Research

Women's Empowerment Executive Summary

Last updated
2019-05-01
Written by
Sjir Hoeijmakers
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Women's Empowerment Executive Summary and Giving Recommendations

This is a summary of our cause area report on Women's Empowerment. The full report can be found here, and the giving recommendations based on this research are StrongMinds, Bandhan's Targeting the Hardcore Poor programme and Village Enterprise.

1. Women’s empowerment

One hundred and four countries still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs; only 56% of women giving birth in Africa deliver in a health facility; and at least 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence. These are just some of the challenges that women and girls around the globe face today.

In this report, we focus on women’s empowerment, by which we mean improving the lives of women and girls. We researched charity programmes aimed at women’s empowerment to find those that most cost-effectively improve the lives of women and girls. As a heuristic for finding the most cost-effective interventions, we chose to focus on programmes aimed at low- and middle-income countries.

2. Our process

We used a top-down approach to select charities. First, we categorised women’s empowerment in low- and middle-income countries into twelve subfields. We then reviewed literature and interviewed twenty experts in these subfields. This yielded a shortlist of eleven promising interventions across subfields, including the graduation approach to combat extreme poverty, empowerment-self-defence courses to prevent sexual violence, and interpersonal group therapy to treat depression.

With this shortlist, we began evaluating charities. We started with a longlist of 163 women’s-empowerment charities, and narrowed it down to a shortlist of 15 charities based on our intervention research and a quick scan of organisational strength. We then compared the shortlisted organisations using more detailed information on both cost-effectiveness and strength of evidence. By our criteria, four charities especially stood out. For each of those, we investigated organisational strength and plans, which led us to recommend three and provisionally recommend the fourth.

3. Charity recommendations

StrongMinds

What do they do?

StrongMinds implement Interpersonal Group Psychotherapy (IPT-G), training laypeople to treat women suffering from depression in Uganda.

Is there evidence the intervention works?

Evidence for the efficacy of IPT-G in low-resource settings comes from two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and StrongMinds’s own quasi-experimental impact assessment.

Is the intervention cost-effective?

We estimate that StrongMinds prevent the equivalent of one year of severe major depressive disorder for a woman at a cost of $200–$299, with a best guess estimate of $248.

What are the wider benefits?

There are indications of improvements in employment, nutrition, physical health, housing, and children’s education.

Are they a strong organisation?

They have a good track record and a strong focus on generating evidence. They are transparent about their mistakes and lessons, and are committed to continuous improvement.

Is there room for funding?

StrongMinds could productively use an extra $5.1 million in funding through 2020.

Bandhan’s Targeting the Hardcore Poor programme

What do they do?

As part of their Targeting the Hardcore Poor (THP) programme, Bandhan provide women living in extreme poverty in India with a productive asset, a savings account, business training, mentoring, consumption support, and information on education and health. They also work with the Indian government and other NGOs to scale up their model.

Is there evidence the intervention works?

A high-quality long-term RCT supports the effectiveness of Bandhan’s THP programme. Additional evidence gathered in different contexts suggests that the ‘graduation approach’ adopted by Bandhan can effectively address extreme poverty.

Is the intervention cost-effective?

We estimate that Bandhan’s THP programme doubles a participant’s consumption for one year at a cost of $41–$134, with a best guess estimate of $62. This suggests that Bandhan’s programme can bring about nominal gains in consumption of about $1.77 for each $1.00 donated. Adjusting for purchasing power, this is equivalent to gains of $7.27 for each $1.00 donated.

What are the wider benefits?

There is some evidence that the programme improves food security, physical health, and subjective well-being.

Are they a strong organisation?

Bandhan is a specialised organisation with a good track record. They are careful to maintain high-quality delivery of their programme; they are committed to evidence; and they have been transparent throughout our analysis of their programme. One point for improvement, however, is that their website lacks up-to-date information.

Is there room for funding?

The key impediment preventing Bandhan from scaling up is funding, as they have all the required infrastructure and capacity in place. Another $24 million would allow them to reach an additional 60,000 households over the coming six years.

Village Enterprise

What do they do?

Village Enterprise provide business and financial-literacy training, seed funding, mentoring, and access to business savings groups to people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Is there evidence the intervention works?

A recent high-quality RCT provides evidence that supports Village Enterprise’s programme. There is also some external evidence that the ‘graduation approach’ on which Village Enterprise’s model is based effectively addresses extreme poverty.

Is the intervention cost-effective?

We estimate that Village Enterprise double a participant’s consumption for one year at a cost of $157–$367, with a best guess estimate of $250. This suggests that Village Enterprise’s programme can bring about nominal gains in consumption of about $0.99 for each $1.00 donated. Adjusting for purchasing power, this is equivalent to gains of $2.18 for each $1.00 donated.

What are the wider benefits?

There is some evidence that the programme improves subjective well-being.

Are they a strong organisation?

Village Enterprise are a strong organization, and routinely account for evidence and cost-effectiveness in decision-making. They have strong monitoring and learning processes and are outstandingly transparent and accountable.

Is there room for funding?

They could productively use an extra $28 million in funding through 2021.

No Means No Worldwide (provisional)

What do they do?

No Means No Worldwide (NMNW) train instructors to teach their ‘IMpower’ courses to both boys and girls, to help prevent sexual assault. They also work with large NGOs and governments to scale these courses up.

Is there evidence the intervention works?

Evidence suggests that NMNW’s IMpower intervention reduces the incidence of sexual violence in several settings and for girls at different ages. This evidence comes mostly from two RCTs and two quasi-RCTs.

Is the intervention cost-effective?

We estimate that NMNW prevent a sexual assault for $9–$757, with a best guess estimate of $62 per case averted.

What are the wider benefits?

There is evidence that NMNW’s programme decreases negative gender attitudes among boys and reduces rates of pregnancy-related school dropouts.

Are they a strong organisation?

NMNW are exceptionally committed to generating evidence; are transparent about their performance and motivations; and have a good track record supporting IMpower implementation.

Is there room for funding?

NMNW could productively use an additional $7 million in funding through 2021.

Why is our recommendation provisional?

Based on the current evidence, we feel confident recommending NMNW to donors with a specific focus on averting sexual assault. Depending on the results of an independent evaluation of NMNW’s IMpower programme, which are currently under review, we may either recommend NMNW more generally to donors interested in women’s empowerment; keep recommending them only to donors with a focus on averting sexual assault; or decide not to recommend them at all.

Other highly impactful charities

We also recommend charities that are highly cost-effective in improving women’s and girls’ lives but do not focus directly on women’s empowerment. We discuss these organisations, including those recommended by our research partner GiveWell, in other reports on our research page.

Sjir Hoeijmakers

Author

Before joining Founders Pledge in early 2018, Sjir advised Dutch municipalities in setting up experiments with elements of basic income, and organized coordination between experiment initiatives on an academic, political and governmental level, crowdfunding his own ‘basic income’ to independently do this for two years.

In 2017, he co-founded Effective Altruism Netherlands (EAN), where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board.

Sjir holds a Master’s degree in Operations Research (cum laude) at Tilburg University.