04 April 2012

Notes: Evaluating Women’s Economic Recovery and Empowerment Program

Last week, I attended a presentation of two studies on programs run by AVSI and IRC that aim to find solutions to economically empowering women. The two ideas are largely the same; women's empowerment will be done thorough program support, economic opportunity and community inclusion. Researchers had the unenviable task of trying to measure the effectiveness of the respective programs through an RCT.

Headlining the event was aid blogging rock star Chris Blattman. The following are my notes from the event on the two studies and the results. Chris says he will publish his paper soon and I hope he shares his fun slides. Having seen him speak twice now, I must say I can understand his popularity among students. He presents the information succinctly with powerful and fun slides that support rather than dominate his remarks. Every so often he adds a bit of humor to the slides to maintain the attention of his audience.

I did my best to take notes from what was presented, but I could not catch anything. The level of honesty was refreshing for a pair of NGOs, as is the desire to understand what aspects of their programs are succeeding and others that are in need of improvement or should be discarded.

Women’s Income generation Program run by AVSI in Uganda - program overview by Francesca Olivia of AVSI
  1. 1.8 million people displaced as the result of ongoing LRA-related conflict
  2. Freedom of movement program began at end of 2006 to return people to their homes – camp phase out process completed in 2011
  3. Estimated 3,500 EVIs still in camps
  4. Compared to pre-displacement situation:
    1. More people self-employed in non-agriculture activities
    2. Petty trade more common
    3. Brewery is widespread among women in particular
    4. Less involvement in ag activities. Loss of cultivation habit/knowledge especially among youth
  5. 5) Psychosocial approach – initiated in Rwanda post-genocide
    1. Views a person in the context of his/her own community and takes into acct persons psychosocial needs
    2. Aims at meeting peoples immediate needs and strengthening innate resilience
    3. Income generation activities
      1. Small scale businesses implemented with an aim of improving the income and PSS wellbeing of vulnerable persons whose normal functioning is limited by inadequate access to finance
  6. Why evaluate WINGS program?
    1. Had prolonged and positive experience that wanted to show and communicate
    2. Wanted to improve methodology
    3. Survey on War Affected Youth
    4. Opportunity outweighed risks related to scaling up, standardization of intervention, and quantification of psychosocial impact.
  7. Questions
    1. How to best use resources
    2. Econ and psychosocial effects of groups vs individuals on
  8. Evaluation
    1. With IPA
    2. 1.5 Mil over 3 years
    3. Income generation program component: 
      1. Business skills training in groups of 15 and support business plan development –> 
      2. Grant disbursement of $150 –> 
      3. Group Dynamics Training –>
      4. Follow Up
    4. Implementation challenges include: 
      1. Corruption, 
      2. cultural boundaries, 
      3. alcoholism, 
      4. HH and community conflicts, 
      5. business is not main priority, etc
    5. Challenges of evaluation: 
      1. Standardization of intervention, 
      2. managing expectations in control group, 
      3. maintaining control group, 
      4. gain consensus from local authorities, 
      5. tracking the beneficiaries in different phrases, 
      6. translate people into numbers
    6. Opportunities: 
      1. To learn what does and does not work, 
      2. test interesting and unexpected outcomes in phase II, 
      3. get deeper interaction with beneficiaries, 
      4. provide evidence of effectiveness of intervention
Chris Blattman presenting study of AVSI program (research done with Jeannie Annan, Julian Jameson and Eric Green)
  1. What is the impact of successful programs on psychological outcomes. There is a dearth of info.
  2. Give answers to questions that may affect programing for vulnerable populations more generally.
  3. 1,800 vulnerable person in 120 villages – 60 villages in each phase with 900 persons in each phase
  4. Most striking thing about intervention is increase in economic activity
  5. Hours worked in past four weeks up by 64%
  6. Net Income in past 4 weeks up by 102%
  7. Savings up 338% and assets up by 23%
  8. Implications: poor and vulnerable women are capable of making wise investments; poor have high potential returns to capital; absence of capital or credit is key constraint on poor women
  9. No evidence of impact on psychological distress – both groups report a reduction in distress over time as living conditions improve
  10. No change in domestic violence and no measured increase in level of empowerment
  11. Rise in threat and hostility relative to controls
  12. Rise in perceived respect and power in community – (Was personal perception of respect/power measured?)
  13. Implications: 
    1. Improving econ status may not have secondary effects on mental health; 
    2. helping women become entrepreneurs may benefit household w/o empowering women; 
    3. targeting the vulnerable is risky
  14. Annual return on investment – 67% for grant only and 11% on grant + program
  15. Questions raised: How important were follow-ups to economic success? Could a more (male) inclusive approach improve success?
  16.  Phase 2  
    1. 30 villages with Women plus (more inclusive approach with men) 
    2. 1/3 will cease follow up, 1/3 with two follow up visits, 1/3 with full follow up program (30 days of results so far)
  17. Short term impacts of inclusive approach – 
    1. lower distress,
    2. more support of business from partner, 
    3. partner helps around home more
  18. No real short-term accountability effect
  19. Overall implications: 
    1. poor are capable of making wise investments, but like any of us, are vulnerable to temptation and bad decision making; 
    2. helping women become entrepreneurs may benefit the household without empowering the women or decreasing psychological distress; 
    3. labor intensive advising and monitoring may not be cost effective.
“Getting Down to Business” - Economic Empowerment and Domestic Violence Prevention – Bersabeh Beyene, IRC
  1. Done in over 17 Countries
  2. Focus areas: Survivor services, partnership program, advocacy at every level and economic empowerment
  3. Responding to violence against women and girls in conflict zones since 1996
  4. The more accessible the services, the more lives we can save – can help women break the silence associated with the violence we are seeing
  5. Women express need for cash at each part of the programming – hence economic empowerment programming
  6. Decided to focus on domestic violence – in 2010 out of 3,707 women who reported their cases to IRC offices, 57% of incidents were perpetrated by intimate or former partner (Reported from offices in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi and Thailand)
  7. To provide women with viable economic activities and mitigate potential backlash – keep responsibility on men to stop IPV
  8. Economic and Social Empowerment Model (EA$E)
    1. Talking about Burundi pilot program initiated in 2007
    2. Impact evaluation was done along with it
    3. EASE – If women have increase financial resources – have diverse income source- and male spouses respect women as value members in household – then women can participate in household decisions and experience a reduction in violence
    4. Village Savings and Loan Associations – group savings and terms are determined by the group – interest is generally 10% to 20% - social fund is for emergency access
    5. VSLAs chosen because of ease of access to appropriate loans, safe place to keep money, 30-40% return on savings
    6. Could not do it insolation from men and spouses – discussion group series – VSLA members and spouses can reflect on attitudes and beliefs that condone violence – highlight value of women in the household and benefit of equitable decision making
      1. Tracking income and spending, setting goals and allocating resources – each with underlying violence decreasing and empowerment goals
      2. Self-awareness, business principles, understanding a market, developing a business plan
    7. Research in Burundi
      1. Does economic programming that includes a social intervention lead to a behavioral or social change?
      2. Does VSLA alone lead to change or VSLA plus discussion group series
      3. Radha Iyengar and Gulia Ferrari of LSE ran trial
      4.  483 people in sample
      5. January 2008 to April 2009
      6. 69% female participants, avg age was 37, avg number of children at home was 4, 61% had some primary school and 16% had some secondary school
      7. Women in the high/mod risk at baseline reported a 22% reduction
      8. 46% reduction in physical harm
      9.  Men reported 11% increase in the use of negotiation during disagreements about number of children to have
      10. Women report an increase in negotiated resolutions for all disagreements except for alcohol and cig purchases and when to have sex
      11. 10% decrease in tolerance of IPV in case of the wife neglecting the children
      12. Key takeaway: Discussion group series plus savings groups programs, but want to see higher impact
      13. Does this program work in different countries and contexts? Would improve design and monitoring improve outcomes?
      14. Conducting another RCT in Cote d’Ivorie with IPA and Yale – Dr Gupta of Yale is lead researcher
        1. Same research question
        2. 2 Year RCT
        3. 48 Groups within 25 villages
        4. Baseline in Oct 2010
        5. End line survey in July 2011
    8. Questions
      1. No financial incentives provided for men
      2. Use IRC staff and community volunteers for group discussions – heavily trained
      3. Did not do a cost analysis in the Burundi