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When 'Women Shine', Communities Prosper

Portrait of a woman standing in front of a school.

Photo: Nigel Barker/CARE

Photo: Nigel Barker/CARE

In January, acclaimed photographer and passionate member of CARE’s Global Advisory Council, Nigel Barker visited Sierra Leone with CARE and met Mabinty Thullah, a 35-year-old mother of three, businesswoman, farmer, and teacher in Sierra Leone.

Mabinty is one of 5,000 people reached by CARE’s Women Shine economic empowerment project over the last two years, developed with support from Tiffany & Co.

Since receiving entrepreneurship and financial literacy training through Women Shine, Mabinty has boosted her business selling petrol, groundnuts, and general medicines. She’s increased her annual savings from $50 a year to $150 —in a country where the median income averages $2.96 per day.  

“I was not doing anything much, but when CARE came here with the project, they first trained us on business entrepreneurship, which really taught me a lot,” Mabinty says. “After that, they introduced the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA).”  

While Mabinty’s husband was initially hesitant for her to participate in the savings group, soon enough both were saving and investing their money regularly and wisely.  

CARE’s research indicates that for every $1 invested in a savings group, average income increases by $18.85 within 5 years. In addition, women in savings groups are 15% more likely to take on local leadership roles.  

Initially shy, Mabinty says “I am now bold, and I am proud to stand in public and talk.”   

Today, she is a force for change at her local community as a school volunteer and the first female teacher. She sought out this leadership role when she was disappointed to learn that the only teachers at the school were male. She’s able to volunteer her time because of the success of her small businesses, and she’s encouraging other women to step up to leadership roles –in the school and in their business ventures. 

A woman wearing bright yellow is surrounded by children wearing green school uniforms.

Life for most of the women CARE works with is challenging – facing disproportionate economic hardships, hunger, conflict, sexual assault, and inequitable opportunities.  Despite these challenges, we often see women, like Mabinty, grow into inspirational and aspirational leaders. 

CARE believes that it is a fundamental right for all women to earn, save, and invest.  

Nearly 2 billion people around the world still live on less than $3.85 per day. Economic strains on women increased during the pandemic and have not subsided. According to CARE’s recent Her Voice report, 78% of women and 67% of men respondents recently reported that loss of livelihood and reduced income are among the greatest challenges facing families. Women want more advocacy and action – so they can build resilience to face ongoing and future crises. 

Women Shine provides women with the training and support they need and want. With women-centered design that addressed the barriers holding women back, from policies to social norms, the programs were localized to meet country needs.  

The program improved participants’ financial literacy, providing unique opportunities for increased skill development, access to markets, leadership training and economic mobility.  Throughout the two-year initiative, thousands of women like Mabinty developed new business and leadership skills, successfully launched and marketed products, and grew and diversified their small businesses.  

CARE’s Women Shine invested in women’s financial empowerment in Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. CARE teams led programming in Sierra Leone and Tanzania, while partnering with Graça Machel Trust (GMT) to lead projects in the other participating countries. GMT is recognized for its ability to drive social and economic change for African women and their children. 

Women Shine program participants have experienced life-changing growth through this program’s support.  As one participant shared, “With our newfound economic independence, we’re more resilient than ever and feel confident in our ability to make a positive impact in our community and country.” 

From July 2022 and June 2023, CARE’s gender equality programs reached 19.7 million people in 106 countries — 54% of these were women and girls. 8.7 million women and girls saw measurable, positive impacts in their lives. 


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