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How the Disha Project Empowers Women in IndiaIn India—a country surging with sustained economic growth—more than two-thirds of women don’t have a profession or are outside of the workforce. This level of engagement also varies between rural and urban areas due to a divide in, among other things, access to training and schooling. Despite the growth in the past few decades in terms of education rates, as well as a similarly important decline in birth rates, women in rural India are still not as able to pursue or secure a job as their male counterparts. The Disha Project was an international effort that acted as a catalyst for improvement and provided diverse resources and plans to empower underprivileged Indian women across the nation.

The Disha Project’s Mission

The Disha Project was set out to be a three-year united effort between the United Nations Development Programme, the India Development Foundation and the IKEA Foundation. The three groups, together with their networks of experience and assets, came together to provide women in India with opportunities for income growth and management. Skills training remained the primary tool of the Disha Project and teaching women essential skills alongside separate enterprise teachings, participants were able to gain valuable and diverse knowledge that set them apart from other job seekers.

The original goals of the project included a target goal of a million women in India being introduced and linked to a growing chain of economically independent job seekers and makers. Beyond applying skills that would greatly increase the possibilities for job acquisition, the Disha Project also marked replicability and scalability as its goals, which explained the strong focus on self-sustained community growth.

The Models Used

To fulfill the intentions the Disha Project laid out for itself, planning and execution were paramount. Clement Chauvent led the Disha Project and served as the United Nations Development Programme’s chief of skills and business development. In his capacity as Disha Project’s head, he outlined four principal models by which the project would take shape. Clement detailed how model one is primarily educational, providing advice and direction for female job seekers. By surmounting this first barrier to self-sustainable economic growth, the program’s participants can begin to pursue their own aspirations much more aggressively.

The second and third models rely on the market and social networks, leading women seeking to fill these roles to established needs in professions. Additionally, by connecting mentors and those with guidance to women who wish to start with “micro-entrepreneurship,” the UNDP initiative directly provides resources and support. The final and fourth model is that of production and economic efficiency. This model seeks to unite women in India to make sure those producing salable products and practicing profitable skills can expand their reach and value as a part of the system.

Meaningful Success

For the Disha Project, countless personal stories of women in rural India initiating businesses, gaining greater social power and supporting their households and communities financially stand as testimony of success. On a larger scale, Chauvet reports, “With the support of IKEA Foundation, since 2015, 800,594 women in Delhi NCR, Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have been enabled with employable skills.” These women in India also act as a greater example of societal change. Due to the sheer scale of the Disha Project’s impact, small systematic changes, carved in the footholds of agricultural villages and towns, will slowly become more noticeable. Each woman among the almost 900,000 participants carries within herself the tools to inform her family, engage her neighborhood and teach other women in the community. Through the efforts of organizations like the Disha Project, women are becoming more empowered worldwide, which contributes to a more secure financial future for all and paves a way forward to a world that is more equally accessible, regardless of sex.

—Alan Mathew

Photo: Flickr

How to Solve World Hunger

In 2010, former World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran boldly stated, “We can end hunger. Many hungry nations have defeated hunger. It doesn’t require some new scientific breakthrough. It’s not rocket science.” Sheeran’s proposal on how to solve world hunger in 10 steps is still relevant today:

  1. Humanitarian action: Natural disaster impacts the world annually. According to World Vision, in 2015, the worst natural disasters recorded were (i) An earthquake — Nepal, (ii) A flood — Chennai, India, (iii) A heat wave — southern India, (iv) Typhoon and monsoon rains — Myanmar, Bangladesh and India (v) Floods — Malawi and Mozambique and (vi) A drought — Ethiopia. In 2016, the American Red Cross and other organizations are still providing direct relief for the survivors. Sheeran advocates for volunteerism in communities affected by natural disasters to help with relief and reduce world hunger.
  2. School meals: This is an affordable approach to promoting development and reducing malnutrition. Individuals can donate online to organizations that provide school meals or they can provide direct relief.
  3. Safety nets: A “safety net” is comparable to a backup plan for when natural disasters strike. For example, the Red Cross is considered a safety net based upon their annual direct relief efforts. Safety nets should be linked to schools and farmers in case of an emergency such as a famine or flood.
  4. Connect small farmers to markets: According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), small farmers produce 80 percent of the world’s food supply. However, the majority barely make enough income to survive. By connecting small farmers to markets, they can increase their income potential and learn best practices such as drip irrigation and soil tillage.
  5. Nourish children during their first 1,000 days: The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most important for development and growth. Nourishing children is an investment that can help to increase trade and expand job creation.
  6. Empower women: Women in South America and Asia are more likely to go hungry than men. When hunger affects women, hunger affects children. Women make up the majority of agricultural manual workers, therefore empowering women creates greater food security for the entire household.
  7. Technology revolution: Iraq refugees began to use text messages on mobile phones in 2010 as a means to get food by WFP food vouchers saving money and travel time. Now, refugees do not have to journey to a distribution center and return with over a month’s worth of food.
  8. Build resiliency: Hunger is highly correlated with disaster. According to the WFP, “It is essential to help build the resiliency of vulnerable communities so that when emergencies strike, they are strong enough to cope.” The organization provides disaster relief for over 80 million people in over 60 different countries.
  9. Make a difference as an individual: Social media is booming in today’s world. Anyone can help bring awareness to global hunger by accessing these tools. For example, people can tweet, Instagram or Facebook post about their favorite global poverty awareness organizations to get their friends to donate. Awareness is a powerful first step to solving world hunger.
  10. Show leadership: WFP honored President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a “Global Champion for the Fight Against Hunger” award. “President Lula has shown leadership in the fight against hunger by pushing the needs of the poor and the undernourished to the very top of the international agenda,” stated Sheeran.The above steps provide an excellent guideline on how to solve world hunger. The WFP continues to encourage individuals and organizations globally to take a stand now in order to end the hunger crisis for future generations.

  • Rachel Hutchinson

 

Empowering Women Technology
Women around the world experience poverty at higher rates than men because of certain customs and cultural norms. In many developing countries, women are confined to traditional roles and have limited access to capital, training and technology that could enrich their lives. Such inequality has broad consequences that affect not just women, but the entire community in impoverished regions. Empowering women and ensuring their health and safety correlates directly with ensuring food security for the whole community. The health and financial stability of mothers, in particular, has a huge influence on the welfare and nutrition of children.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has studied the ways in which the improved economic status of women positively affects children, families and societies.

Places where women have more social mobility and control over their finances also have lower child mortality rates, more transparent businesses and faster economic growth. In addition, children’s educational opportunities and job prospects are largely contingent upon their mothers’ incomes and financial stability.

 

The Role of Technology in Empowering Women

 

Access to technology also plays a large part in cementing gender inequality, especially in developing countries. For example, even though women constitute the majority of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, it is common for tools to be designed for men’s use, which makes them more difficult for women to use and also limits women’s productivity.

Women in these countries also have less access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as radio and mobile phones, that could facilitate better education and strengthen economic participation. When it comes to energy services in the home, many women struggle to find products that are clean, efficient, safe and affordable.

However, global efforts are being made to empower women and facilitate income-generating activities. In Kenya, the production of fuel-efficient cookstoves has created jobs for women and saved them money on energy. In China, India, Malaysia and Thailand, motorized scooters have increased safety for urban women and expanded employment and educational opportunities. Cisco Systems and UNIFEM have promoted ICT educational academies in the Middle East to give women more power and opportunities in the labor market.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports the efforts of nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and developed countries’ governments to empower women through technology. But they stress that women in developed countries must be included in such efforts. Specifically, they should be assisted to act collectively and be allowed to participate in the design process of new technologies.

This message has been heard by Congress. In November 2015, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on increasing opportunity for women through technology as a way of driving international development.

At the hearing, Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, advocated for policy reforms and investments that would expand women’s access to the Internet and other ICTs. Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, stated that such expansions ought to be crucial to U.S. foreign policy, since they would help “boost economic growth, empower democratic governance and advance global development.”

Joe D’Amore

Sources: House Committee, ICRW, IFAD, Practical Action
Photo: Sameday Papers

handcrafted_jewelry
If you are guilty of spending too much money on beautiful handmade jewelry, consider making your next shopping trip online with Soko, a social enterprise that supports artisans in the developing world through a mobile web platform.

Similar to Etsy, Soko functions as an online marketplace, with every purchase directly benefitting its creator. The idea for Soko began with the collaboration of its three founders—Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd and Catherine Mahugu, who were living and working around the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

It was here that they met and spoke with women who were receiving just a fraction of the profit that they should be earning from their handmade jewelry. Although the founders saw the potential in the craft of these artisans, they also recognized the lack of a consumer market—something they set out to solve with the creation of their, company Soko, which means “marketplace” in Swahili.

Since its inception in 2011, Soko has been changing lives by providing an innovative way for artisans to reach a global market through mobile phone technology. By registering with the company, artisans can upload photos of their creations which are then available on Soko’s online shops. At the touch of a button, artisans can engage with brands, retailers and online customers from around the world.

All materials used from Soko are natural as well as upcycled—meaning that they are taken from old and discarded items to be created into something beautiful. Stylistically, Soko is conscious of the popularity of modern designs and works with artisans to design both sustainable and fashion-forward jewelry.

When asked to describe the company in one way in an interview with Inspire Afrika magazine, the founders said that they like to think of Soko as “empowering women.” Today, there are more than 1,000 artists in the Soko community, 41,309 products have been sold and the average artisan’s household income has increased by four times its former number.

It was Soko’s vision for a majority of profits to return back into the hands of the local artisans, and through Soko, women have not only gained the opportunity to engage with an international marketplace, but they have also found a way to ultimately improve their livelihoods.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: Philanthropy Page, Shop Soko, Inspire Africa
Photo: Manhattan with a Twist

global_citizen
When two mega-successful organizations come together to fight the same battle, the win is almost inevitable. The win against global poverty will be slow and steady, but quite sweet.

Earlier this month, Chime for Change and Global Citizen announced their partnership to develop a campaign dedicated to ending global poverty by 2030, in alignment with the United Nations’ timeline for the Sustainable Development Goals. The campaign will create major change for girls and women around the world.

Chime for Change is a global campaign itself, designed to empower women by raising money and awareness for women’s issues. Founded in 2013 by superwomen Beyoncé Knowles and Salma Hayek, the campaign provides a stable and united voice for the voiceless by focusing on education, health and justice for girls all around the world.

Global Citizen is an extension of the Global Poverty Project, created by Ryan Gall and Riot House in 2012. As an online platform, Global Citizen educates its community through informative articles and shares ways to take action in the fight against poverty. It focuses on health, education, sustainability and women’s rights.

In their mission to eradicate global poverty, Chime for Change and Global Citizen hope to use their partnership to raise awareness about the hardships women in poverty face every day. Together, they promote gender equality, a primary factor in ending global poverty.

Global Citizen will provide Chime for Change with a well-read platform to connect with millions of people around the world. On globalcitizen.org, Chime for Change will have the opportunity to present information about women’s issues and encourage others to support women and girls around the world.

This September, Chime for Change will be a presenter at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival in New York City, where Queen Bey will run the show as a headliner. Together, Chime for Change and Global Citizen will bring new opportunities to girls and women, helping them live sustainably and poverty-free lives.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Chime For Change, Bustle, Global Citizen
Photo: TGIF Guide

greenfield_microfinance
The attention of foreign entities intent on aiding the development of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is often focused on providing basic services such as water, electricity and healthcare. And while rightly so, another crucial ingredient for development in Africa is finance. Access to capital for the average African would allow households and small businesses to leverage their savings and earnings to increase productivity, earn higher incomes, create jobs and ultimately, stimulate economic growth.

Unfortunately, SSA has the lowest level of access to finance than any other region in the world, with an average banked population of 24 percent. Microfinance institutions (MFIs), organizations that offer financial services to the poor, are a promising solution to this gross deficit.

Microfinance has played a large role in South Asia with a mixed record. Initially termed micro-credit, it was viewed as a panacea to world poverty when it began to rapidly grow 15 years ago. Since, people have realized that while such loans can empower women and help entrepreneurs, they are not a magic bullet against the characteristics of poverty such as a lack of healthcare, education, access to power, clean water and a reliable food source. In addition, over the last 15 years it has not been uncommon for lenders to charge usurious interest rates on these loans, creating vicious cycles of debt for borrowers.

As the perception of this financial instrument was tempered, no longer viewed as a ‘magic bullet’ to poverty, the term micro-credit became microfinance and the concept was relegated to the toolbox of poverty alleviation. To be clear, microfinance, if not abused by exorbitant interest rates, and if it works within a framework of poverty reduction, can dramatically help the poor by giving them access to financial services.

Access to financial services that are not traditionally available to the poorest segments of society is what microfinance is all about. And that fact is no different in SSA, where most MFIs are greenfields. Greenfield MFIs are local institutions formed by holding communities in communities without pre-existing financial infrastructure, staffs, clients or portfolios.

Microfinance made its debut in the region in 2000 when ProCredit Holding, a German banking group with 21 banks operating in developing and transitioning economies, opened a bank in Mozambique that offered microfinance services.

Since then, many companies have followed suit. In 2006 there were seven Greenfield MFIs in SSA, staffing 1,564 people, with 37 branches, and 220,337 deposit accounts. By 2012, there were 31 Greenfield MFIs in SSA, with 11,578 staff, 701 branches, and almost 2 million accounts. In that time the Gross Loan Portfolio increased from $57 million to $769 million.

To begin a Greenfield MFI in the region, $6-$8million is required over the first 3-4 years of operation. And only after months 42-48 do they emerge fully sustainable. While this investment may seem daunting, research shows that the average SSA Greenfield MFI has been able to sustain fairly rapid revenue growth. Over its first 60 months, it will increase its revenue by $500,000 every 6 months, reaching $5 million by its 5 year anniversary.

The growth of microfinance in SSA is undeniably impressive. The Greenfield MFI model has come a long way in a short time in Africa. And while in the grand scheme of a region containing around 1 billion people, these numbers seem meager, the financial performance of these Greenfield MFIs indicate a future in which Africans have much greater access to capital, and therefore a brighter future.

– Connor Bohannan

Sources: Business Insider, International Finance Corporation, Making Finance Work for Africa, The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor
Photo: European Commission

5 Ways to Empower Women
Though women produce roughly half of the world’s food supply and are often held responsible for their family’s well being, they are treated as second-class citizens in many places around the world. According to the United Nations, women’s empowerment is important not only from a human rights standpoint but also because it is “a pathway to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.” Listed below are five ways to empower women that will simultaneously bolster the fight against global poverty.

1. Give a Microloan

Organizations such as Kiva allow people to lend small amounts of money to individuals who cannot access traditional banking systems. When given microloans, women can start their own small businesses and better support themselves and their families. Microloans also help women to gain financial independence, which often allows them to escape domestic violence.

2. Help Girls Empower Each Other

Girl Up, a United Nations organization, allows American girls to connect with their peers in developing nations. Girl Up ensures that girls across the world can inspire each other and learn to stand up for the rights and opportunities to which they are entitled.

3. End Gender-Based Violence

Roughly 70% of females experience physical or sexual violence during their lifetime, and many more are subjected to other forms of abuse. Social mobilization is imperative in the battle against gender-based violence because it ensures that educational, psychological, and legal resources are offered to the many women who face violence. Organizations such as Say NO: UNiTE To End Violence Against Women provides funding for advocacy programs, volunteer opportunities at shelters, and protective government legislation in order to eliminate gender-based violence.

4. Grant Equal Educational Opportunities

Two-thirds of children denied an education across the world are girls. Left uneducated, girls are much more likely to live in poverty because of their low-earning potential and high fertility rate. Girls who attain higher levels of education have fewer children, earn higher salaries, and encourage education within their own households, gradually reducing poverty over time. The UN’s Global Fund for Women works to bridge the educational gap by investing in organizations that provide women with valuable skills and knowledge.

5. Help Women Recover from Conflicts

Women are one of the most vulnerable populations in times of conflict, subject to higher rates of violence, rape, and poverty. Advocating for food assistance following violent conflict helps to ensure that women receive food assistance after they have been crippled by the difficult side effects of war. This assistance helps them to restart their lives, giving them the tools and training they need to rebuild their communities.

Katie Bandera

Sources: WFP, Oprah, Huffington Post
Photo: Flickr