Strategic Impact Inquiry: Women's Empowerment

Strategic Impact Inquiry: Women's Empowerment

Publication info


The Strategic Impact Inquiry (SII) is in-depth impact research designed with the specific goal of fostering a culture of critical thinking in CARE, and with those we serve. This goal makes the SII different from many other forms of "impact evaluation" - affecting the stakeholders we engage, the questions we ask, the methods we use, and the processes we support to promote learning and uptake of the findings about CARE's global impact on the underlying causes of poverty and social injustice. It is only one part - an important one - of an overall system for impact assessment, program quality improvement, and organizational performance in CARE. Within those systems, the SII helps clarify our understanding of what it takes to impact on the underlying causes of poverty, through:

·  Original and secondary research, including creative use of multiple streams of existing data

·  Analysis of all layers of CARE’s work, situating project-level analysis in organizational, national and industry contexts to learn what drives program impacts

·  An evidence-based narrative to aid learning, and drive performance improvement.

Key Findings and Implications

What did the first SII reveal on the nature of women’s empowerment? 

Women’s empowerment, societal change: 

Women (and men!) are more complicated than development models often seem to assume - and engaging effectively requires us to engage the diversity and noncomformity that we know to be true in our own lives and relationships. Empowerment is more than women doing or having more, being smarter or stronger. It requires change in the structures and relations that shape the choices/results to which women can aspire. Women’s empowerment is complex, nonlinear and unpredictable. It is beyond the scope of one organization, let alone one time/resource-bound project.

What did the SII find out about CARE's impacts on women's empowerment?

The projects we examined are making important contributions to well-being and opportunities for millions of women, and make clear that 10 years of investment are paying off in a portfolio on the rise. Fully 75% of the projects reviewed have helped diverse kinds of women make their lives better in concrete ways, including reduced violence, a improved support during emergencies, better health, and better economic empowerment. Through the SII process, thousands of women and men could easily point to the valuable support CARE's projects have provided - practical and strategic.

Within that broadly positive story, a crucial 15% of the portfolio the SII reviewed showed signs of supporting the kind of deep and lasting changes across the key domains that matter for women's empowerment. These kinds of interventions tend to start with a clearer understanding of gender and power, and develop strategies and alliances designed to shift those power relations over adequate timeframes, across domains of agency, structure and relations. Some have been long-lasting evolutionary projects in their own rights, while others have simply reflected a sustained commitment to linking projects in ways that advance a plausible theory of social change.

The project-based boundaries on CARE's work is, however, a limiting factor on its impact. SII research showed that gains made in a project period were often subject to reversal, and lacked the broader vision and commitment that would allow them to "add up" to the wider social change that underpins lasting women's empowerment. And it showed that in those projects that were designed with a specifically gendered analysis and programmatic approach were beginning to foster impact on the underlying causes of gender inequality

What strategies does the first SII suggest to better impact Women’s Empowerment? 

CARE must commit long-term to a broad-based impact population through evolutionary programs with a theory of change that engage strategic partnerships, but keep us learning as we navigate shifting pathways of social change: 

Implications for Programmatic Approaches

  • Start with local contexts, realities and power dynamics, including:
  • The analyses and agendas that women’s rights and social justice movements are already defining and leading; and
  • Building a deeper understanding of women’s preferred paths and strategies for empowerment, while not being timid about consciousness raising.
  • Make empowerment goals explicit from program design to evaluation, ensuring that interventions contribute to holistic change in agency, structure and relations.
  • Seek entry points to maximize chances of engaging/learning about local communities, building relations of trust and interdependence, and bringing opposing interests together.
  • Solidarity groups can provide women with empowering space and support, but we must recognize that our work with groups is often a woman’s first step into collective identity/action, and use group strategies to link to wider movements for social change.
  • Engage men/elites to explore their interests, beliefs, and fears – expanding the potential alliance for affirming, just gender-power relations, and reducing backlash against women.


Interested in Learning More?  Take a look at our program briefs on the SII.