What Does It Take to Achieve Scale in Women's Empowerment Activities?
Scaling development innovations
There is broad global recognition that meeting targets and 21st century challenges require multiplied efforts to reach and benefit increasing numbers of people currently living in poverty — in other words, scale.
While there are different pathways for achieving scale, “scaling up” is broadly understood to mean expanding, replicating, adapting and sustaining successful policies, programs or projects to reach a greater number of people, and is part of a broader process of innovation and learning. Scale is also relative to county context; it is easier to reach scale in countries with large market actors, dense populations and industries that are highly networked and geographically concentrated. There are some examples of development programs that have successfully reached scale to benefit millions of poor households, producers, consumers and workers in the agriculture sector. However, most development programming interventions are short-lived and limited in reach and impact.
Taking successful interventions to scale is particularly critical to making gains for women in agricultural productivity, resilient and sustainable livelihoods and nutrition. Women make up more than half of the global agriculture workforce but remain the minority when it comes to decision-making and access to resources and opportunities. Addressing gender-based inequalities and empowering women is, therefore, vital to reducing poverty, improving food and nutrition security and achieving rural growth at large scale. For example, in Rwanda, closing the gender gap in agricultural productivity could increase crop production by almost 19%, increasing agricultural GDP over $345 million and overall GDP by $419 million annually. Over 200,000 Rwandans could be lifted out of poverty per year.
Scaling women’s empowerment
Despite its importance, achieving scale for women’s economic empowerment in terms of both female voice and choice is particularly challenging in the agricultural sector, as success requires overcoming significant barriers faced by women, such as tenuous access to land and limited access to financing and agricultural technologies and inputs. These and other normative and structural barriers also limit women’s participation in more profitable value chains. These gender inequity challenges and what is needed to address them also varies across communities, countries and regions.
Typically, interventions seeking scale are pilot tested with designated organizational, financial and human resources. However, for these interventions to scale beyond the pilot phase, there have to be stakeholders invested in providing resources and support beyond this initial testing, which isn’t always the case. In addition, implementing organizations often lack the expertise and capacity to fully integrate gender into the scale-up process, and there exists a real risk of achieving greater numbers of beneficiaries at the expense of sustainability and equality. To achieve long-lasting gains for women, empowerment interventions must address deeply entrenched systemic barriers to gender equality, such as social norms that prevent women from reaching their full potential.
Successful scaling of women’s economic empowerment relies on facilitating local ownership and engaging stakeholders deeply connected with local systems in policy processes. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) finds that to achieve scale for women’s empowerment, programming needs to include the following features:
- A well-articulated gender strategy grounded in sound analysis that supports overall project goals.
- Adequate human and financial resources to implement that strategy, including gender expertise in the management team.
- Progressive but realistic targets for women’s participation in project activities.
- Gender-sensitive monitoring and evaluation systems.
Examples of approaches to achieving scale in women’s empowerment
Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment's (AWE's) consortium member MarketShare Associates (MSA) has recently supported two initiatives that directly address barriers to scale for women’s empowerment.
Feed the Future Inclusive Agricultural Markets (IAM) Activity in Uganda
Initially, agricultural market systems development programs often are able to successfully pilot gender-sensitive interventions with agribusinesses, such as innovative business models, new products or services or more inclusive distribution and supply chain practices. However, many of these innovations are never able to reach scale beyond the initial pilot funded by the program because of the lack of private financing from banks and equity investors. In response to this challenge, the Feed the Future Inclusive Agricultural Markets (IAM) Activity in Uganda is catalyzing gender lens investment (GLI) in inclusive agribusinesses in Uganda.
The overall purpose of IAM is to improve household incomes and livelihoods through agriculture-led inclusive economic growth. As part of this, IAM is providing direct support to agribusinesses to test new business models or business practices that increase women and youth inclusion. To ensure that these models and practices can be scaled beyond the life of the project, IAM is working to increase the flow of capital to inclusive agribusinesses by supporting increased use and quality of GLI by local agribusiness advisors and investors. When local business advisory services are able to deliver gender-smart assistance to the inclusive agribusinesses they support, it is easier for these businesses to raise capital and scale their gender-inclusive business models. IAM aims to help raise $5 million in investment capital for a minimum of six agribusinesses that meet GLI criteria.
Jointly, testing new, inclusive business models and increasing use and quality of GLI by local agribusiness advisors is expected to strengthen the capacity of the agricultural market system to support the growth and scaling of Ugandan agribusinesses that benefit or empower women.
Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund
Many women’s empowerment interventions struggle to reach scale because they ignore the enabling environment. In Jordan, the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) worked with municipal and national government agencies to deliver accessible business licensing services for home-based dairy entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are women. Previously, many women entrepreneurs were excluded from formal business licensing because their businesses were home-based. Having a license gives them access to higher value markets by proving that the businesses have met certain quality, health and safety standards, providing buyers with an assurance of product quality. Following the pilot, AWEF was able to successfully lobby the Ministry of Local Administration to endorse the licensing guidelines and take ownership for their rollout across Jordan. Through AWEF’s crowding-in efforts, by May 2020, 17 out of 100 Jordanian municipalities had adopted the licensing process and issued licenses to home-based women business owners. Over 300 women had accessed the licenses, providing them with the formal paperwork needed for increased market access and a substantial increase in earnings through connections with large, national buyers. By catalyzing improvements in the enabling environment for home-based businesses, AWEF has helped spark cultural shifts in government and private sector perceptions of female home-based business operators, who are now increasingly considered formal businesswomen able to meet production and quality standards and respond to market demand.
As with IAM’s support for expanded gender lens investing, integrating women into formal markets by addressing enabling environment constraints increases the scale of women’s economic empowerment in agriculture. Women are able to earn more and expand their businesses. Although it is still necessary to consider potential unintended negative consequences of these results, these models show promise in tackling the challenge of increasing women’s economic empowerment in agriculture.