ENGAGE! Women’s Empowerment and Active Citizenship is a five-year initiative co-designed by Coady Institute and five partner-organizations in Ethiopia, India, Tanzania, Bangladesh, and Haiti.

The project’s goal is to advance gender equality and poverty reduction by enhancing women’s capacity to participate in the social and economic life of their communities.

Formal planning for the project began in January 2019. After a public announcement in March 2020, the five partner organizations planned to launch their respective efforts in May 2020. Though only a matter of months between planning and implementation, much had happened to change the landscape both locally and globally – most notably, the global Covid-19 pandemic.

This led to a pivot, wherein community-based activities were paused to protect community members’ health and allow each organization to respond to the pandemic. Coady introduced online courses, remote mentoring, online communities of practice, and one-on-one assistance for partners in curriculum development, program design, and technical assistance.

As the pandemic eased in the fall and winter of 2020, the partners have been able to resume some field activities, while remaining attentive to rising cases and public health recommendations.

Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE), Ethiopia

In January 2020, WISE hosted an independent ENGAGE project launch in the Arada sub city woredas 7 and 8. Stakeholders in each woreda – including representatives from respective Women’s and Youth Affairs offices – showed their commitment and dedication to supporting the project and its goals, confirming that women and girls’ empowerment is a government priority.

In February 2020, WISE held an Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Training of Trainers course. Participants included WISE staff and representatives from universities, local government, and local organizational partners.

When the Covid-19 pandemic reached Ethiopia, it caused a general economic downturn with increases in inflation and adverse effects on poor households. WISE has experienced major changes to ways of working, most notably, in terms of how training and fieldwork are delivered. The impact of the pandemic has been particularly challenging for its savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOS), which are a central building block of WISE’s community-building strategy. Through this period, WISE has had to develop new capacities and systems for online training and remote management and communications.

In doing so, WISE has now delivered training for over 300 women and girls in their SACCOs, which aims to improve socio-economic conditions by “mobilizing savings, creating access to credit, and asset-building” using technology and social governance, since the project launch.

Le Centre Haïtien du Leadership et de l’Excellence (CLE), Haiti

In Haiti, the pandemic pushed CLE to explore new program and delivery options, including online training and hybrid or blended models. The pandemic has also prompted CLE to decentralize operations from Port-au-Prince to outlying and rural communities where their constituents live and work.

In March 2021, CLE successfully launched the application phase for their new Fanm Angaje Fellowship Program aimed to support young women working in social enterprise. The launch corresponded with Women’s History Month and featured several live engagement sessions with women who are leading the charge for change in different areas supporting young women leaders.

The Fanm Angaje Fellowship Program will support 50 exemplary young women leaders and social entrepreneurs over the course of two 15-month cohorts in building an eco-system around them that will offer:

  • Intensive tailored education supporting leadership and professional skills, communications and community mobilization, mentorship and coaching to expand their vision;
  • A multi-media platform for important conversations and to elevate women’s voices; and
  • Access to critical resources such as scholarships, funding and technical expertise.

Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the pandemic has more than doubled the national poverty rate from 20% to 42%. Travel restrictions have greatly limited direct outreach to those that CCDB identified as project beneficiaries, forcing the postponement of most programs and activities.

With more time to prepare for the rollout of their planned capacity building programs, CCDB staff have been participating in Coady Institute’s online education programs and are working on adapting Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) for their comprehensive poverty reduction program which works with approximately 50,000 people in 31 sub-districts of Bangladesh. After completing the Advancing Women’s Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding for Community Development online certificate, they are also now considering adapting this content into their work in Cox’s Bazaar, aimed at reducing tensions between the host communities and Rohingya refugees. Staff will be applying their training in orientation sessions on conflict transformation and peacebuilding with all project staff, organizing workshops with local community leaders and youth leaders focused on peacebuilding and “do no harms”, and conducting courtyard sessions for community members in the field.

CCDB is also preparing for the delivery of community-based and national training in the areas of Gender Responsive Budgeting, Climate Resilient Agriculture, and Asset-Based, Citizen-Led Development.

Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India

SEWA has experience in working with its members to build back better after a disaster or crisis. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, SEWA has been working to build partner, member, and community access and capacity to technology with communications tools such as Google Meet, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

While unable to conduct in person training, the SEWA Manager Ni School has accelerated their online training offerings – training their large membership base in digital technology skills while recognizing that many members have challenges accessing the internet and smartphones. Sessions have included virtual ways of working, digital financial inclusion, and growing social enterprises. SEWA also created a self-directed module on their values and principles for 32 new master trainers – generating employment for these young women workers and their families. These master trainers have gone on to train another 1900 members.

SEWA has also been able to disseminate knowledge to their members to help them adapt and adopt new forms of working to sustain their livelihoods in the Covid crisis. Through posters, audio messages, and one-on-one work, SEWA was able to reach 150 grassroots members and inform 5000 households about government program and benefits, and have undertaken advocacy with local, state, and central governments to facilitate the opening of transportation of salt for 15,000 salt workers and to facilitate sales and financial resilience for 30,000 cotton farmers.

Gender Training Institute (GTI) of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), Tanzania

In Tanzania, GTI-TGNP remains focused on movement building but has had to delay many activities and interventions due to Covid-19. Their primary constituency of rural women do not have ready access or the required skills to make use of mobile technology. This has made it difficult to organize meetings and provide equitable access to online training. Additionally, the organization has observed how the pandemic has generated an increased workload for women and girls as schools and daycares are closed. In response to these challenges, TGNP has pivoted to two new priorities: improving access to new technologies to facilitate communication and training, and better preparing for future health-related natural disasters. Thus, TGNP has begun budgeting funds to purchase smart phones for knowledge centre leaders, and engaging rural partners in online meetings and teleconferences, to ensure that communications continue in their efforts to support rural women’s empowerment.

While fieldwork has been disrupted, TGNP has begun the Intensive Movement Building Cycle, which undertakes participatory action research with grassroots activists, and establishes and supports local knowledge centres and investigative journalism to link grassroots activities to local journalists. These activities deepen the transformative feminist movement and build collective voice and actions to facilitate gender responsive service delivery and budget allocation. Thus far, TGNP has reached over 200 women and men through these efforts.

To learn more about ENGAGE! Women’s Empowerment and Active Citizenship and each of the five partner organizations, visit: coady.stfx.ca/engage