close search

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 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

Women's Groups, Covariate Shocks, and Resilience: An Evidence Synthesis of Past Shocks to Inform a Response to COVID-19

Interventions with women’s groups are increasingly seen as an important strategy for advancing women’s empowerment, health, and economic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries, with the potential to increase the resiliency of members and their communities during widespread covariate shocks, such as COVID-19. This evidence synthesis compiles evidence from past shocks on women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities. We reviewed 90 documents from academic databases, organizational reports, and additional gray literature, and included literature diverse in geography, type of women’s group, and shock. We found that covariate shocks tend to disrupt group activities and reduce group resources, but linkages to formal institutions can mitigate this impact by extending credit beyond the shock-affected resource pool. Evidence was largely supportive of women’s groups providing resilience to members and communities, though findings varied according to shock severity, group purpose and structure, and outcome measures. Actions to support individual resilience during a shock, such as increased payment flexibility, may run counter to group resilience, however. We link the findings to emerging evidence on how COVID-19 affects women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities.

Read the working paper

Adolescent Girls’ and Young Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs: Emerging Insights From a Review of Reviews

This ECWG review of reviews aimed to assess what interventions, especially group-based interventions, show promise in economically empowering adolescent girls and young women in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). In addition, we examined the promise of specific economic components, combinations of components, and core topics. We searched five databases as well as other sources and identified 2,467 citations, resulting in 17 reviews, 10 of which quantified their results. We found too little evidence to classify any of the examined interventions as clearly “effective.” None of the reviews found negative effects or harmful findings, however. Most intervention–outcome pairings were unknown; that is, they were not examined by reviews. While we identified some intervention approaches that were promising, the review findings suggest extensive research gaps in terms of program content, implementation, and measurement.

Read the working paper

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

This study builds evidence on the association between program scale and costs by analyzing how costs of a large-scale Self-Help Group (SHG) program in India changed over an eight-year period. The study focuses on program costs of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society – since its inception in 2007-08 when it mobilized 8,000 women into SHGs to 2015-16, when it had mobilized over 5 million women into approximately 0.5 million SHGs. Jeevika’s SHG program originally started in six priority districts of Bihar in 2006-07, before the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) was formally launched by the Government of India. Using program expenditure data, this study estimates costs of different program components, including capacity building, institutional development, community investment, and project management. Analysis of the estimated costs and program scale show that program costs per member declined consistently with an increase in scale. Using existing estimates on program impact, the study sheds light on potential implications of scaling up for program’s cost-effectiveness.

Read the working paper

Read a detailed description

Improving evidence on women’s groups: a proposed typology and reporting checklist

Describing women’s group models with greater accuracy is key to ensuring transferability of evidence, both from pilots to scaled-up programs and across contexts.  To address this gap, this paper proposes: (i) a typology to categorize women’s groups and (ii) a set of common reporting indicators to describe implementation models. This a commentary piece led by Dr. Sapna Desai and Dr. Thomas de Hoop, along with ECWG members and colleagues who have conducted systematic reviews on women’s groups in India, Uganda and other low and middle-income settings. 

Read detailed description

Read the working paper

Policy and Research Briefs

Women’s Groups and Member Resilience After COVID-19: Evidence from Nigeria

Women for Women International (WfWI) works with groups of marginalized women in conflict-affected countries to help them move from poverty and isolation to self-sufficiency and empowerment in economic and social domains. The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups (ECWG) collaborated with WfWI to study the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on WfWI’s members and to explore the role of women’s savings groups in providing resilience against the shocks induced by COVID-19. The study analyzed self-reported data collected in May 2020 through surveys with a convenience sample of past (or graduated) and current members of WfWI’s Stronger Women Stronger Nations Program. Findings indicate that membership in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) was positively associated with some outcomes of economic resilience during COVID-19. Additionally, current program members fared much better on most economic and social outcomes, compared to graduated members, which is likely due to stronger support networks.

Read the brief

Read the technical appendix

Evidence Review of Women’s Groups and COVID-19: Impacts, Challenges, and Policy Implications for Savings Groups in Africa

As is the case around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and has reversed progress in gender equality across sub-Saharan Africa. However, recent studies indicate that women’s savings groups have adapted in various contexts to the pandemic. For example, studies from Nigeria and Uganda suggest that these groups cushion some of the economic impacts and have been key in supporting community responses during the crisis.

The Evidence Consortium on Women’s groups collaborated with a group of practitioners, researchers, and funders to conduct an evidence review of how women’s savings groups and their members have navigated the pandemic. Based on emerging findings, they advance a series of recommendations for how governments, organizations, donors, and researchers can support savings groups. This report captures findings from studies undertaken across sub-Saharan Africa over the past year. It focuses on the impact the pandemic (and some of the associated policy responses) have had on savings groups and other women’s groups as well as the ability of these groups to mitigate the effects of shocks for their members and communities.

This report was developed by: Eve Namisango at Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews at Makerere University and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Thomas de Hoop, Chinmaya Holla, and Garima Siwach at the American Institutes for Research and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Sybil Chidiac and Shubha Jayaram at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Jenna Grzeslo and Munshi Sulaiman at BRAC; Emily Janoch and Grace Majara at CARE; Olayinka Adegbite, Leigh Anderson, and Rebecca Walcott at EPAR Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Krishna Jafa at Global Center for Gender Equality at Stanford University; Sapna Desai and Osasuyi Dirisu at Population Council and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Tabitha Mulyampiti at School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Julia Hakspiel at MarketShare Associates; and David Panetta at SEEP Network.  

Read a more detailed description here

Read the executive summary here

Read the review here (English)

Read the review here (French)

The Impact of COVID-19 on Opportunities for Adolescent Girls and the Role of Girls’ Groups

Covid-19 has disrupted lives, networks, and institutions across social, economic, and health dimensions around the globe. We examine how the pandemic has affected adolescent girls and young women in particular, and explore how group-based programs for girls in low- and middle-income countries have been affected by and are responding to the pandemic.

View Covid-19 Brief

Preliminary cost-effectiveness analysis of the JEEVIKA program in Bihar

The ECWG conducted a preliminary analysis of the costs and Return on Investment (ROI) of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP) in India. This research note presents findings on the costs of various program components over time and scale as well as the program’s ROI based on publicly available program and audit reports and an impact evaluation conducted by Hoffmann et al. (2018).

View Research Note

Portfolio evaluation of Gates Foundation investments in women’s groups

The ECWG conducted a portfolio evaluation, reviewing 46 Foundation investments involving women’s groups, made between 2005 and 2017. This research brief provides an overview of the ECWG’s evaluation findings, identifies evidence gaps, and provides recommendations to improve future investments and evaluations of women’s groups.

View Research 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

The labor market impacts of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and MGNREGA in India

This study, led by Dr. Thomas De Hoop at American Institutes for Research, aims to study the impact of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) on access to social entitlements like job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the largest public works program in the world. Specifically, we examine the impact of access to self-help group programs on participation in and income gained from MGNREGA. Our research question focuses on exploring the linkages between large-scale self-help group and social protection programs in India.

Read a detailed description