Power to the women!

New skills in financial literacy are strengthening the confidence of women in rural cocoa communities of Côte d’Ivoire. The Women for Change (W4C) project enables them to save and borrow money so that they can set up their own business and increase household income.

Women are pivotal agents for development. Their role is crucial in achieving desired economic, social and environmental changes. Nonetheless, women living in cocoa communities often face disparities based on social beliefs and power structures that underestimate their value in society, as well as their significant contribution to cocoa production and their impact on the healthy development of the next prospering generation.

In 2015, Mars and the Jacobs Foundation joined forces to support women empowerment in cocoa communities through the Women for Change (W4C) project implemented by CARE International in the Nawa region of Côte d’Ivoire. By the end of the project in 2018, 6,190 direct beneficiaries have been reached along with 37,140 indirect beneficiaries. An independent evaluation conducted early 2019 has confirmed the successful achievement of key project objectives, including increased savings and income generating activities of participating women, stronger participation of women in decision-making at the household level, development of leadership skills and increased spending in nutrition and education.

Saving money for the first time

By accompanying the set-up of Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), the initiative has allowed community members (mostly women) to save money and have access to loans, an opportunity they never had before. Women participating in VSLAs have increased their financial literacy and social skills through targeted training and have gained self-confidence in their ability to save and use financial resources for the improvement of their livelihoods. Through their loans these women have developed or set up new businesses, thereby increasing their household income.

The project also addressed gender dynamics by promoting so called “couple’s dialogue”, where women and men have learned to plan and manage their household and farms together, with women actively participating in the decision-making processes. Interestingly, in addition to increasing investments in their own businesses, education, health and nutrition, some women have taken loans to invest in their husbands’ cocoa farms, showing that men and women can jointly plan and find ways to improve their livelihoods.

The collaboration between Mars and the Jacobs Foundation for this project was the fruit of the first partnership entered by the Jacobs Foundation with the cocoa and chocolate industry in the context of the TRECC program in Côte d’Ivoire. The funding partners committed on a “payment by results” mechanism, whereby they agreed on expected results and indicators to measure them, and Mars paid upfront for the services to be delivered by CARE International. The Jacobs Foundation’s contribution was granted upon the achievement of expected results. The merit of this payment by results mechanism was to focus the attention on actual results instead of mere completion of activities.

Skillful Parenting program

Building on the success of this initiative and reinforcing women’s pivotal role in the early development and education of their children, Mars and the TRECC co-funder’s Jacobs Foundation and Bernard van Leer Foundation, have in 2018 extended the training of the women groups to include caregiver training in early childhood development. The program Skillful Parenting was implemented by ICS SP with the support of CARE International to promote positive parenting practices and family relationships. The training equipped parents and caregivers with the adequate knowledge, tools and skills to care for, respond to and manage the needs of young children with the support of coaches and local facilitators.

To ensure success and sustainability of the women empowerment initiative, Mars, through its Cocoa for Generations strategy, has committed to building on the work done in this initial stage and extended its support by three more years to reinforce and deepen the empowerment of women in the same communities with existing and new groups of women.

Want to know more? Read the success story of Bamba.