Homeboy Industries Transforms Lives for Ex-Offenders

Many ex-offenders who want to “go straight” face an uphill struggle when it comes to landing a job. For them, Father Gregory Boyle must seem like a godsend.

Boyle founded Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, which offers employment training and opportunities in a wide range of fields, from baking and retail to cellphone repair, for the formerly incarcerated.

The U.S. has one of the largest populations of ex-offenders in the world, and most employers aren’t exactly clamoring to hire them. “We work with the population that nobody desires to work with, and it’s a principle of this place that we stand with them,” Boyle says on the Homeboys website.

When the priest, who calls himself “Father Greg,” became pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in east Los Angeles, his parish had the worst poverty and the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. In response, he and his team developed what they describe as “the largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program in the world.”

The Homegirl Cafe is one of nearly a dozen social enterprises operated by Homeboy Industries.

Social entrepreneurship is a key part of the mission. Homeboy Industries has created almost a dozen social enterprises that offer 18-month job training programs for the formerly incarcerated. Clients learn marketable skills by working in a bakery, a retail shop that sells Homeboy swag, and a catering business, among others.

The Homeboy Bakery, for example, supplies products—including cakes, rolls, muffins, pretzels, scones and more—to other Homeboy enterprises, such as Homeboys Farmers Markets, Homegirl Catering, and the Homeboy Diner located at L.A.’s city hall, as well as to local restaurants and cafes.

At Homeboy Recycling, ex-offenders learn how to repair iPhones and recycle old PCs.

Homeboy Electronics Recycling employs 25 people. It recycles more than 5,600 PCs and repairs 3,900 iPhones every year, according to the website.

The Homegirl Café, a Zagat-rated restaurant specializing in Mexican fare and grilled-cheese sandwiches, provides a safe space for women who have experienced domestic violence and the challenges of single parenthood as well as gang involvement and incarceration.

The organization even makes its own Homeboy-branded chips, salsa and guacamole for sale in grocery stores around the U.S.

Emily Chapa went from prison and drug addiction to serving as a substance abuse counselor for Homeboy Industries.

The Homeboys website also tells the personal “transformation stories” of many of its clients, such as Emily Chapa, who now serves as a substance abuse counselor. “I’d been using since I was 15 years old, and this is the longest I’ve ever been sober in my life,” she said. “I may have abandoned my kids as they were growing up, but today I’m different. I’m a good grandmother. One thing we need to learn as women is that being emotional is not a weakness but a strength. We need to learn to use our voices and take care of ourselves, or we can’t take care of anybody.”

Homeboy Industries also provides its clients with milestone experiences that most of us take for granted, according to Homeboy trainee Fernando Martinez (pictured above). “I’ve been sober for a year and four months,” he said. “That in itself was a big accomplishment for me. I never thought I would be living a sober life. It’s helped me shape my life to achieve things like getting my driver’s permit. I’ve never gotten anything big like this before. I’m now able to succeed at a lot of things I never would have been able to by myself.”

Homeboy Industries has earned recognition from former Vice President Joe Biden and actor Jim Carrey (see video below). “I believe this room is filled with God,” Carrey said during a visit to the organization. “You are heroes to me, and I admire you … You’ve made a decision to transcend and leave darkness behind.”

How to Give Adolescent Girls Voice, Choice, and Control

By Miriam Temin, Sajeda Amin, Thoai D. Ngo, & Stephanie Psaki

The majority of adolescent girls—girls aged 10 to 19—live in low- and middle-income countries, and are well poised to build the capabilities they need to fulfill their potential, and to contribute to the health and well-being of their families and communities. Empowering them represents an unprecedented opportunity for progress: When we keep adolescent girls healthy, safe, and in school, and give them skills and a say in their own lives, they have a path to healthy, productive adulthood. They are better able to gain knowledge, are less likely to become pregnant, and have more earning power. Society as a whole also benefits: Greater opportunity for young women to join the workforce can help close the workforce gender gap and boost national gross domestic products.

Based on evidence showing that investing in girls yields substantial returns, including reductions in early pregnancy and increased earning power, more and more donors, policymakers, and nonprofits are focusing on girls. Since 2015, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), for example, has invested more than $750 million in HIV prevention for girls and young women in 15 countries through the DREAMS Initiative. And at the 2017 Family Planning 2020 Summit, most of the 42 countries that committed to empowering women and girls with family planning made adolescents a focus of their plans.

However, many organizations that deliver services to adolescent girls lack systematic guidance for programming. In particular, while many recognize the multi-faceted nature of the risks that girls face, few agree on the most effective ways to implement intersectoral approaches that address them. Some combine cash transfers with girls’ clubs, or school-based sexual education with youth-friendly health services, to pursue the same goals. But these efforts aren’t necessarily evidence-based, nor are they standardized to reflect what works. Policymakers and nonprofits need a practical, multi-sectoral framework to prioritize approaches to empowering girls and maximize the impact of their investments.

A New Framework for Empowerment

Based on our experience at the Population Council, which conducts research and develops solutions to health and development issues, and the evolving body of evidence on what works to improve girls’ lives, we developed a theory of change for empowerment programming for adolescent girls. This theory of change provides a practical framework for designing and implementing programs that center around girls’ diverse needs (such as saving money and preventing unintended pregnancy) and address multiple determinants of risk (such as social isolation or school drop-out). In doing so, these programs empower girls to make decisions and positively affect outcomes of importance to themselves, their families, and their communities. With its emphasis on inclusive intersectoral approaches, the framework also has relevance for adolescent boys and other demographics who may be disempowered because of social status, ethnicity, or disability.

The framework contains seven core programmatic components and four delivery approaches that can help programs reach the right girls with the right content at the right time. It recognizes that girls cannot create transformational social change on their own. Indeed, factors such as gender-equitable policies, poverty reduction, education reforms, and other systemic changes influence girls’ transitions to adulthood, and can enable, amplify, or hinder the effects of empowerment programming. The framework takes account of this by reflecting a socio-ecological perspective, situating girl-centered programs within families, communities, and countries.

Programs that aim to empower adolescent girls should incorporate key components and delivery approaches to build assets that drive gender equity.

Seven Components of Community-Based Empowerment Programming

1. Girls’ groups. Programs should bring peers and mentors together in girl-only groups stratified by age, schooling, and/or marital status to build supportive relationships. For benefits beyond social capital, programs also need to build girls’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy, and link them to essential services and social institutions.

2. Safe Space. Girls’ group meetings should take place in existing venues, such as community centers or classrooms after hours, that are private and safe so that girls feel comfortable participating and communicating about sensitive topics.

3. Mentors. Ideally, mentors are young women from the local community who have navigated challenges like the ones program participants are experiencing. Mentor roles should include delivering core content, serving as role models, and providing practical assistance in emergencies.

4. Content on gender and power. Most girls’ empowerment programs include life-skills training centered on sexual and reproductive health; to be most effective, content must explicitly address gender norms and power dynamics in sexual relationships.

5. Economic empowerment. Programs also need to address the influence of economic factors on girls’ participation and impact. Economically empowering girls directly (such as through cash transfers) or indirectly (such as through financial literacy training) can reduce parental opposition and counteract the opportunity cost of participation.

6. Referral networks. Mentors should also be part of an active referral network, referring girls to outside services and resources like clinics and banks as needed. Programs can also help by providing an escort or helping defray transport or service costs.

7. Community engagement: Program staff, parents, and community members should come together to build knowledge and shift attitudes, thus contributing to an enabling environment where gender norms don’t inhibit girls’ participation or limit program impact. For instance, facilitated conversations can foster discussion between parents and other influential community members on themes related to girls’ group activities.

Four Program Delivery Approaches

Empowerment programs need to include not only the right elements—the “what” as described above—but also the right approach to implementation—the “how.” The way an organization implements the seven components can make or break a program.

1. Intentional design and targeting. Community-based programs can help reach marginalized adolescents, such as girls who are married, out-of-school, or living with disabilities. Many of these girls miss out on programming delivered through common channels like clinics and schools, yet face the highest risk. Organizations must gather detailed local information about adolescents’ diverse circumstances to determine where, and with whom, they should work. In Ethiopia, the Population Council used a community-level, child well-being assessment tool called the Child Census to identify areas with the most out-of-school and/or married girls. It then used the results to inform decisions about which kebeles (public administrations) were likely to benefit most from the expansion of Berhane Hewan (Light for Eve), a child-marriage prevention program.

2. Frequent meetings in segments. Another strong delivery approach is to set up meetings between groups of girls who share distinct characteristics, such as age or marital status, at least once a week for a year or longer. Girls who participate regularly have more program exposure and derive more benefits. In urban Ethiopia, for example, Biruh Tesfa (Bright Future) aims to reduce the social isolation of extremely disadvantaged, out-of-school girls. Trained mentors go house to house, inviting excluded segments of eligible girls—including domestic workers, girls living with disabilities, and rural-to-urban migrants—to regular meetings in safe locations donated by local kebeles. Girls meet as often as five times per week at times that vary to accommodate their work schedules.

3. Learner-centered, interactive pedagogy. Training approaches should be interactive, participatory, and learner-centered. Mentors can emphasize skill-based learning and critical thinking using materials adapted for individual girl segments. In Bangladesh, Bangladeshi Association for Life Skills, Income, and Knowledge for Adolescents (BALIKA) aimed to delay marriage among girls aged 12 to 18 in areas with the highest child marriage rates. It used three skills-building approaches to empower girls: 1) educational support; 2) training on life skills and gender rights with the It’s All One Curriculum to deliver unified education on sexuality, gender, HIV, and human rights; and 3) training on skills for modern livelihoods.

4. Continuous support for mentors: Program success depends on mentor performance. Adequate training, supportive supervision, and opportunities for mentors to interact all enhance mentor effectiveness and retention. It’s important that programs offer them compensation similar to comparable local jobs. In rural Guatemala, Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) works with rural indigenous girls to reduce their disadvantage and improve their lives. Girls meet weekly with female mentors aged 18 to 25 who run and facilitate the program. These mentors enable culturally sensitive discussions of issues and become positive role models. Mentors also participate in quarterly “training spaces” to learn new content, improve their skills, and learn from each other. Site coordinators provide weekly mentor support, monitor their performance, and provide constructive feedback.

What Delivery Looks Like in Practice

The overall design of Biruh Tesfa, described above, illustrates the combined potential of these four delivery approaches. Working through local female mentors, the program uses interactive techniques to build basic literacy skills, as well as to provide information and services to reduce sexual exploitation, abuse, and HIV risk. Mentors also provide girls with vouchers and referrals for free health and HIV services, often accompanying girls who are scared to go alone. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 75,000 out-of-school girls in the poorest areas of 18 cities participated in the program. An evaluation found positive effects that included strong social support, HIV knowledge, and desire for HIV testing, as well as literacy and numeracy for girls who had never had formal schooling.

BALIKA uses a similar delivery model. Girls meet weekly with mentors in safe, girl-only locations called BALIKA Centers, typically located in schools, to develop friendships, learn new technologies, borrow books, and acquire life skills. In the initial phase—which is currently expanding—more 9,000 girls in 72 communities participated over 18 months. Teachers and mentors recruited girls, liaised with families and communities, ran center activities, and engaged with community support groups. A randomized controlled trial evaluation found that BALIKA reduced the likelihood of child marriage by up to one-third, laying the foundation for better health, educational, economic, and social outcomes. These results show that it is possible to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in a relatively short time, which BALIKA did by working with communities to implement holistic, skills-building programs for girls that elevated their status.

Building Girls’ Protective Assets

Programs that deliver all seven components using the delivery approaches above work to build girls’ protective assets. We define assets as the store of value—the human stock—that girls can use assets to reduce risk and expand opportunity. For example, self-esteem can help them excel in school or at a job interview, while financial assets can protect them from risky sexual relationships. Rather than approaching girls through a single sector, an asset-building approach considers the whole girl.

Protective assets include social assets like trusted relationships with peers and adults, and health and human assets such as access to health services. Examples of cognitive assets include literacy, problem solving, and critical consciousness. Economic assets include financial literacy and budgeting skills, while things like leadership skills, negotiation skills, and identity cards are civic and political assets.

The thinking is that when girls gain assets, they are empowered as individuals and as groups, which they express by exercising voice, choice, and control. Girls use their voice—their say in decision-making in households, politics, business, and other realms—through participation, leadership, and collective action. Choice means they have the option to stay in school or join the labor force, and can decide whether, when, and with whom to have sex or to marry. And control means they have power over their bodies and mobility, income, and other resources. It also means having equitable legal rights and access to justice, as well as freedom from discriminatory social norms.

As girls exercise voice, choice, or control, they may start to disrupt social norms. Within supportive families, communities, and policy environments, this can improve girls’ health, education, and livelihoods. And if many girls in a given community participate in empowerment programs, this may create a “tipping point” that fosters new norms about girls’ value that endure. Ultimately, these shifts will substantially improve girls’ well-being and life chances, and promote gender equity.

We need intersectional approaches to reduce the wide-ranging risks that millions of adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries face. We hope that this practical, multisectoral framework will help donors, governments, and nonprofits empower girls, harness the potential of the largest-ever generation of adolescents, and promote gender equity.

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Why We Need to Nurture Entrepreneurship in Young Girls

By Sylvia Acevedo

Last month, women on college campuses around the world gathered for Women Entrepreneurship Week, an annual event that brings budding female entrepreneurs together with female startup founders through workshops and panel discussions. Last year, it attracted participants from 76 universities in 15 countries. Programs like these promote and support women’s entrepreneurship—and we need more of them to address the inequality that currently exists—but they don’t reach women early enough.

To affect real change, we need to begin to nurture entrepreneurship in girls when they are in elementary school. We must teach them not only the financial and other skills they will need to succeed, but also to see themselves as entrepreneurs and leaders through hands-on experience and interactions with female role models.

According to the American Express 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, in January 2017, women owned an estimated 11.6 million businesses in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people and generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenues. On the surface, those numbers look encouraging, but they tell only half the story. As of 2017, women owned 39 percent of all privately held US firms, but those businesses contributed only 8 percent of total employment and 4.2 percent of revenues. For women, owning a business often means simply working for herself. Bringing employment and revenue in line with the number of women-owned firms would contribute to women’s individual economic independence, create jobs, and grow the economy.

The Female Entrepreneur Gap

Part of the challenge in closing the gap is that women struggle to raise capital. In 2016, women received $1.46 billion in venture capital, representing only 2 percent of total venture funding. The 2017 Harvard Business School working paper, “Diversity in Innovation,” offers one explanation: homophily, meaning that people tend to live and network in homogenous bubbles. So venture capitalists tend to mentor and give money to entrepreneurs who look like them, and since the majority of entrepreneurs are white men, they receive the bulk of the resources—both human and monetary. Homophily also impacts career choices; if girls don’t know or interact with female entrepreneurs, they are less likely to see themselves as one.

This idea was substantiated by the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Women’s Report, which found that women’s confidence was lower in countries with more developed economies Fewer than 35 percent of women in these economies believe they have the capabilities to start a business based on the opportunities they see. Conversely, more than 67 percent of women in less-developed economies believe the same thing. The authors of the study acknowledged that businesses in developed economies are more complex, but also noted that only 27 percent of American women say they know an entrepreneur personally.

It’s a vicious cycle, and the only way to break it is to get more women, including women of color and diverse heritages, into the entrepreneurial pipeline. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship programs for women on college campuses. While these efforts are important in working to close the gender gap, the programs may not reach the young women who enter college without an overt interest in entrepreneurship. This matters, because the skills and characteristics that make a good entrepreneur—fortitude, financial literacy, and the ability to set and meet goals, and even take some calculated risks—will serve women well regardless of their chosen field. Moreover, college programs will never reach girls who are not encouraged to pursue higher education. I know this because I was one of those girls.

Building Entrepreneurial Skills

Growing up in New Mexico, no one around me went to college, and I certainly didn’t see female entrepreneurs. My own business education began when I joined Girl Scouts and started selling cookies, and my troop leader told me that I couldn’t leave the site of a sale until I heard no three times. That’s an incredibly empowering message for a young girl, and I applied that rule to all aspects of my life. I often think about all the times I heard no as a girl, and what path I might have taken had I not persevered.

Beyond learning not to take no for an answer and other soft skills—self-confidence, determination, and grit—the program taught me the hard skills fundamental to entrepreneurship, and it was the only financial education I received as a young girl.

Since that time, the Cookie Program has expanded to include an emphasis on teaching five essential entrepreneurial skills: goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. In 2014, we launched Digital Cookie, a platform that allows girls to create their own personalized cookie site. It offers games and quizzes centered on entrepreneurial skills, as well as a place for girls to set their cookie goals, track their progress, manage orders and inventory, learn Internet safety skills, and, of course, sell cookies. Additionally, cookie sellers can now earn badges in creating business plans, customer service, and marketing. They can also earn financial literacy badges in areas such as budgeting, philanthropy, making smart buying decisions, and financial planning. The Cookie Program and financial literacy badges are part of a larger Financial Empowerment Program, which has age-appropriate lessons and activities centered around financial literacy for girls in grades K through 12.

Getting Financial Literacy into Schools

The need for early financial literacy training cannot be overstated. Girls rarely see money being transacted these days, let alone have decision-making power about how it is spent. A report from the Federal Reserve found that the credit scores of students who received personal finance education were 7 to 29 points higher than those of students who weren’t exposed to the same lessons. Three years after exposure, study subjects had larger increases in credit scores and lower rates of delinquency.

Unfortunately, currently only 17 states require high school students to study personal finance, and less than half require them to take an economics course. This gap in financial education in our schools puts all students, but particularly girls, at a disadvantage, and makes entrepreneurship programs aimed at young girls even more vital.

Entrepreneurial Environments That Work for Girls

A number of organizations offer entrepreneurship programs or teaching materials for children and teens. Junior Achievement’s Be Entrepreneurial program and VentureLab each have downloadable curriculums available to educators, for example, and Young Entrepreneurs Academy runs a year-long, after-school program in 168 American communities. But again, while initiatives like these are important and need support, only VentureLab has lessons for students below grade 6, and none of these programs is specifically designed for girls or operates in a single-sex environment.

Research tells us that girls perform better in girl-only environments, so it is imperative that we support smaller organizations and help them develop more entrepreneurship opportunities for young girls. Business leaders can do their part by volunteering with existing girls’ programs or by launching mentoring programs for young girls at their companies. Parents can include their daughters in family decision-making around money, and we can all talk to the girls in our lives about the importance of financial literacy and financial empowerment.

The young girls of today are preparing for careers in industries that have not yet been invented. We need them to have the courage and the confidence—along with the business acumen and technology skills—to create the solutions that are remaking our world. But that’s just one part of the equation; they also need to know how to sell that solution so that it gets adopted.

Girls need to learn both the hard entrepreneurial skills and those softer leadership skills when they are young so that they can practice them through adolescence and into adulthood. We need to teach them early on that when it comes to their dreams and vision, they should never take no for an answer.

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Three Ways Businesses Can Improve Their Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs

By Linda Midgley & Marissa Wesely

Many companies are spending millions of dollars to address issues of women’s economic empowerment across their value chains. These include efforts like Coca Cola’s 5by20 program seeking to economically empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020, and Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program, providing life skills training to women workers in its factories. These companies and a growing number of others increasingly view advancing gender equality as the right thing to do, particularly in light of the momentum for business to contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the deepening understanding of the strong business reasons for economically empowering women is equally, if not more, important. As Unilever CEO Paul Polman has stated: “When we empower women, society and the economy benefit, grow and thrive. … And it makes enormous economic sense too, with an overwhelming number of studies showing time and time again that gender equality is good for talent development, culture, innovation, leadership and performance.”

Yet even in this context, few companies appear to be designing their women’s economic empowerment programs for lasting impact—or measuring or reporting on that impact. Indeed, an October 2014 report by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Dalberg, and Witter Ventures, found that only three of the 31 corporate-funded programs studied provided empirical evaluations with quantitative metrics beyond program size and scope. Without knowing if programs result in women gaining not only new skills and resources, but also control over those resources and the power to make economic decisions, companies cannot assess whether the intended economic empowerment will endure for women or for business.

So how can companies design and measure effective women’s economic empowerment programs? We believe these three elements are essential:

  • Employ women-centered design. Having the women affected at the heart of the design process will produce programs that address the critical building blocks for economically empowering women in a given context. Such programs are more likely to have impact on the business
  • Build in measurement tools from the start to assess a program’s impact on women and on business
  • Align social impact goals and reporting with existing measurement frameworks like the GRI Standards and the SDGs. Such alignment allows companies to replicate successful programs in similar contexts and bring them to scale

1. Contextualized women-centered design

Women’s economic empowerment requires interventions that are customized to each setting. What makes sense to empower factory workers in Bangladesh may not meet the needs of smallholder farmers in Kenya. To design context-specific programs, companies must work to identify the barriers preventing women from realizing their full economic potential: Are they constrained by lack of education or skills? Are they limited by violence in their homes or their workplaces, by laws, customs, or safely issues that limit their mobility, or by taking on a disproportionate share of unpaid household or care obligations? Do social norms limit their decision-making power in households and communities?

Designing effective programs in highly local contexts requires gathering input from the women that a company is trying to empower. Local women’s organizations are an oft-overlooked resource in gathering this critical context. Without this input, companies often default to solutions that are easily accessible and simple to scale—programs to train or mentor women, or to provide resources to build or advance in a business. While these interventions may be helpful, without a deeper understanding of the local gender context, they may not lead to the desired long-term impact for women or for business. For example, a recent study of gender in rural Africa covering 2,000 households in six countries found that land ownership alone—often a key focus of public and private women’s economic empowerment programs in farming communities—did not lead to stronger bargaining power or higher incomes for women. “[P]olicymakers … should adopt a multifaceted approach that includes aspects beyond agriculture,” the author noted. “These include issues of sexual and reproductive rights, for instance, and freeing women from the heavy and time-consuming drudgery of domestic work in poor, rural settings. … Women’s lack of empowerment is also related to their limited mobility, which makes it harder for them to reach markets.”

The ICRW report mentioned above described eight building blocks for sustainable women’s economic empowerment. We have adapted these as follows:

Some companies leading the way on women’s economic empowerment issues have developed an appreciation of the need to address multiple building blocks to achieve lasting impact. Among those are some cocoa companies participating in Cocoa Action, a voluntary, industry-wide strategy that engages the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and other key stakeholders.

The business case for empowering more women involved in cocoa production is quite clear; companies participating in Cocoa Action recognize the need to build stronger farming communities for a more stable and sustainable supply chain, and recognize the importance of truly empowering women farmers in this process. The Mars Chocolate Women’s Empowerment Plan and Cargill’s work on women’s empowerment as part of Cargill’s Cocoa Promise are two examples. To increase the number of women attending farmer training schools from the 5 percent reported in a 2016 study, Cargill is looking closely at issues like:

  • Whether taking women’s household responsibilities into account when selecting the location and timing of trainings can make a difference
  • Building women-only classes where women feel safe to speak up and lead
  • Presenting materials that show women in leadership roles as role models

Unilever is also working to engage women in farmer field schools by supporting one supplier’s development of a mobile education platform for Indian gherkin farmers. The flexibility of the platform addresses issues presented by more traditional farmer trainings. It includes a digital textbook on tablets, and videos made locally by field officers. The videos star local farmers and many of them feature women as decisionmakers, leaders, and teachers on their farms. The use of videos also enables flexible viewing hours and helps break down literacy barriers. Early results of the pilot showed a 300 percent increase in reach, with women outnumbering men at training sessions.

Of course, building block design principles hold true in sectors and settings outside agriculture. Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. program—one of the longest-running and successful life-skills programs for female factory workers—was built with a holistic approach. The curriculum addresses areas including reproductive health, legal literacy, and gender roles, as well as more commonly taught life skills like communication and problem solving.

2. Measure impact on women and business

Creating a measurement framework that can track successes and failures and allow for replication and adaptation is equally important. While contextualized design is the best way to ensure that impact for women and business is transformative and not fleeting, this approach is typically more time-consuming than program development approaches that do not take local issues into account. In order to achieve scale using this approach, companies will need to identify the most successful women’s economic empowerment programs and implement them broadly in similar contexts. Figuring out which programs are the most successful is not easy, as companies must measure both the social and business impact.

On the social side, many corporate women’s economic empowerment programs began in philanthropic contexts, with little understanding of social impact measurement beyond counting the number of women “touched” by a program or increases in a woman’s income. For many of these programs, little consideration was given to measuring indicators of lasting impact, like changes over time in women’s and men’s knowledge, attitudes, behavior, and social status.

In the farmer field school example, the company might want to measure factors like whether female participants felt they had greater decision-making authority in the household and whether household tasks were shared more equally, in addition to changes in the number of women attending farmer field schools. Other measures of more lasting change might be whether women reported not just increased income but also control over that income. Measurement of impact over time might even extend to whether women had greater confidence in participating in—and willingness to lead—co-operatives or other community initiatives. Another Cocoa Action member, Mondelez, considered a number of these factors in a report on its experience building women’s leadership within cocoa farming in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

Designing women’s economic empowerment programs with business impact in mind is even more rare. Few programs even take into account how social impact can play a role in creating value for the business. Bringing women’s economic empowerment programs out of the sphere of pure philanthropy means recognizing the integral links between business and social value and working across a company to ensure that business and social metrics are linked.

Cocoa Action developed a framework for the companies in its network that links and measures business and social impact. The framework has dual long-term goals of “increased yields” and “thriving communities,” with the latter including increased opportunity, capability, and women’s influence as one targeted outcome intended to also have a positive effect on productivity and yields. By linking business and social impact, and developing meaningful metrics for both, it’s more likely that successful programs will become embedded in a business and shared publicly, increasing opportunities for replication and scaling.

3. Report on impact in a way that businesses recognize

The final element to enable companies to identify and replicate successful women’s economic empowerment programs, is to measure and report on impact—both internally and externally—in a way which businesses recognize. This allows key decision makers inside the business to make better decisions about which programs to replicate. In addition, public reporting on program impact will enable others to identify successful programs for replication in their companies.

There are several ways to report impact for the business world. First, qualitative description of a program’s successes and learnings should be backed up by quantitative impact data. This requires a baseline measurement at the start of the project and continued tracking over time to see whether the effects are lasting. Corporate decision makers rely on data, and program sustainability and replication will likely depend on the quality of this data. This will likely include appropriate gender disaggregated data.

While any metric should fit the program context and be based on a thorough understanding of the building blocks of women’s economic empowerment, there are also significant advantages in terms of efficiency and internal acceptance to aligning with existing reporting frameworks like the GRI standards or SASB, both of which are used for business sustainability reporting.

Aligning impact measurement and reporting with the SDGs is even more important. The SDGs apply to all countries, all sectors, and all actors in society. They provide a common language for reporting on the world’s sustainable development challenges and for bringing actors together along the value chain.

Aligning reporting with the SDGs instantly makes the program’s contribution to women’s economic empowerment clear. For instance, should the Cargill’s farmer field schools result in promotion of shared responsibility within the household, that would advance one of the stated targets of SDG 5: Gender Equality, on recognizing the value of unpaid care work. If more women were participating as leaders in cocoa cooperatives after going through the farmer field school program, it would be advancing another target of SDG 5: ensuring women’s full and effective participation and opportunities for leadership. This in turn would have a positive effect on various targets under SDG 8: Good Jobs and Economic Growth, through improving productivity and yields.

It might seem as though there is a contradiction between metrics that offer specific, contextual insight, and aligning with existing frameworks which by their nature are more general. In practice, it’s about finding a balance between the two; maximizing insight into contextual nuance for deeper impact, while sharing that impact broadly using more widely recognized indicators for sustainability and scaling.

Impact metrics that are more recognizable for stakeholders within the company are easier to interpret in the business context, leading to a better understanding of program value and better decision making. Impact metrics that are more recognizable for external stakeholders, like investors, can give them a better understanding of the long-term impact and value the company is creating, making investment more likely. Finally, aligning with existing metrics can also lead to process efficiency gains and reduce the administrative burden of data collection and reporting.

Creating lasting impact, at scale

Today, leading companies increasingly see opportunities to economically empower women across their value chain to create lasting change for women, their communities, and the world. Yet it still is often hard for companies to know where to start. First steps may simply involve doing an assessment and analysis to understand where in the value chain women are critical to the business, or putting a gender lens on existing programs for employees or suppliers to see if the programs are equally effective for women and men. Once companies see where increased focus on women’s economic empowerment can have real business impact, working closely with the women targeted to co-design programs will ensure that they are designed for transformative social impact from the start. And by taking time at the outset to incorporate broadly used metrics to measure social and business impact, companies will be able to share successes and failures more effectively, fostering replication of the most impactful models and expanding benefits for all.

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