Inch by inch: Bringing development solutions for women, by women, to scale

A woman’s role in the world around her is multifaceted—forward-thinking innovators recognize this and are creating new approaches that support and nurture women’s impact on their families, communities and overall society.

This International Women’s Day arrives as many women and girls around the globe continue to face discrimination and a depressing lack of support and opportunities. With such pressing and persistent challenges, creative models that harness the unique contributions of women and girls are critical to inching us closer to realizing the full potential of half of the planet’s population.

At Results for Development (R4D), we have profiled close to 550 models with a central focus on addressing the needs of women and girls—through R4D’s innovation platforms: the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) and the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI). Of these programs, approximately 45 percent combine at least two approaches from traditionally distinct sectors: health, education, nutrition, economic empowerment and more. The practitioners who run these programs recognize that women and girls have diverse needs and play multiple roles in society. In response, they are creating more sophisticated models that are tailored around women’s unique contributions and growth opportunities.

Women are at the intersection of community needs

Innovators such as those on the Mobile Creches team recognize that women are an invaluable point of entry for a variety of critical services across development sectors.

Since its founding in 1969, Mobile Creches has continually evolved to add new components in response to the diverse needs of the community of women it strives to support. What is so exciting about this program is that it has diversified its services offered by relying on women from local communities to integrate learning, nutrition, health and hygiene services and other activities into daycare center programming.

By focusing specifically on training and empowering women, Mobile Creches is developing female leaders who have the unique ability to understand, and respond to, the diverse needs of their own families and communities.

Evidence on the outcomes of this approach will be critical to applying this model at larger scales. That’s one reason why R4D is working with Mobile Creches to improve their evaluation and learning activities, especially in regards to the key challenges incorporating nutrition and community engagement strategies into their model.

By seeking to better understand the results of Mobile Creches, we hope to generate lessons for others in India, and beyond, looking to empower women and bring about promising results along multiple development outcomes.

From beneficiary to implementer

Jacaranda Health operates two maternity hospitals in peri-urban Nairobi and plans to scale across East Africa by 2019 to provide high-quality and affordable maternity care in areas where low-income women lack access to quality obstetrics, safe delivery, family planning and postnatal care.

The program is committed to investing in and enhancing its own nurses’ skills and performance. Nurses are actively trained to be strong leaders and managers, from handling obstetric emergencies to running clinical case reviews and quality initiatives.

By doing so, Jacaranda is creating a clear career ladder, ensuring that nurses can continue to progress in the organization and grow their capacity. The program also works with expert clinical educators and faculty to design dynamic continued medical training for their nurses that incorporates clinical and soft skills like leadership and management training.

By making significant investments in their female workforce, Jacaranda is investing in its own success, all while ensuring that women are not only the beneficiaries of their maternity services, but the very engine behind their business. R4D is now working with Jacaranda through its Center for Health Market Innovations’ Learning and Adaptation initiative to support the diffusion of Jacaranda’s promising practices to other innovators across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Empowerment

Economies in the 21st century offer exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs that, too often, are still unavailable to women and girls. Forward-looking innovators are working to change this.

Take, for example, Living Goods in Uganda and Kenya. Living Goods runs an “Avon-like” network of franchised women community health promoters who provide health education while also earning a living selling essential health products door-to-door at prices affordable to the poor.

The Living Goods model combines tested practices from the worlds of microfinance, franchising, and public health to create a sustainable system for defeating diseases and poverty.

The program recently completed randomized controlled trial that demonstrated a reduction in under-five mortality by 27 percent, and infant mortality by 33 percent in areas that Living Goods serves. Importantly for sustainability, the women selling the products earn an average income of $150 per year, and 95 percent of these Community Health Promoters report developing new skills relevant to another job or starting a business in the future.

By leveraging women efficiently to drive solutions they care about, innovators like the Living Goods team are charting new possibilities for sustained impact.

Beyond today: commitment to scaling and integrating promising models

We do not need a dedicated day in the year to celebrate innovators working to improve the lives of women and girls, but it is important to use this opportunity to draw attention to what we are learning and doing to promote promising innovations that support the critical contributions of females around the world.

Enabling women to thrive benefits all, and empowering women to lead and contribute to solutions across health, education, and other sectors is allowing for important advancements that will be critical in ensuring that social and economic progress is widespread and sustained.

Implementing promising innovations at significant scale and integrating them into complex social systems will not be easy. Strong commitment to such efforts by change-agents at all levels—innovators, governments, funders, civil society—will play an important role in contributing to the success of global development priorities moving forward.

That’s why R4D is committed to initiatives aimed at promoting increased adaptation and learning.

It’s the reason we collected findings from Jacaranda’s experience empowering women as health workers, with 93 other similar innovations from around the world, so that new opportunities around innovative financing, service delivery and other novel approaches can be explored.

It’s why we are building networks of practitioners working in Primary Care or Early Childhood Workforce, and developing new tools to support adaptive learning among promising innovators. And why we are exploring new ways to better integrate innovative models into systems more effectively.

Most importantly, it’s why a clear commitment to supporting women and girls is so critical to anyone serious about wide-scale improvements in the lives of the world’s most marginalized. Today, especially, we are proud to recognize change-agents around the world who are creating opportunities for women to grow as caregivers, economic agents, community leaders, and more. Not only for the impact these women are making today, but for the promise they hold to a better future for all.


Photo: Jacaranda Health ©CHMI