Women’s Empowerment Can Change the World

“My kids are in school and I help run a business that brings healthy food closer to the families in my community. … WE helped me find my voice, my power, my community.”

– Rosalba, WE Member, Guatemala

Overview

Economic empowerment is central to women’s ability to overcome poverty, cope with shocks and improve their well-being. When women realize their economic goals, whether it’s growing a business, improving their home or investing in training or education, they’re more resilient and able to provide for themselves and their families. Yet, globally, women continue to trail men in formal labor force participation, land and property ownership, and access to financial services, like credit and savings.

Approaches tailored to reach women must address and overcome the multiple obstacles that can leave women trapped in poverty. PCI’s Women Empowered (WE) program focuses on increasing women’s skills, decision-making power and access to economic resources. Interventions including the formation of savings and lending groups and income-generating activities help women realize their financial goals and overcome persistent, gender-based barriers. As resourceful economic agents, women can take control of their future and support their families and communities.

Women Empowered (WE)

PCI’s global Women Empowered (WE) program supports the social and economic empowerment of women through community-based savings groups that help members save money, access credit, develop financial literacy and invest in income-generating activities. These women’s empowerment programs also promote skills building, self-esteem, access to information and resources, and community action that position women as confident decision-makers and leaders in their homes and communities.

WE group members gain public speaking and leadership experience, develop a greater sense of identity within the group, and use the economic empowerment gained through the savings and lending to save for the future and invest in businesses.

Over the last decade, PCI has supported more than 1.3 million women with savings groups programming in 13 countries across Africa, the Americas and Asia. Women in our WE groups around the world have accomplished incredible feats such as purchasing farms on their own, mobilizing their communities for new classroom construction and installing electric utilities in their homes.

Across the countries we work in, where most of the working population relies on agriculture for income, drought and inconsistent rainfall can plague regions and leave smallholder farmers struggling to make ends meet. In times like these, women and children are hit the hardest. PCI’s women’s empowerment groups help community members build their savings to weather these financial storms as well as give them a voice and community decision-making power to help prepare for and respond to these emergencies.

In India, PCI partnered with the Government of Bihar to create The Parivartan Project. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, women are using their savings groups to share key information regarding maternal and child health sanitation behaviors—making a dual impact to address health issues while saving for their futures. Over 320,000 women in eight districts of Bihar have been impacted by this program directly through PCI, while over one million women have been reached by the Government of Bihar and successfully adopted healthier sanitation behaviors.

In every corner of the world, we’ve seen that when women are economically empowered and take on leadership roles, communities are forever changed.

How Do WE Groups Work?

WE groups consist of 15-25 members (98% women) who form self-organized, self-managed groups that meet weekly to save money, take loans, invest in income-generating activities and develop financial literacy.

PCI’s community-based facilitators teach groups the processes required to effectively manage their informal bank. WE groups elect their own leaders, decide on their own rules and give each member an opportunity to practice public speaking. At weekly meetings, WE members save money, discuss issues of mutual interest, make group decisions, participate in life-skills training and take loans to make investments in small businesses, healthcare, education and home improvements. Loans are repaid with interest, which eventually gets distributed back to the members as ‘profit’ at the end of a one-year saving cycle.

Once the group has completed their initial training and are managing themselves independently, PCI provides training on basic business skills, linkages to market-based job opportunities and access to larger amounts of capital through banks or micro-finance institutions. This enables WE entrepreneurs to expand existing businesses or start new ones.

WE groups also become a platform for members to not only support each other financially but to raise awareness on important topics and act collectively to improve their lives and communities.

women laughing

WE’s Impact Around the World

PCI has achieved remarkable results through the WE program.

  • Today, there are more than 120,000 WE groups globally with more than $6.6 million saved, of which $6 million has been given in loans.
  • Members of WE groups have experienced a 16 percent reduction in poverty, a 15 percent increase in their ability to feed their families and a 17 percent increase in making household decisions.
  • In India alone, we are on track to reach 15 million WE participants by 2022, impacting approximately 60 million family and community members.

To ensure sustainability and security, WE groups are designed to gradually operate more independently with the goal of becoming a self-sustaining group that lasts beyond the program time frame. Because of this, the WE program will have an impact for decades—and generations—to come.

How can you help?

Support PCI’s efforts to enhance health, end hunger and overcome hardship worldwide.

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Growing Through Partnerships

PCI currently implements WE programs in six countries but continues to work through partners in order to expand WE to new communities and countries.

  • PCI is partnering with Gap Inc. to integrate their life skills curriculum known as P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) to expand the ongoing social support and skills-based training that women in WE groups desire as they grow on their path to personal empowerment.
  • PCI partnered with Burundi Friends International (BFI), who piloted the use of the WE methodology in Burundi to support youth and women coffee farmers. In 2018, a total of 12 WE groups were formed, whose 273 members saved over $5,500 and loaned more than $9,300. PCI and BFI plan to build on the success of the pilot and reach over 1,050 more people over the coming year.
  • Recognizing how access to technology and information can support and amplify the impact of WE groups, PCI has partnered with DreamStart Labs to help design and field test a smartphone app called DreamSave that digitizes the entire savings group process and WE group activities. Requiring only one smartphone per group, DreamSave records transactions, builds verified credit scores, enables groups and members to transfer funds to secure bank accounts, cuts time and expenses for the group and provides real-time data to PCI. PCI is currently launching the rollout of DreamSave in Tanzania.

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