Evaluating our Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategy

Twenty five-year-old Aisha Adam carries goods on her head at Kantamanto Market, a busy market in Accra's Central Business District. (Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment)

In 2015, the Hewlett Foundation launched its first strategy on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE). The goal of that strategy was to support women in achieving greater agency, opportunities, and control over resources. To do so, we focused on three areas of grantmaking: data, research, and advocacy. We worked under the premise that improved data, macro-level research, and evidence-informed advocacy would help lead to more gender-informed policymaking, better enabling women’s equal participation in the economy.

Every five years, at the Hewlett Foundation, we commission an independent external evaluation of our strategies to assess progress, learn, and ultimately use that learning to inform future strategy. The WEE evaluation was conducted by SRI Executive and Kore Global and can be found here.

The evaluation has a range of findings that show both the strengths of our grantmaking strategy and areas where we can improve. The three key takeaways highlighted below will guide our forthcoming WEE strategy, which should be completed and shared in the next few months.

What we learned

Funding for macro-level policy influencing is necessary. 

The WEE field is broader, deeper, more active, and better funded than it was five years ago. But most of this funding has gone to micro-level economic issues such as financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, and others that focus on individual outcomes rather than structural and systemic change. We are excited about the increase in work on WEE and hope more funding will go to all parts of the field. However, we remain one of the few funders with a specific emphasis on using macro-level economic policy to improve gender equality.

Evidence use must be a central consideration.

WEE data and research are rarely “policy-ready.” They need to be translated and packaged to facilitate consumption and use by advocates and policymakers. Evidence also needs to provide viable, costed WEE macro-level economic policy options to be usable by policymakers. Involving users from design through dissemination of data and evidence would help ensure policy options, recommendations, and advocacy “asks” have traction with policymakers.

Greater thematic focus is needed.

Advocacy is seen to be most successful when it is thematically focused on specific areas—for example, unpaid care or informality—and backed by clear policy solutions rooted in data and evidence. Linking a greater thematic focus to the generation and use of data and evidence—in line with our macro-level lens—would better position advocates to influence policies.

How we’ll carry these lessons forward into our new strategy

During the first five years of our strategy, we focused on data and evidence generation as well as advocacy to inform and influence policy. The range of grantees we supported, including Data 2x and IDRC’s Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GroW) East Africa, along with many others, have made important contributions in building up bodies of work in areas such as data and care that have, among other things, influenced the field. This was exemplified by commitments made in these areas at the recent Generation Equality Forum. While these commitments were not the goal of our work, they build upon the work of our grantees and many others. And due to the contributions of many actors, including our grantees, the field is growing and evolving.

While gaps in data and evidence remain, there are also questions about how data and evidence can be translated into solutions that advocates and policymakers can use to improve economic policy. In our next strategy, we will shift our focus from evidence generation to use by taking a solutions-oriented approach.

As the Hewlett Foundation is one of the few funders with a specific emphasis on using macro-level economic policy to improve gender equality, we will continue our work to strengthen the WEE macro-level field, and hopefully crowd in more resources and attention to change the macro-economic policies that constrain women’s empowerment, agency, and well-being. Our solutions focus will concentrate in areas that need attention and are gaining momentum, such as informal work, valuing unpaid care in the functioning of the economy, and the heightened importance of social protection in the post-COVID economic recovery.

We also recognize the need for in-country and contextual evidence-based solutions that reflect women’s lived realities. Therefore, we will use our grantmaking to support shifting WEE priority-setting and decision making to those closer to national macro-level issues in East and West Africa, regions which have been our area of focus over the past five years. This includes shifting funding to African organizations and explicitly working towards strengthening the WEE macro-level field in East and West Africa.

We would like to thank our grantees and the broader field for their contributions to the evaluation process and the learning it has engendered. We look forward to working with grantees and the field to strengthen the WEE macro-level environment so that all women in the regions where we work can access the opportunities needed to achieve their aspirations.

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