Around the world, women fighting poverty face a complex set of challenges. They have limited access to the productive resources like land, finance, and information that they need to grow their farms and businesses, and they are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and discrimination. In most cases, women must also balance the bulk of household and childcare responsibilities with efforts to improve their skills and earn independent incomes. To help women overcome these problems and reach their full potential, TechnoServe set up a network of “gender champions” within our global staff, to be agents of change on their teams regarding gender equity.
The Gender Champions Network offers the opportunity for TechnoServe staff who are passionate about gender equality to learn, grow, and contribute to gender equality in our work and workplaces. Gender Champions share a common interest in gender equality; learn about emerging trends, research, and tools in the field of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment; and raise awareness about gender equality within teams through discussion, activities, and reflection.
Gender Champions support the fulfillment of TechnoServe’s Gender Equality Policy by:
- Supporting implementation and monitoring of Regional Gender Action Plans and Country Gender Action Plans, where present
- Attending regular Gender Champions Network meetings
- Organizing activities and gatherings for staff around gender equality
- Delivering TNS Basic Gender Training for staff in their country
- Developing skills and knowledge on gender equality and inclusive practices
- Sharing tools, best practices, and other resources on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment with the Gender Champions Network, the Gender Practice, and country staff
We got a chance to catch up with a few of the members of the Gender Champions Network to discuss the progress they’ve seen in women’s economic empowerment in their respective regions and what work from TechnoServe they’re most excited about.
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
Evelin: I’m from El Salvador and currently living there.
Elsie: I am from Kenya. I live in Nairobi.
Amaka: I am from Imo State, Nigeria, but grew up in a small city called Aba, where the people are known to be very industrious and entrepreneurial. I live in Toronto, Canada.
How did you become connected with TechnoServe?
Evelin: I knew I wanted to work on economic development since I was a college student. At some point, I decided to quit my other job in the corporate world to focus on looking for an opportunity in something more aligned with my interests and dreams.
When the [TechnoServe] office reopened in El Salvador in 2015, one of my friends who knew about TechnoServe told me about potential opportunities for Business Advisors. I applied and was accepted.
Elsie: I joined TechnoServe straight from university over 10 years ago as an intern.
Amaka: I learned about TechnoServe through a friend who always spoke highly of the organization. I did my research and was drawn to the core values and mission that were in line with my passion and interests, and was excited to begin my development journey with such an organization. Seven years later, I am still here!
How would you define women’s economic empowerment?
Evelin: Women’s economic empowerment is about breaking down barriers that prevent women from achieving progress and economic growth. These barriers come in many different types and forms.
Elsie: Women’s economic empowerment is the process of providing women with knowledge, tools, opportunities, and skills to compete in the market in order to access resources and chances that will improve their livelihoods.
Amaka: Women are economically empowered when they have the power and control over their income, resources, and decision-making, be it at their workplace, market place, or the communities they live in. Empowering women creates a ripple effect – as our societies improve, our economies grow, and businesses flourish. It’s a win-win for everyone!
What are examples of progress in the area of women’s economic empowerment in your region?
Evelin: In my country, most micro and small businesses are owned by women. Depending on the source you check, this can vary from 50-70%. This means that in the entrepreneurial sector, women have at least as much participation as men. This is consistent with what we see in the field. Entrepreneurship programs don’t face many challenges in recruiting women-owned businesses and meeting our targets (50%).
Elsie: Women are taking the lead in assisting business groups in accessing government affirmative funds. Many business groups which meet the condition of having 70% women in leadership positions are eligible for these funds which are interest-free.
Amaka: Over the past year, we have been working with women in a cocoa cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire to diversify their income sources beyond cocoa. This is critical since despite cocoa’s key crop and economic importance, the majority of smallholder farmers, especially women, live below the poverty line.
Through Project Awalé, we are supporting women to create and expand income-generating activities through non-agricultural microenterprises, providing leadership, business and financial management training, and coaching to grow their microenterprises while improving access to savings and credit. Through our interventions, women are bringing additional resources into their households.
The training is complemented by gender-inclusive workshops, resulting in a stronger sense of self-confidence. Access to finance is also critical to advancing their businesses, so to address this access barrier, we worked with community members to establish Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), which allow women to safely save and access microfinance loans.
Women in the program have increased their incomes by an average of 56% (against a target of 50%). Our results have shown that when women are empowered with the skills and opportunities they need to grow, they can help create more diverse livelihoods for their households and more prosperous communities.
What are examples of areas that need improvement in your region?
Evelin: Despite women’s ability to start a business, they face more challenges for many different reasons. The high criminality rates in El Salvador affect both men and women. However, women and elderly people are more vulnerable to getting robbed or extorted.
For example, women limit the areas where they run their businesses, work only with people they know, and might even avoid using signage in their businesses to avoid getting identified. Others decide to pay private security or expensive rent to work in a place that can guarantee their safety. Unfortunately, many others have to pay extortion. Currently, it seems like the situation is improving, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’ll play out in the long-term.
Elsie: Women need continued digital upskilling to match the technical skills required for them to access tools and information that will enable them to make more informed decisions.
Amaka: Given the challenges faced by women in the region, particularly in terms of access to finance, information, training and markets, and the socio-cultural context of our respective countries, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach and engage more women beneficiaries in our programs, especially in the high-margin agricultural sector.
Achieving this requires behavior change at multiple levels and working with different institutions, which we are committed to doing in the region. This can mean involving more women in different segments of the agricultural value chain, especially in high-margin agriculture, unlocking access to finance, and increasing access to and knowledge of digital tools needed to access information, markets, and finance for business growth.
What work from TechnoServe are you most excited about?
Evelin: I’m excited to learn more about the market system development approach that WIN is implementing in Mozambique and how it will affect women’s economic empowerment. I like the fact that they are testing and trying unconventional ways of creating behavior change and impact.
For example, they are collaborating with the media to produce a “radionovela” and influence social norms and beliefs around women doing business. I’m also excited to keep pushing our digitization agenda and the use of technology as a way to increase our impact on women and men.
Elsie: The digitization of training, the micro-retail training methodology, and the training strategy is really exciting. This is particularly exciting for women who, in the past, would have missed out on training classes delivered in person due to their additional household roles. Digitization gave women an opportunity to access training when it was convenient for them. Because of this, a significant number of women who have participated in our program expanded their businesses and improved their livelihoods.
Amaka: We recently commissioned a study in collaboration with the Ford Foundation to understand the connection between women’s economic empowerment and gender-based violence in Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. While the study is ongoing, we hope the recommendations will inform the design of a women’s economic empowerment initiative to increase women’s independence by enabling access to and control over their resources, thereby demonstrating higher levels of economic resilience to experiences and risks of gender-based violence. This is a new area for us, which I am particularly excited about.
What would you like those outside of your region to know about women’s economic empowerment where you are?
Elsie: We are embracing the inclusion of women in the workplace. TechnoServe Kenya will be launching a mother’s room this International Women’s Day. The room will give new mothers a safe space and a conducive environment to express milk and store the milk in a refrigerator that won’t be accessible by other staff.
Women’s economic empowerment is a crucial factor in promoting economic growth, equity, and social progress worldwide. TechnoServe’s initiatives have demonstrated that investing in women’s economic empowerment increases their income and decision-making power.
By supporting TechnoServe, you can contribute to empowering women all over the world and promoting change in their communities. Join us in this mission to create a better world by supporting women’s economic empowerment today. Let’s work together towards a brighter future for all.