Novel initiative bolsters economic independence for African women

Women in Africa creating artwork together
Women in Africa creating artwork together

Independent report from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies shows women in three African countries earned and saved significantly more money through participation in an initiative led by Bloomberg Philanthropies

An Initiative that helped African women develop skills in key industries markedly increased their economic independence , concluded an independent evaluation by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The initiative, which has helped thousands of women increase their income, save money, and improve the financial well-being of their families, can be scaled up to assist more people globally, the study found.

The Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative ’s "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," the SAIS report found.

"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."

Chiedo Nwankwor

Since the Initiative launched in 2007, 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 food security, education beyond primary school, access to health insurance, and more.

Principal investigator and lead author Chiedo Nwankwor , vice dean for education and academic affairs, lecturer and director of SAIS Women Lead evaluated the Initiative’s work between 2008 and 2018 for An Evaluation of Women’s Economic Development Intervention: Rwanda Nigeria , with contributing authors Constantine Manda and Elor Nkereuwem. Nwankwor and her team surveyed and interviewed 14,370 program participants, graduates, and key stakeholders, including community leaders, government partners, and health and education workers.

The evaluation, conducted 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.

The evaluators found that the initiative is not only sustainable in the countries where it now operates but can be scaled beyond the local level and transferred across borders. Vital skills-development training in the program is already being shared between program participants in Rwanda and local women’s groups in Alabama and South Carolina. 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," Nwankwor said. "Access to earning and market inclusion creates independent women whose decision-making capability positively impacts their family’s health and socioeconomic 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."---

Between 2008 and 2018, the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development Initiative, with partners Women for Women International and Sustainable Growers Rwanda, enrolled more than 360,000 women across 90 communities. The program has a significant overall graduation rate, with a current rate of 95.6%. Women who graduated 10 years prior were interviewed in the SAIS survey and reported a continued increase in income and assets. Women participants were also able to improve their financial well-being and were making decisions about education and health insurance. Among other key findings, the report found:

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 USD greater in Rwanda and $16.47 USD greater in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A majority of participants reported using their additional income to invest in their families and their businesses.

Community participation

  • 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.

The full findings, including testimonials from participants, can be found online at this link.

Johns Hopkins University

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