By Jessica Alderman, M.P.H – Envirofit Director of Communications & PR
The Envirofit Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) was founded on the belief that women, as primary users of cookstoves, must be involved in their design and distribution in order for stoves to be adopted and for women’s needs to be fully met. The WEP was developed and funded in conjunction with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) in 2012, and GACC has published a detailed guidebook on how to implement the WEP across sectors. Women who have completed Envirofit’s WEP in Kenya report having an increased sense of personal agency and confidence, and we saw women outsell men 3-to-1. In Envirofit’s program in India the sales of women who completed the program doubled after training. We have seen some major successes in running this program over the past 4 years, but we had to overcome many challenges and failures to do so. Here are 3 of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
1. Focus on providing skills, not answers
The WEP training that Envirofit has developed and adapted for our use is unique because of the focus on personal agency. This means that our trainer’s job isn’t to give participants suggestions or solutions to the problems they’re faced with, but instead to teach them how to find and create the solutions for themselves. Every woman who enters the program has their own story and challenges, and some are closer than others to having that “Aha!” moment that the WEP is designed to achieve. However, some implementers want to move the class along faster, and end up giving women answers instead of tools.
Guiding someone towards their own realization of personal empowerment can be challenging, and you need the right person leading the class. You have to be empowered to teach empowerment. Enlisting trainers who can act as guides, as opposed to just teachers, is the way to achieve lasting results.
2. Recruit the right people
For any WEP to succeed you need the right people, and this includes both participants and implementers. The team implementing the program is the most important to its success. If someone who wants to be involved isn’t patient and supporting, then that’s a problem. You can have a great program, but without the right team – trainers, support staff, recruitment – it will fail.
Predicting the success of the women we recruit is difficult, and we haven’t found the magic bullet yet – maybe it doesn’t exist. But, you do need to look for people with an aptitude for work. Selling cookstoves is rewarding, but it isn’t easy! We have a process of giving women a trial before we invest in the training to see if it’s something they want to do. Essentially if you are here for the free lunch, you’re in the wrong place. Our method has been to give people a try to see who performs, but we haven’t yet found key traits that predict success.
The next biggest challenge is making the program work at scale. Quantity of people might achieve wide-scale impact to make a program successful, but not at the sacrifice of quality of people. Your long-term goal should be building a program that is sustainable and mutually supporting – don’t sacrifice that for short-term gains.
3. Continued success requires continued support
Even when you do recruit good candidates and the initial training goes well, they won’t succeed without continued support. We saw a lot of women drop off after their first few weeks. What we learned is that outside of the classroom, it’s difficult for people who have limited or no work experience to overcome their initial fears about approaching people to initiate a conversation about their household, and close a sale. Program participants represent a big investment, and having them leave so soon after completing the WEP is costly.
This is why training needs to be viewed as only the first step. The bread and butter is follow-up support, and frequency of it. With continued support, women can overcome their initial hesitations and begin to feel more confident initiating conversations and making sales.
One of the continued support measures we provide that women really appreciate is group based post-training support. At these meetings, we address common barriers they’re likely to face and walk them through the process of addressing their own barriers. It’s helpful because they have a chance to talk with other people who are going through the same challenges, and share information about what works for them.
It’s exciting to see the cookstoves, and the larger development sector embracing women’s empowerment and making it a key program focus. However, this is still a relatively new space with many lessons to be learned. Empowerment is about more than giving someone a pen and teaching them to write their name; It is about changing the way individuals think about themselves and their actions, and the way society responds to those actions. From our experience, we have learned that lots of effort needs to be focused in recruitment, make sure you have the right team implementing your training, and make the follow up – not the training – the heart of your program. And remember, this is not about giving people the help they are requesting, it’s about guiding them through the process to find the answers for themselves – that is the heart of empowerment.
To learn more about how the Women’s Empowerment Program can create impact for your business or social enterprise contact firstname.lastname@example.org