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International Development Research Centre (IDRC)’s Support to Women’s Economic Empowerment

Much has been done over the last few decades to reduce absolute poverty in the developing world. However, despite these efforts increasing inequality is exacerbating the experience of poverty in the very same areas where absolute poverty has declined. There is an economic cost to rising inequality. Research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that growth in income of the poorest has a greater positive effect on gross domestic product (GDP) than income growth in other segments of the population. The research shows, in fact, that income growth of the wealthiest actually reduces GDP growth.

Through the Employment and Growth (E&G) program, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) promotes inclusive economies by enhancing the opportunities of vulnerable groups, particularly women and youth. Through the program, IDRC is currently supporting over 75 projects in 80 countries to generate innovative research to identify pragmatic and context-appropriate solutions to unemployment and economic inequality.

Women continue to face economic, social and cultural challenges that limit their access to markets, quality jobs, and entrepreneurship opportunities. This holds back whole economies. Recognizing that women are among the most excluded, women’s economic empowerment is one of E&G’s thematic priorities.

IDRC’s approach favours collaboration with government bodies, international organizations, civil society organizations, and the private sector, and actively involves women and youth. Our approach shines through programs such as the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) program, a collaboration with IDRC, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, and the Flora and Hewlett Foundation where researchers are exploring ways to unleash women’s economic potential in 50 countries.

In Kenya, GrOW-supported research is showing how community-based child care affects not just women’s employment choices, but their overall wellbeing. Early findings in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum show that children who attend the daycares get sick less often, which in turn helps their mothers focus on other priorities. In Bangladesh, GrOW research on work and education impacts of child marriage suggests that even small incentives, such as a modest cooking oil subsidy tied to school attendance, can delay marriage. Girls aged 15-17 whose families received $16 per year in cooking oil if they stayed unmarried until age 18 were 25% more likely to complete secondary school. This in turn can improve girls’ longer-term education and employment outcomes.

In 2016, GrOW contributed to the United Nation’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, a multi-stakeholder panel established by the Secretary General to provide leadership on improving economic outcomes for women and girls in support of Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality. The GrOW team led consultations on enhancing the productivity of women-owned enterprises, female entrepreneurship and addressing women’s role in the care economy. This resulted in the voices of 50 local organizations involved with GrOW to be heard and integrated in the High-Level Panel’s report.

Another example of a collaboration with the private sector is with WEConnect International, a global network that links women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world. As of 2016, more than 600 businesses had registered in India, with 60 certified to supply large companies. These connections helped generate over US$127 million in sales annually and employ more than 4,600 people. With IDRC support, WEConnect plans to replicate the success of its Indian pilot test in another 17 developing countries.

Other examples of capitalizing on successful approaches is our partnership with Proyecto Capital. Since its inception, Proyecto Capital’s financial inclusion program has signed 14 agreements with banks and credit unions in Latin America and the Caribbean, aided in the transfer of over six million conditional cash transfers, and over 1.8 million recipient have received financial education. Together with funding from the Ford Foundation, Proyecto Capital is able to scale up their impact in countries where they have already seen success as well as expand to a handful of new countries. Part of this partnership will allow them to focus not only on women, but also on poor youth, indigenous groups and afro-descendants

We are also exploring inclusive business models that embrace social and environmental objectives along with economic goals.  In partnership with Sistema B, which supports ‘B Corps’ certification for those pursuing a triple bottom line, we are developing a research agenda on the potential for these companies to build women’s business leadership and generate economic opportunities for marginalized women and youth.

These examples demonstrate that IDRC is committed to fostering collaboration that helps to bridge the inequality gaps between men and women and create a more equitable global pattern of growth. By generating insights that feed into broader discussions on how to advance gender equality, IDRC contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG5.

About IDRC

As part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve the lives of people in the developing world.

Bringing together the right partners around opportunities for impact, IDRC builds leaders for today and tomorrow and helps drive change for those who need it most.

For more information, contact eg@idrc.ca

20 February 2019

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