Nilima Achwal

Women Deliver Conference 2013: A holistic approach to reaching scale

By now, we know the statistics. Some 800 mothers died in childbirth every day in 2010; 39,000 young girls are forced into marriage every day (usually resulting in her abuse and denial of future opportunities); one in three women globally will be raped or beaten in her lifetime (UN). Not to mention the persevering bias for boys in several countries that has resulted in 60 million “missing” girls in Asia (aborted or killed), or the innumerable challenges the girls would have faced if they had survived (including often receiving less food, education, and access to health care than their male counterparts).

Until recently, many of these challenges have been considered solely the domain of human rights, public policy, social justice, or other non-profit groups. And while that remains largely (and rightly) the case, decades of market-based work targeting disenfranchised women – from microfinance to distribution models centered on the woman village-level entrepreneur to medical technology innovations – show that sustainable and scalable models do have a place in women’s and girls’ empowerment. Surprisingly, however, market-based approaches and social enterprise were still side conversations at the Women Deliver conference this year (see first post here), reflecting possible work to be done in legitimizing social enterprise and market-based approaches in the international development field as a whole.

For the social enterprise field, there are critical insights to be gleaned from the international development space as well. Interventions focused on the “whole girl,” or supporting every piece of her life (health, education, legal rights, community awareness), seem to work better than interventions only focused on one isolated need area. Interestingly, most of the winning social enterprises at of the Social Enterprise Challenge at Women Deliver aligned with this thinking, largely not being product- or invention-based, but rather taking more holistic approaches.

The challenge drew from the “Women Deliver 25,” a pool of 25 global social enterprises chosen from the Echoing Green semi-finalists, who competed through online voting to be one of ten winners who received the following:

  • Full scholarship to Women Deliver 2013
  • Access to free legal counsel from TrustLaw Connect (a program of the Thomson Reuters Foundation)
  • Chance to pitch in the Social Enterprise Challenge on May 30 to win the Global Solutions Award and a cash prize of $5,000

Ten enterprises pitched to the expert judging panel, comprised of Daniel Rostrup, TrustLaw Connect; Josh Nesbit, CEO of Medic Mobile; Amanda Chen, of the Clinton Global Initiative; Jackline Fesi Mupenzi, of SHE Innovates; Sweta Mangal, CEO of Ziqitza Health Care Limited; and facilitator Rachel Zedeck, founder of Backpack Farm. The judges selected three enterprises for the Global Solutions Awards, including:

First Place: New Incentives

Founder: Svetha Janumpalli

Countries: Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, India, Bangladesh, and Cambodia

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) – small, predictable sums of money that individuals in need can earn after meeting various education and health benchmarks – have proven successful time and again in international development because they give households an incentive (and the financial freedom) to invest in their own human capital – health, education, or other family or household needs. New Incentives channels funding to its own CCT projects, which are focused on women living on less than $0.30/day. Its projects include preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and enabling at-risk adolescent girls to pursue secondary school.

Second Place: Black Girls CODE

Founder: Kimberly Bryant

Countries: United States, Africa

Focus: Black Girls Code’s mission is to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders (specifically underrepresented miniority girls aged 7 to 17), providing them with the necessary skills to work in the technical sector. Recalling her own feelings of cultural isolation when she pursued programming in college, Bryant is driven to address the dearth of African-American women in science, technology, engineering and math professions, by creating access and exposure to the field at an early age.

Third Place: Wedu Fund

Founders: Mario Ferro and Mari Sawai

Countries: Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand

Focus: Wedu creates a positive cycle of development by identifying girls committed to local issues, investing in their education, and mentoring them to lead. These girls can then become the next generation of local leaders, mentors, and financers in their communities.

The remaining 7 finalists included:

  • Educate2Envision International, which invests in higher education for high school girls to ensure they can reach their fullest potential and lift themselves out of poverty before becoming pregnant
  • G3Box, which converts steel shipping containers into durable, semi-mobile, stand-alone medical and maternity clinics in developing countries
  • Global Health Media Project, which is filling the critical need for better health-worker training by producing a series of videos on midwifery and newborn care
  • Teen Revolt, which educates, engages, and empowers teens to take the lead in the fight against sex trafficking
  • Torath Production, which teach others about the Middle East and North Africa region, specifically the untold stories of women facing injustice within MENA society.
  • VOICE 4 Girls, which provides camps to empower marginalized Indian adolescent girls, including English communication and life skills programming
  • Woman To Woman Foundation, which ensures that rural Ugandan schoolgirls have access to reusable sanitary pads and panties to enable them stay in school

These winners show us that there are legions of men and women creating impactful and enterprising models to empower girls and women across the world. However, it’s apparent that if we are serious about restoring dignity to millions of women and girls, we need to be very clear and focused about our objectives – this means the mobilization of massive resources, quickly scaling up impactful public sector interventions, and creating private sector models with clear, unwavering focuses on girls and women.

If we can focus and execute, then it’s possible that this century may be a tipping point. Not just for half the population, but for the whole human population – everyone who is affected positively by more stable, prosperous communities and nations.