more effective at educating girls).
Can this framework now be taken one-step further?
MUVA and IDEÁRIO believe so and are working together with SPRING to co-design the pilot to test this theory.
MUVA was designed to test innovative approaches for FEE that have the potential to be scaled up. The programme has a lot of experience working with FEE in urban, high-risk settings. As a learning programme, MUVA has a mandate to push the boundaries of knowledge, to create evidence and – in the name of the women and girls – push for impact at scale! This also means building on the success and evidence of others, and taking their models one step further when possible.
IDEÁRIO is a business innovation accelerator, based in Chamanculo, a municipal district of Maputo city that invests in talent to create business opportunities through skills training, investing, and outsourcing of local talent, as well as start-up business acceleration programmes. They are conscious that no one, even in the districts of Maputo, can afford to ignore 50% of its talent, and hence strives to engage more women and girls.
All three organizations, SPRING, MUVA and IDEÁRIO, have been working together to leverage their collective experience and take the SPRING prototype one step further. They are now designing a more condensed, yet scalable version that will include early and growth stage companies. International expertise will foster home-grown innovations by supporting local young people to utilize human centred design and market research methods – making ‘think globally, act locally’ a reality!
This blog was co-authored by Luize Guimaraes and Robert Haynie.
Luize Guimaraes, MUVA Programme Manager, leads our work in Mozambique on female empowerment. She is a senior consultant in OPM's Health team.
Robert Haynie, SPRING CEO, has extensive experience leading initiatives that bring together governments, companies, entrepreneurs, foundations, and non-profit organisations to address complex global challenges.