“Thanks to READ Centers, women are more confident, have greater self-esteem, and are able to start and run their own businesses.” ~ READ Nepal staff member
Supporting women’s empowerment and women’s entrepreneurship is one of the MOST effective ways to lift families, communities, countries, and whole regions out of poverty. This key takeaway from a 2018 World Bank report is essential to the READ Global model, and we are eager to share some promising information about READ’s effectiveness on women’s financial empowerment in South Asia.
Understanding the Financial Impact of READ Centers on Women
We’ve seen the impact that focusing on lifting up women has had on our communities, heard their impact stories, and championed those who became leaders. We wanted to understand the impact of our model on women’s financial empowerment better, so READ partnered with Stanford MBA students and a READ Global fellow to measure and analyze changes in women’s financial status after engagement with READ Centers in Nepal.
The lean impact study focused on four communities impacted by READ Centers in rural Nepal, and overall, found a strong positive impact on women’s economic situation, specifically on increased income, savings, and access to seed capital and economic opportunities for women who participated. What’s more, it uncovers the financial benefits that READ centers offer for not just women, but also children and families as a whole.
READ’s Theory of Change
READ’s Mechanisms for Improving Women’s Finances
READ Centers act as safe hubs for women to gather, learn together, and support one another. Through these centers, READ supports the formation of women’s savings and loan cooperatives, provides access to educational resources such as job and skills-based training programs, literacy support, childcare, and more. In nearly all cases, these women’s support networks and cooperatives constituted a crucial element in the degree of financial impact they experienced during and after engaging with the READ Center.
1. Women’s Access to Capital
As of the end of 2016, women’s cooperatives in Nepal for savings, loans, or both boasted a membership of 7,593 women, supported by 20 READ Centers. Through this extensive network, READ has made 2091 loans to women, valued at $684,027 USD. The average savings per member is approximately $221 USD, reflecting an average, self-reported INCREASE in savings of $200 per person since participating in the co-op. On average, women also reported an annual income increase of $790 after participating in a program. This increase in income is slightly greater than Nepal’s 2016 per capita GDP.
“I was sad not to meet extra needs of my children before. Now I am able to fulfill my children’s needs, and for this I don’t need to beg money from husband or any other. In future, I have planned to buy a machine to expand my business and also offer embroidery trainings.”
~ Sita Devi Gurung, 27 years old, Deepshikha READ Center
Sita (pictured above) embroiders and tailors clothes in a space she rents, and earns 12,000 Nepali Rupees per month stitching and fulfilling orders for saris and kurtas. Through this work, she now earns enough for extra expenses besides basic household needs, as well as to save 600 Rupees every month.
2. Women’s Livelihood Trainings
READ also conducts over 30 different types of skills-based trainings, across key areas such as advocacy, empowerment, and human health, in addition to promoting financial literacy and access to capital. READ’s services often offer resources and vital information that women in these villages couldn’t afford, even if they did have access to them. Though this programming, READ was able to increase women’s economic empowerment through training and skills development at the rate of $110 per woman, based on a comparison with historical data. This is a notable return on investment relative to terms of cost per participant, especially when compared to program offerings of other service providers.
The study also looked at the value of the READ’s programs in Nepal, which are provided free to participants. On average, respondents assigned a value of approximately $15,682 for agricultural trainings offered, and a value of $4,016 for women-focused livelihood skills trainings, with many stating that they would like to see MORE programs offered to help increase their incomes and skills.
“A few prospective jobs that suited me were inconvenient since they were so far from my house. I used to feel a tremendous sense of guilt for not being able to work despite being educated. Later, I participated in the Embroidery Training Program and Entrepreneurship Skill Development Training in the library, after which I have been doing embroidery commercially. Having my own source of income has enabled me to be independent. I even manage to save Rs. 1,000 per month. Before, I used to worry about not having a job. Now, I have something even better; I have my own business.”
~ Laxmi Acharya, Age 33, Deepshikha READ Center
3. Literacy & Childcare Services
For women who oftentimes bear the dual responsibilities of providing household care (childcare, home maintenance, etc.) and income-generation or savings maintenance, it is a daily challenge to find time for self-improvement and lifelong learning. With this hardship in mind, READ understands the importance of comprehensive service delivery for women. READ applies multiple levers of change including teaching women functional literacy and offering childcare for women so they can focus on trainings.
READ utilizes literacy as a launchpad for women to begin realizing their own power and influence on their futures, and as one of the ways they can take advantages of opportunities to become more prosperous and improve their community’s wellbeing. In many of the communities where READ works, literacy rates for women are noticeably lower than literacy rates for men. Through local partnerships, READ Centers offer basic literacy courses to help women become functionally literate.
This study found that the value of female literacy is substantial. For every person that becomes literate in Nepal, Nepal GDP increases by about $10.71.
READ also offers free childcare services for woman who participate in the training program and courses. High-quality childcare for woman seeking better opportunities has been proven to be an effective empowerment tool for women and their children, letting them participate in trainings they otherwise couldn’t. We calculate that the total value of childcare offered to women participating in READ programs is $558,388 USD.
Learnings & What’s Next
With these findings, READ will continue to refine services offered for women and will continue to deepen our work as advocates of women and girls issues globally. Many respondents said “if only more business grants were available” and wished for the continuation of women-focused empowerment programs. Through our extensive network across Nepal, India and Bhutan, we will integrate and share these key solutions for women across the community-led network of 107 READ Centers in South Asia.
Interested in learning more about the other ways we make an impact?
Stay tuned for the next installment focused on our impact study.