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The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups (ECWG) aims to strengthen, expand, and disseminate the global evidence base on women’s groups. Specifically, we work to:

  • Generate and synthesize evidence on the impact, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of women’s groups: Guided by our learning agenda, we address evidence-gaps by generating and synthesizing evidence on the impact, cost-effectiveness, and implementation models of women’s groups in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular emphasis on India, Nigeria, and Uganda.

  • Use evidence to inform women’s groups programming in India, Nigeria, and Uganda: We work closely with partners to ensure that evidence generated strengthens program implementation. We also develop and help partners introduce robust, standardized measurement tools to determine groups' cost-effectiveness and their impact on empowerment, health, and economic outcomes.

  • Serve as an evaluation and evidence partner on women’s groups for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Gender Equality Team: We work closely with the Gender Equality team’s evaluation partners and synthesize evidence at the portfolio level to inform the Women’s Empowerment Collectives strategy. We serve as an evidence partner to Program Officers of the Gender Equality team by identifying and addressing evidence gaps and extracting learnings from across the portfolio to answer key learning questions and sharing lessons and insights. We also conduct and/or support evaluations on a few specific programs.

    • Current work: The ECWG has conducted a portfolio evaluation of 46 of the Gates Foundation’s grants focusing on women’s groups. We have also synthesized evidence on women’s participation rates in savings groups in sub-Saharan Africa to inform future programming (coming soon).

Research and Resources

 

Learning Agenda

This document presents a learning agenda to guide the ECWG’s work, which will focus on synthesizing, generating, and disseminating rigorous research to inform the implementation and scale-up of women’s groups around the world. The learning agenda will inform the ECWG’s research addressing key gaps on the impact, cost-effectiveness, and the implementation of women’s groups at scale.

Learning Agenda (full version | summary version )



Completed Research

ECWG Published Papers

Women’s groups and COVID-19: An evidence review on savings groups in Africa

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and some of the associated policy responses have resulted in significant gendered impacts that may reverse recent progress in gender equality, including in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper presents emerging evidence from studies in diverse contexts in sub-Saharan Africa —with a deep dive into Nigeria and Uganda—on how COVID-19 has affected women’s groups, especially savings groups, and how these groups have helped mitigate the gendered effects of the pandemic’s and the associated policy responses’ consequences up until April 2021. The synthesis presents evidence that savings groups found ways to continue operating, provided leadership opportunities for women during the pandemic, and mitigated some of the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 on individual savings group members. Savings, credit, and group support from other members all likely contributed to the ability of groups to positively affect the resilience of women’s group member during COVID-19. Households with a female member in a savings group in Nigeria and Uganda have coped with the crisis better than those not in savings groups. While savings groups have shown the potential for resilience during the pandemic, they often faced financial challenges because of decreased savings, which sometimes resulted in the depletion of group assets. Savings groups also contributed to community responses and provided women a platform for leadership. These findings are consistent with a recent evidence synthesis on how past covariate shocks affected women’s groups and their members. We conclude the paper by presenting various policy recommendations to enable savings groups to achieve improvements in women’s empowerment and economic outcomes, and research recommendations to address some of the current evidence gaps on how COVID-19 is affecting women’s groups and their members.

Read the paper published in Gates Open Research

Economies of scale of large-scale international development interventions: Evidence from self-help groups in India

Livelihoods and microfinance programs for women often show reduced impacts after scale-up. Yet, program scale-up may reduce average per capita costs and maintain cost-effectiveness despite lower impact. This paper presents evidence on the association between program scale, costs, and cost-effectiveness by analyzing how the costs of a large-scale Self-Help Group (SHG) program in India changed from its inception in 2007 to its scale-up in 2019. We use expenditure data from program’s audit statements of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society – and find that a 1% increase in program membership was associated with a 0.6% increase in annual program expenditures, indicating large economies of scale. Predicted costs from regressions suggest that the annual per capita program expenditures declined from $29 when the program covered 100,000 members to $5 when it reached 10 million members. Previous impact evaluations of Jeevika showed sizeable but smaller substitutions away from high-cost debt after scale-up than during the pilot, but we found that economies of scale led to similar cost-effectiveness ratios for this outcome. We also found that formation of higher-level federations is associated with lower marginal costs than setting up SHGs. However, previous evidence suggests that Jeevika did not generate average impacts on women’s agency and asset ownership after scale-up. Building on a rich history of research on Jeevika, we argue that program implementers must identify key success factors in pilot programs to minimize tradeoffs between cost savings and potentially reduced impacts after scale-up. Further, we suggest investments in linking SHGs to federations to improve the cost-effectiveness of SHGs.

Read the paper published in World Development

ECWG Working Papers

Women’s Groups and COVID-19: An Evidence Review on Savings Groups in Africa

This paper presents emerging evidence from studies in diverse contexts in sub-Saharan Africa —with a deep dive into Nigeria and Uganda—on how COVID-19 has affected women’s groups and how these groups have helped mitigate the gendered effects of the pandemic’s and the associated policy responses’ consequences up until April 2021. The synthesis presents evidence that savings groups found ways to continue operating, provided leadership opportunities for women during the pandemic, and mitigated some of the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 on individual savings group members. Savings, credit, and group support from other members all likely contributed to the ability of groups to positively affect women’s group member’s resilience during COVID-19. However, savings groups themselves often faced financial challenges because of decreased savings, which sometimes resulted in the depletion of group assets. These findings are consistent with a recent evidence synthesis on how past covariate shocks affected women’s groups and their members. We conclude the paper by presenting various policy recommendations to enable savings groups to achieve improvements in women’s empowerment and economic outcomes and research recommendations to address some of the current evidence-gaps on how COVID-19 is affecting women’s groups and their members.

Read the working paper

Exposure to women’s groups and empowerment in agricultural households: Evidence from Nigeria and Uganda

African governments increasingly support large-scale women’s groups interventions aiming to improve women’s economic empowerment with support from multilateral donors and Foundations. Previous evidence indicates that women’s savings, producer, and livelihoods groups can improve women’s access to savings and credit, and human as well as social capital, but it is less clear if the findings of existing evidence are transferable to women’s groups without a discernible focus on financial inclusion or livelihoods. This study uses nationally representative longitudinal data from Nigeria and a large longitudinal dataset from Uganda to examine the association between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. The results suggest small yet positive associations between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. However, most results do not remain statistically significant after controlling for individual-level fixed effects. The findings highlight the importance of triangulating results of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of specific women’s group interventions with estimates from nationally representative data to understand the transferability of impact evaluation findings.

Read the working paper

Economies of Scale of Large-Scale International Development Interventions: Evidence from Self-Help Groups in India

Livelihoods and microfinance programs for women often show reduced impacts after scale-up. Yet, program scale-up may reduce average per capita costs and maintain cost-effectiveness despite lower impact. Our paper presents evidence on the association between program scale, costs, and cost-effectiveness by analyzing how the costs of a large-scale Self-Help Group (SHG) program in India changed from its inception in 2007 to its scale-up in 2019. We use expenditure data from program’s audit statements of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society – and find that a 1% increase in program membership was associated with a 0.6% increase in annual program expenditures, indicating large economies of scale for this outcome. Building on a rich history of research on Jeevika, we argue that program implementers must identify key success factors in pilot programs to minimize tradeoffs between cost savings and potentially reduced impacts after scale-up.

Read the working paper

Read a detailed description

Convergence of Social protection Programmes in India: The Impact of Self-Help Groups on Access to and Employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme

The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups conducted a study to examine the convergence between large-scale self-help groups and public works programming in Bihar. We use publicly available administrative data from the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and merge those data with data from a randomised controlled trial (RCT). The combined dataset allows for an instrumental variable regression analysis to examine the impact of the number of SHG members on access to job cards and employment under MGNREGS. We find large and statistically significant effects indicating that an increase of 100 SHG members results in 26 additional MGNREGS job cards applied for, and 14 additional households that are provided employment under MGNREGS. We find larger impact estimates on access to job cards and employment for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households, and evidence for similar effects for women and men. We present the results in a a working paper.

Read the working paper

COVID-19 Lockdown & Collective Activities: Evidence from the World’s Largest Self-Help Group Program

Using data on a large women’s livelihoods program in India – the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) – and a difference-in-differences design, this paper estimates that average monthly savings by SHG members of the NRLM declined by 85% during the nationwide lockdown from March to July of 2020. Decline in monthly SHG savings was likely driven by loss in income sources combined with lockdown stringency. Data from longitudinal phone surveys in six states indicate 30% decline in consumption and 26 percentage-point decline in work opportunities for both SHG and non-SHG households during this time. Although SHG households had lower consumption pre-pandemic compared to non-SHG households, both groups were equally impacted by the lockdown. In addition, households that received assistance from SHGs in procuring food grains or through community kitchens reported significantly lower rates of food insecurity. We present these results in a working paper.

Read the working paper

Policy and Research Briefs

Savings Group Member Resilience Over the Course of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence From Nigeria and Uganda

The COVID-19 pandemic and some of the associated policy responses (e.g., lockdowns and gradual relaxations) had considerable gendered impacts that reversed some of the recent progress in gender equality. Women and girls experienced larger adverse consequences along health, economic, social, and educational dimensions than men and boys, though mortality rates for COVID‑19 are higher for men. Evidence from studies in diverse African contexts indicates that savings groups have mitigated some of the negative economic effects of COVID‑19-induced lockdowns and other restrictions on women and girls. In this brief, the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups (ECWG) and CARE examine the resilience of VSLA members in Nigeria and Uganda. We assess how savings and access to credit of VSLA members were affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic and how VSLA functioning and gender correlate with personal savings and credit 1 year after the pandemic started. We find that: 1) the longer COVID‑19-induced lockdown in Uganda likely contributed to a greater need for income or livelihood support in Uganda than in Nigeria, 2) VSLA meetings occurred as they had before the pandemic for 56% of the VSLA members in Nigeria and 14% of the VSLA members in Uganda, whereas 27% of VSLA members in Nigeria and 47% in Uganda reported adjusted meetings. 3) regularly functioning VSLAs likely can contribute to VSLA member resilience, and 4) decreasing savings and limited access to credit may limit VSLAs’ ability to mitigate the negative economic consequences of the pandemic.

Read the brief here

Convergence of Social protection Programmes in India: The Impact of Self-Help Groups on Access to and Employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme

The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups conducted a study to examine the convergence between large-scale self-help groups and public works programming in Bihar. We use publicly available administrative data from the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and merge those data with data from a randomised controlled trial (RCT). The combined dataset allows for an instrumental variable regression analysis to examine the impact of the number of SHG members on access to job cards and employment under MGNREGS. We find large and statistically significant effects indicating that an increase of 100 SHG members results in 26 additional MGNREGS job cards applied for, and 14 additional households that are provided employment under MGNREGS. We find larger impact estimates on access to job cards and employment for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households, and evidence for similar effects for women and men. We present the results in a brief.

Read the brief

Self-help groups and COVID-19: Effects on and challenges for the National Rural Livelihoods Mission in India

The COVID-19 pandemic and some of the associated policy responses have had significant, negative impacts on women’s lives around the world, and in India (Agarwal, 2021). India experienced three COVID-19 waves, including a devastating Delta variant surge that peaked in March and April 2021. The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups developed a brief that focuses on the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the impacts on members of women’s self-help groups (SHGs) before the Delta variant peaked in India.  We synthesize evidence from various studies on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on SHG functioning as well as the responses from and through SHGs and their federations under the DAY-NRLM up until March 2021. The findings capture lessons about how to adapt SHGs and other women’s group policies in response to large covariate shocks, such as the first year of COVID-19; this brief does not include an analysis of the effects of the subsequent Delta variant, however, which resulted in widespread direct health and economic shocks that exacerbated some of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic analyzed in this brief.  

Read the brief

Research Resources and Tools

Evaluating the Effects of Interventions With Women’s Groups on Health Outcomes

Researchers from the Population Council, University College London and International Food Policy Research Institute have developed a ECWG guidance tool for evaluations of the effect of interventions with women’s groups on health outcomes. This document complements existing tools for intervention design, evaluation, and reporting in public health with guidance and resources specific to women’s groups. The tool covers: choosing health outcome measures; identifying the appropriate scope of measurement; minimising risk of bias; and process evaluation and reporting.

View Guidance Tool

Women’s Groups and COVID-19: Challenges, Engagement, and Opportunities

The ECWG has produced a rapid evidence brief presenting potential implications of the pandemic and related lockdown for women’s groups, with a focus on India, Nigeria, and Uganda. This brief summarizes previous evidence on groups’ responses to economic, health, or environmental shocks, and discusses potential mechanisms through which women’s groups and their functioning may be affected by COVID-19. We also present ECWG’s planned short-term and longer-term research agenda related to the impact of COVID-19 on women’s groups in the three countries.

View ECWG COVID-19 Brief

Measurement guidance on women’s empowerment and economic outcomes

The ECWG developed a guide for measuring women’s empowerment and economic outcomes to inform the community of researchers that focus on women’s groups. The guide provides a collection of field-tested survey instruments and questions for measuring women’s empowerment and economic outcomes in quantitative impact evaluations and mixed-methods studies of women’s groups, along with recommendations on how to use these tools.

View Measurement Guidelines

Guidance for estimating cost-effectiveness of women’s groups

The ECWG developed guidelines to support researchers, stakeholders, and program implementers to collect and analyze data on program costs and estimate program cost-effectiveness, with the goal of supporting better practices in cost data collection and the use of these data to inform future investments in women’s groups. The ECWG has also designed two versions of cost data collection tools – a basic version and an advanced version. These tools can be used to collect cost data of women’s group programs by defining program-specific assumptions (also included in the tools). The cost data collection tools are accompanied by one cost summary and analysis sheet, which can be used to generate cost-effectiveness estimates based on total costs and estimated impact.

View Costing Guidelines

View Cost Data Collection Tools

Ongoing Work

Effects of women’s groups on gendered asset ownership in low- and middle-income countries

This systematic review is led by Dr. Thomas De Hoop, at American Institutes for Research and Dr. Amber Peterman, at the University of North Carolina and aims to synthesize evidence on the effects of women’s groups on gendered asset ownership in LMICs. Primary outcomes from selected studies will include forms of natural, physical, livestock and financial assets.

Read a detailed description

Integrated economic and health interventions with women’s groups: a mixed methods systematic review of effects on, and enablers and barriers to, health-related knowledge, behaviours and outcomes in low-and middle-income countries

Led by Dr. Sapna Desai of Population Council and Dr. Gary Darmstadt of Stanford University, the study will examine the effects of integrated interventions delivered through women’s groups and aim to identify enablers and barriers to achieving outcomes. We will adopt a mixed-methods approach to examine the theories of change, enablers and barriers associated with achieving health outcomes through women’s groups that integrate economic and health activities.

Read detailed description

Read the protocol

Scoping Review of Women’s Groups in Uganda

We will conduct a scoping review to examine the evidence base and evidence gaps on women’s groups in Uganda. Specifically, we will appraise the evidence base on the impact, cost-effectiveness, and implementation of women’s groups in Uganda to understand both the evidence that exists and the evidence gaps that remain. In addition, we aim to gather some preliminary evidence on the evidence base related to the pathways through which women’s groups can achieve their objectives. The scoping review will be led by Dr. Thomas de Hoop at American Institutes for Research, Dr. Tabitha Mulyampiti at the School for Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University, Dr. Ekwaro Obuku at the Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews and Knowledge Translation at Makerere University, and Dr. Howard White at the Campbell Collaboration.

Read a detailed description

Read Scoping Review Protocol