Investing in women creates amultiplier effect for society – including better health and education outcomes, more resilient societies, reinvestment in communities, and greater prosperity. While there has been overall progress globally, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) still face some of the greatest barriers in asserting their economic rights.To help break through these barriers, the Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality in MENA online competition, launched by Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric, was launched to support innovations that enable full economic participation by women. Nine competition finalists have emerged who are building quality livelihoods and securing economic rights for women across the region. The competition is also uncovering a series of trends that demonstrate how investing in women’s economic equality is smart.
The Women Powering Work competition received 107 applications from more than 23 countries, spanning very diverse economic, social, and political contexts. In the spirit of open learning and collaboration, below is a list of the finalists and the themes that are emerging from their solutions.
Who are the finalists?BADAWEYA Women’s Handicraft Initiative, EgyptBusanti, PakistandoctHERS-in-the-House, PakistanFarm to Market: Seeding Afghan Women Entrepreneurs, AfghanistanHandasiyat.net, JordanKhadija Program – Technology for Development, YemenNabbesh’s www Initiative: Work that Works for Women, UAEPoverty Female Prisoners & Their Children, EgyptWomen’s Digital League – Celebrating the Strength, Courage and Talent of Pakistani Women One Digital Task at a Time, PakistanEmerging Trends:
Trend #1: Reinvent Jobs for Maximum FlexibilityWhen Maria Umar was refused maternity leave as a teacher, she quit her job and worked to found an online company that would offer flexibility in work options for any woman who needs it. Umar’s organization,Women’s Digital League (Pakistan), and two other finalists — Nabbesh(United Arab Emirates) and engineering firm Handasiyat.net(Jordan) — are creating project-based jobs that women can easily access online. A key part of their success is customizing their services to meet the unique needs of their local context. They are securing partnerships with local companies to ensure quality jobs are available for posting, embedding ratings systems to help employees build their reputation, and partnering with NGOs to provide training and infrastructure to access IT jobs in hard to reach, rural communities.
Trend #2: Partner for Entrepreneurial Success — Create Access to MarketsA number of changemakers are not only helping women to establish their own micro-enterprises but also providing them with the services and partnerships they need to grow into medium-to -large sized businesses. Projects such as Badaweya Handicraft Initiative (Egypt) and Afghan Women Entrepreneurs (Afghanistan) are delivering skills trainings, providing start-up materials, coupling skills-trainings with consulting advice about how to make enterprises successful, and also linking women to distributors and networks to ensure their products can reach enough customers to make a profit. Afghan Women Entrepreneurs, along with the Khadija Technology Program (Yemen), step further outside the box by focusing on industries such as farming and information technology, giving women the training, access to partner networks, and experience needed to establish their own enterprises in fields that aren’t limited to handicrafts.
Trend #3: Replace Intense Stigma with EmpowermentSometimes innovation can come from applying established solutions to previously unreached populations. A number of entries stood out for their focus on segments of women that were especially disenfranchised. Changemakers Finalist Children of Female Prisoners Association (CFPA) (Egypt) focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty and stigma faced by women who are imprisoned along with their children, many due to having small debts or due to the debts of relatives. CFPA provides vocational training and support and creates public campaigns to help ensure that women can break free of any stigma and become gainfully employed. Other entries focused on pioneering economic development opportunities for widows (Athar Foundation, Yemen), orphans (Woman to Woman, Jordan), and bedouins (Badaweya, Egypt).
Trend #4: Lift Environmental Barriers to EmploymentA few finalists stood out for proposing solutions that would ease access to jobs while also tackling environmental barriers that exacerbate the employment gender gap such as poor transportation and healthcare. In order to make it easier for women to get to jobs within cities, Busanti(Pakistan) not only seeks to provide safe, harassment-free transportation with women-only buses but also provides essential health-education during the transportation. DoctHERS in the house (Pakistan) is also finding innovative ways to deliver healthcare to the underserved but by utilizing technology to enable female doctors who cannot access the workplace to continue practicing medicine from home. They train local community nurses, provide diagnostic tools, and conduct examinations by remotely utilizing mobile and internet technology.
Trend #5: Engage Men as Part of the SolutionWhile a number of solutions are inspiring examples of social businesses for and by women, a key strategy for success cited by strong entries included deliberate efforts to ensure men in the community were engaged as full allies and participants in the economic development opportunities. BADAWEYA Women’s Handicraft Initiative (Egypt), for example, ensures that activities also involve husbands and brothers and that good relationships are maintained with tribal leaders.
With so many promising projects, inspiring changemakers, and social challenges needing solutions, it certainly wasn’t easy to narrow down the list to nine finalists or to recognize every strong applicant! With this in mind, our aim is to offer tools to help ensure that every applicant gains value from this experience. Resources we created as a result of this collaborative competition include: acustom feedback report highlighting strengths, areas for improvement. and suggested projects to learn from or partner with as well as aChangemaking Toolkit, where you can explore all projects related to the field of women’s economic development on a single map, navigate an interactive report about trends in social innovation for this field, access a guide to pitching and wooing funders, and more._This post was written by Reem Rahman (@reemrahman), who works at Ashoka@Changemakers as a Product and Knowledge Manager to help anyone with an idea for social change succeed in making a difference.Featured Image: ”A survey of the Afghan people” via Asian Development Bank and Compfight cc.