As Women’s Economic Independence is Recognized as Central to Global Economic Growth, a New Evaluation from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Confirms Bloomberg Initiative is Successful and Transferrable to Other Countries
NEW YORK, NY – Today, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative shared that an independent third-party evaluation conducted and published by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) shows the efficacy and replicability of its program, which since 2007 has invested in women’s economic independence by helping women develop marketable skills in high-demand industries. The SAIS evaluation states: “investments in women produce[d] immediate returns to the extent that the program changes women’s lives…changes the lives of their families, and through ripple effects, causes a transformation in their communities.”
Women and girls make up a disproportionate amount of the 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty around the world. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative was formed on the core belief that women can create incredible economic growth for themselves, their families, and their communities with access to the right resources. Partnerships with government agencies, corporations, and nonprofits are crucial to the success of the Initiative which has a cooperative business model. Participants receive individualized program plans designed to enhance their skills to meet a regional economic need.
Over the past 16 years, more than 724,000 women and their families have enrolled in training and education programs across the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative portfolio, directly benefiting over 2.8 million of their children through access to health insurance, education beyond primary school, increased savings, and more. SAIS evaluated the Initiative’s work between 2008 – 2018 for An Evaluation of Women’s Economic Development Intervention: Rwanda| Democratic Republic of Congo| Nigeria, by lead author Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs, Lecturer and Director of SAIS Women Lead, and contributing authors Constantine Manda and Elor Nkereuwem. Bloomberg Philanthropies invested in partners — including Women for Women International and Sustainable Growers Rwanda — who enrolled 360,000 women across more than 90 communities between 2008 – 2018. SAIS surveyed 14,370 people for the evaluation, which included program participants, program graduates, and key stakeholders consisting of religious and community leaders, health workers, education workers, and participants’ family members.
The evaluation – which was conducted by SAIS faculty over 12 months – measured participants’ ability to earn and save money; improve their health and well-being; influence decisions in their homes and communities; and connect to networks for support and advocacy. It found that despite the difficulties of operating in three post-conflict countries, the program produced large-scale economic improvements for women that led to greater power over decisions that impacted them and their families, better health and well-being, and increased educational opportunities and political engagement. In addition to proving its effectiveness and impact, the evaluators found that the Initiative is sustainable in the countries where it presently operates, can be scaled beyond the local level, and can be transferred across borders. Vital skills-development training from the program is already being shared between program participants in Rwanda and local women’s groups in Alabama and South Carolina, in the United States. The report concludes: “The Bloomberg Philanthropies Women’s Economic Development program model can be successfully structured to fit local contexts across the globe… where it could change the lives of women, including women in American inner cities and similarly situated populations, across the world.”
“Impact evaluations like this provide policymakers and other international development partners with solid evidence of the effectiveness of providing women with vocational training and critical resources for economic development and resilience,” said Dr. Nwankwor. “Access to earning and market inclusion creates independent women whose decision-making capability positively impacts their family’s health and socio-economic attainments, including educational opportunities for children. These changes create concentric circles of growth and development for families, local communities, and the country. The future of economic growth and sustainable development on the continent is female, and targeted intervention in this sector generates the biggest bang for the development dollar.”
“This report shows – with hard data and compelling stories – as women’s income and assets increase, so does their decision-making power and their ability to invest in themselves and their families,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies. “When government, philanthropy, and private industry work together, we can expand economic opportunities for women and help them strengthen their communities. This progress would not have been possible without our partners.”
Key successes identified by the evaluation:
SAVINGS AND INCOME
- Participants in Rwanda had more than double the savings of non-participants, and participants in the Democratic Republic of Congo had over 40% more savings.
- When comparing program participants vs. non-participants, participants’ previous month’s income was $4.17 greater in Rwanda and $16.47 greater in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A majority of participants reported using their additional income to invest in their families and their businesses.
- Participants in the Democratic Republic of Congo were six times more likely to have held political office than non-participants.
- Participants had greater involvement in communal groups – including savings and credit groups – than non-participants: 48% greater in Rwanda, 52% greater in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 17% greater in Nigeria.
- 73% of participants reported excitement about their economic independence.
- 76% of stakeholders in Rwanda and 83% of stakeholders in the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively shared positive sentiments about the program.
“These efforts, recorded by SAIS, will challenge the way we serve people who have been placed at a disadvantage,” said Verna Eggleston, who leads Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative. “Aged policies prescribe interventions based on notions that marginalized people cannot succeed on their own or they don’t have the capacity to move past the barriers of poverty. In this work, we met women where they were and never viewed them through the lens of marginalization, poverty, illiteracy, or any of the other obstacles that kept them from access to larger markets. These women, whose will had not been broken by war, rose each day with intention and the result was independence — independence to make decisions about their daughters attending school, their families accessing medical care, and their families saving for their future.”
“This program model is able to cross borders and reach new cultural contexts because it speaks to universal issues, universal challenges of women not having power, control over their own destiny and equal access to opportunity,” said Mary Zients, Founding Board Member of Women for Women International and Founding Member and Board Chair of Urban Alliance. “This is a universal scourge of the earth. We now have data and evidence to show that when societies invest in equality and invest in advancing women’s power and economic independence, they become much healthier societies. There’s more peace, economic well-being, and health and economic prosperity. With Bloomberg’s support, WFWI was on the front end of that wave of people realizing that if you invest in women, you are doing the best thing you can do for a society to address its many ills.”
“Through our program, participants are able to learn, discover, and understand the product they are producing, and they’re able to produce a quality product,” said Christine Condo, Executive Director of Sustainable Growers. “There is a transformation of behavior for participants as they develop a modern and business-oriented approach to their craft. At the farming level, because most of the coffee work was exported, women were farming for someone else and not involved in the success of their family, district, or country. With economic independence, there is no longer a barrier of self-doubt, or the belief that she doesn’t have the same rights or the same voice. Participants’ increased income and assets allow them to choose how to invest in their family, including sending their children to private school and university, and purchasing health insurance.”
As the U.S. and international leaders look to women’s economic participation as one of the most significant determinants of reducing poverty and improving economies, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Initiative offers a scalable, impactful model for other organizations, foundations, and governments that wish to invest in women’s economic independence. The program’s current graduation rate is 95.6%, and in the SAIS evaluation, women who graduated 10 years prior reported a continued increase in income and assets proving that graduates had the resources and training needed for sustained economic growth. Graduates are now running successful businesses and making decisions to improve the lives of their families. Women participants have run for and are winning elected political offices, and they are actively participating in women’s organizations that provide lines of credit and encourage financial health. The participants’ increased involvement in their communities helps them create institutional change to support women’s economic independence.
“In some literature, increasing the economic and political independence of women would be considered the ‘secondary effects’ of investing in women’s economic development, but in this design, it was the primary outcome,” said Dr. Ester Fuchs, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “The impact on women’s families, kids’ education, kids’ health was not an afterthought, it was not a secondary impact that Bloomberg discovered after the fact, it was a conscious part of the design. The hypothesis that Bloomberg Philanthropies set out to test was that there would be a positive impact on the families of the women as a result of their increased economic independence. This is why they are able to cite this large number of people that were affected by this investment, the program design included families and communities as the target population that would be impacted. From the beginning there was a broader view of how to do this work and who would be impacted by investing in women.”
As part of the evaluation, participants shared feedback about the impact of the program on their lives:
“My life is different because right now I have the option of borrowing money if I need it, and that’s because we have a group in which we make a monthly contribution of 500 CF and in which we can borrow more money than we can pay back in three months. This training has helped us to know a lot about the techniques of growing coffee [like the] use of pruning shears, production, and use of fertilizers.”
–Program Graduate, Democratic Republic of Congo
“There is a difference, I am not like I was before. I had small money from crops which was insufficient but today I am always with money in my saving account, if I encounter a problem, I solve it quickly. For example, my mother got sick and she was hospitalized. I sold a domestic animal and I saved on my Mobile account and paid the hospital bills for medication without asking loan. It is the first thing I benefitted from.”
—Program Graduate, Rwanda
“Before I was not interested in political and community activities because I underestimated myself and I was complexed but for the moment I am a recognized member in the AFDC political party and I am very involved in promoting the activities of the youth and faithful mothers of the party.”
–Program Graduate, Democratic Republic of Congo
PROGRAM HISTORY AND EVOLUTION
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative launched in 2007 in Rwanda with Women for Women International as the first of many partners across the portfolio, and within 18 months the Initiative expanded to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Sudan. The program focused on developing women’s hard and soft skills to help them master sustainable income-generating activities. In the first six months of the program, women attended hygiene, nutrition, maternal health, and financial savings classes. After completing the initial training, participants received an individualized program plan focused on expanding their existing skills in one of 12 vocational tracks – within the culinary arts, service, agriculture, agritourism, hospitality, and healthcare industries – deemed regionally profitable by program assessments. The SAIS evaluation specifies: “In Rwanda and DRC, for example, the conditions for growing coffee as a major cash and export crop has enabled the creation of coffee-based agricultural training programs. In Nigeria, the programs are focused on poultry farming to expanding large scale farming, alongside smaller farming.”
The specialized training – along with continued health and wellness, financial literacy, and small business development classes – allow the women to build income-generating activities to support themselves and their families. The program’s strong partnerships with governments, non-profits, and the private sector further increased the women’s access to employment and business opportunities.
At the end of 2009, the Initiative reviewed findings from a KPMG evaluation commissioned by Bloomberg Philanthropies and decided to invest more deeply in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.
Due to ongoing conflict, the program concluded in Nigeria and Sudan in 2012, but SAIS was able to collect data from graduates in Nigeria for the evaluation. In 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with Sustainable Growers Rwanda because the government of Rwanda wanted to expand the reach of their coffee exports in international markets. Of Rwanda’s 240,000 eligible farmers, the Women’s Economic Development Initiative invested in the training of 40,000 women (from growing to processing coffee) and developed a program that the Rwandan government scaled and implemented in its existing national agriculture plan to support all farmers in the country. Between 2015-2017, the program introduced specialized training, including courses on market access and quality control, for select graduates to expand their opportunities to grow sizable agricultural businesses.
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About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2022, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $1.7 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org, sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Taylor Lavender, Bloomberg Philanthropies
Rachel Nagler, Bloomberg Philanthropies