This collection of approaches engage groups of different compositions (e.g. across gender, class, age and other identities) to foster strong support networks as as platform for learning, solidarity and action:

Women's village savings and loans groups

Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) are groups of 15-25 women, who use their weekly savings to build a collective fund, from which group members borrow (i.e. to invest in income-generating activities, expand farming, pay school fees, etc.) and then repay into the fund with interest. In these spaces, women often develop financial skills and build their understanding of how financial markets work, in some cases they connect to formal financial services providers.

The capacity and cohesion that VSLAs have achieved has also made them a platform to connect to other services such as reproductive health or agricultural extension, building political education around gender and power, and for fostering women’s leadership and collective action. VSLAs have also been used as a link between longer term and humanitarian programming through gender transformative approaches to increase resilience to future crises.

Since 1991, when the first VSLAs were created by CARE in Niger, they have been adapted in various ways. In CARE Niger itself, the approach to VSLA has increasingly focused on using VSLA groups as a platform for building women's leadership and solidarity networks. 


CARE Burundi has adapted VSLAs for the specific context of adolescent girls first through the ISHAKA project and then through POWER Africa. These girls are organized into groups, provided with financial training, and oriented to the model of combining savings and giving out small loans. In the process, parents and male partners are also engaged so that the girls’ enhanced agency and skills can be valued rather than seen as a threat.[1]

RESOURCE: See the ISHAKA Toolkit for VSLAs with adolescent girls

RESOURCE: See the POWER Africa project website

The Pathways program builds on VSLAs and other existing collectives (producer groups, marketing groups and self-help groups) to support Farmer Field and Business Schools (FFBS) with women farmers. The project focuses on improving the productivity and profitability of poor smallholder women farmers by helping empower women to fully engage in agricultural systems. Pathways implements FFBS to provide training that follows the seasonal cycle, so that farmers can apply what they are learning (about sustainable agriculture or market engagement) in real time and so that it does not require extra time from already time constrained women farmers. FFBS includes specific training modules on gender to create an understanding of workload burden, access to and ownership of resources, gender-based violence, household decision making and power analysis. Some sessions engage men and boys to support women’s empowerment and changes in gender relations; similar sessions also involve whole communities.[2]

RESOURCE: See the CARE Pathways project website

In Benin, the Nutrition at the Center project engages husbands through men’s VSLAs (see also: engaging men as equal partners), grandmothers and traditional leaders to influence feeding and sanitation practices, especially for infants and young children, and hold dialogues about gender norms. This responds to the reality that husbands make purchasing decisions and grandmothers influence the types of food that pregnant women and children eat. Men and women also get together on a biweekly basis to discuss nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene and agriculture topics in order to encourage joint decision making at the household level.[3]


What does the evidence indicate?

As groups, VSLAs have been able to negotiate access to information (i.e. literacy classes), services (i.e. health care) and financial opportunities (i.e. larger loans from formal banks).[4]

  • In Niger, where CARE’s VSLA work started, every dollar invested in creating VSLA groups is associated with a return of $6.50 per year.[5] The resilience of women built up through VSLA played a significant role in mitigating the impact of the 2011-2012 Sahel drought through a variety of factors. These include strengthened knowledge and solidarity, the accumulation of assets, and the role of the early warning system function that CARE established in the VSLA groups – used to gather information and strengthen preparedness. In addition, the growing confidence and leadership of women from VSLA groups led them to take on new roles in their communities and even in local and regional politics. In fact, half of women elected to public office in Niger have gone through CARE women’s empowerment program (VSLA, leadership training or other program).[6]

    During the 2011-12 crisis, the leadership skills women developed in the VSLA groups were acknowledged, when women were given the role of leading food aid distribution by community elders. VSLAs have offered a platform to build multiple capacities. For example, combining savings and credit activities with community-based adaptation has been effective at enhancing resilience.[7]
  • In Burundi, the POWER Africa project, which adapts VSLAs for adolescent girls, is generating impressive outcomes. In terms of food security, 63% of participating girls say they never deal with hunger (compared to 42% of girls who didn’t participate). Diversification of income and profitable businesses allow them to withstand shocks such as a poor harvest or a political crisis. Participating girls were also less likely to get married under the age of 18 (on average, 20% of girls in Burundi marry before age 18, compared to 1% of girls participating in VSLAs). Of the revenue from participating girls’ small businesses, 40% is reinvested, demonstrating a good foundation for sustainability.[8]
  • In Benin, the involvement of women, men and traditional leaders in VSLAs has helped to positively influence social norms that shape nutrition behaviors, especially those detrimental to the health of pregnant women and young children.[9]
  • Across countries, in communities in which Pathways works, women and men alike observed improvements in food security and children’s health, which they attributed to improved productivity. People also reported a greater ability to invest in education, clothes, food, domestic needs and health care costs. The Pathways mid-term review found that male respondents had greater respect for women and their leadership. Intra-household communication improved. In Ghana, women noted that the opportunity for men and women to communicate at VSLA group meetings directly contributed to more peaceful household relationships. There have also been increases in men sharing household tasks like fetching water and firewood. In Tanzania, community leaders acknowledged calling women for community meetings and speaking out actively against gender-based violence or enforcing rules and fines for such violence. Women reported greater confidence to speak up and a greater sense of solidarity. Some limits emerged, however; for example, in Mali, even in one of the most male-engaged communities, community leaders noted that they would not accept any dialogue on female genital mutilation. A cross-country social cost-benefit analysis found that women’s empowerment is important in driving food and nutrition security and economic resilience.[10]
  • An analysis of data across several women in value chain projects at CARE across multiple countries, including Pathways, looked at how working with community groups related to empowerment and other development outcomes. It found that women in CARE programs saw a 9.8% increase in income, compared to a 5.6% increase in income in communities without a CARE project. Women in predominantly female groups saw a 28% higher income than women in groups with few women. Women in CARE collectives (of any composition) are nearly twice as likely to have control of their income as women not in CARE programs. In gender-balanced groups, women had access to 100% of the resources that men could access, and women got an additional four hours of help with household work. Women in female-dominated groups got an additional 2 hours of support from others. The overarching lesson was the importance both of men’s engagement and women’s leadership. In general, the groups that were most successful at meeting both women’s empowerment and development goals were mixed gender groups with women leaders. Women-only groups were less successful than those that had a balanced gender mix, especially for development outcomes like improving income.[11] 

1. CARE (2015). POWER Africa – Burundi Rolling Baseline Report.
2. CARE (2013). Innovation brief: The farmer field and business school: a pathways programming approach.
3. CARE International (May 2016). Nutrition at the Center: Using Village Savings & Loans Associations to Improve Nutrition in Benin; Orgle, J., & Sekpe, H. (2015, December). Nutrition at the Center: Using Village Savings & Loans Associations to Improve Nutrition in Benin. CARE; Orgle, J. (2016, May 26). Utilizing Savings Groups to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition in Benin. CARE.
4. Andreatta, B., & Taylor, L (May 2016). A Roadmap for Change: Impactful Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Initiatives. CARE, p. 9.
5. CARE (August 2016). Nourish and Flourish: Evidence for Impact to End Malnutrition, p. 4. 
6. CARE (n.d.) Beyond Productivity: Delivering Impacts on Food and Nutrition Security in a Changing Climate. (Lessons from CARE’s Programming 2013-2016.), p. 9.
7. CARE (2015). The  resilience champions: when women contribute  to the resilience  of communities in the Sahel through savings and community-based adaptation.
8. CARE, POWER Africa – Burundi Rolling Baseline Report, 2015.
9. CARE International (May 2016). Presentation: Utilizing Savings Groups to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition in Benin; Orgle, J., & Sekpe, H. (2015, December). Nutrition at the Center: Using Village Savings & Loans Associations to Improve Nutrition in Benin. CARE; Orgle, J. (2016, May 26). Utilizing Savings Groups to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition in Benin. CARE.
10. Weatherhead, M., Mariam, S., Arnold, S., & Freeman, A. (2016, November). Social Cost Benefit Analysis of CARE International’s Pathways Program.
11. CARE (2016). CARE collectives and gender.


Solidarity and organizing among marginalized peoples

Multiple approaches started with a distinctly political lens, and intentionally worked with poor and marginalized groups to build unity, resilience and power to assert their rights. This links closely with approaches on LEADERSHIP AND COLLECTIVE ACTION:

  • Saptagram, a grassroots organization founded by a woman history professor in Bangladesh, brings together landless women and, through group discussion and reflection, helps to build consciousness, agency and solidarity. Saptagram helps to build economic self-reliance through group savings and lending.[1]
  • Among CARE's work, the CHULI project in the Terai region of Nepal similarly brings together groups of the poorest, lower caste women and helps to critically analyze the problems they face and identify priorities for action as a group.[2] This approach is closely linked to the Empowerment, Knowledge and Transformative Action (EKATA) groups formed by CARE in Bangladesh (Shouhardo II). EKATA groups aim to sustainably reduce chronic and transitory food insecurity, are composed of 20 women and 10 teenage girls from the poorest classes of their communities. EKATA groups meet regularly to discuss their circumstances and generate solutions to problems such as violence against women, child marriage, dowry, lack of education, and lack of savings and credit. Through local facilitators, these groups engage critical reflection and plan collective action. CARE provides training in leadership and decision-making, helps to link groups at regional and national levels, and engages men to think more openly about gender roles.[3]
  • VAMP (Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad), which is a sex worker led association, brings sex workers in India together to: reflect on and analyze challenges in their lives (i.e. abuse and extortion by the police, prejudice toward their children, lack of access to education for their children, refusal of clients to use condoms); nurture solidarity and mutual support; and plan collective action and advocacy efforts. These collectives are also a platform for group savings and loans, provision of health education, etc. Similarly, the Chinese NGO PinkSpace convenes sex workers, lesbians, women with HIV, and wives of gay men. The intent is to build solidarity among non-normative women and break taboos about sexual expression, helping to empower this stigmatized group.[4]

What does the evidence indicate?

  • Shouhardo’s EKATA group approach has, over the course of six years, secured significant results. The annual reduction in child stunting (a measure of malnutrition) in implementation communities was 4.5% (compared to the national average of 0.1% for the same period). Households eating three meals a day climbed from 32% to 72%.[5] Dietary diversity nearly doubled in households in the Shouhardo program, and families saw the number of months out of the year they spent without enough food drop from 6.1 to 1 – an 83% improvement. The number of children who got a minimally diverse diet more than quadrupled.[6] In addition, women were approximately three times more involved in income generating activities (than they were at the beginning of Shouhardo II) and, as a result, families’ incomes grew by 85% (compared to the 60% national average during the same period).[7]
  • As a result of Saptagram, real gains were made in employment rights - in terms of access to land and fishing, and opportunities for income generation. Women also reported greater support to access public services as well stronger autonomy, freedom and support in domestic relationships.[8]
  • As a result of CHULI, strike actions for equal and fair wages among agricultural day laborers have been organized, and district women’s rights forums have been established to organize campaigns. The campaign for higher wages secured a substantial rise in wages for unskilled agricultural labor in nearly all VDCs: 26 out of 30 VDCs secured 20-50% wage rises.[9] 
  • Women in sex worker collectives (VAMP) are able, as a result of strong group solidarity, to insist on clients’ condom use and call for help with difficult clients or local thugs. They can also organize collectively to hold the state to account for police attacks on sex workers.  As a result of PinkSpace, nearly 75% of women reported participating more equally in family decision-making, and over 50% resumed their interrupted education.[10]

1. Cornwall, A. (2014). Women’s empowerment: what works and why? (WIDER Working Paper 2014/104) [PDF]. Helsinki: United Nations University-WIDER.
2. Drinkwater, M. and Wu, D. (2011). Emergent struggles: Local activism and the 'Equal and Fair Wage' campaigns in the Janakpur area, Nepal. IKM Emergent.
3. CARE. (Retrieved: March 20, 2017). Shouhardo II Program Website
4. Cornwall, A. (2014). Women’s empowerment: what works and why? (WIDER Working Paper 2014/104) [PDF]. Helsinki: United Nations University-WIDER.
5. CARE. (2016, September). Beyond Productivity: Delivering Impacts on Food and Nutrition Security in a Changing Climate (Lessons from CARE’s Programming 2013-2016).
6. Levinson, F., Blankenship, J., Francis, J., Hachhethu, K., Karim, R., Kurz, K., Akbar, N. and Bhuiyan, M. (2016). Qualitative evaluation of food for peace development food assistance projects in Bangladesh. Food and Nutrition Assistance III.
7. Ibid.
8. Kabeer, N., & Huq, L. (2010). The Power of Relationships: Love and Solidarity in a Landless Women's Organisation in Rural Bangladesh. IDS Bulletin, 41(2), 79-87. doi:10.1111/j.1759-5436.2010.00126.
9. CARE Danmark and CARE Nepal. (2010, December). Final Report Midterm Review (MTR) Churia Livelihood Improvement (CHULI) Program.
10. Cornwall, A. (2014). Women’s empowerment: what works and why? (WIDER Working Paper 2014/104) [PDF]. Helsinki: United Nations University-WIDER.


Engaging men as equal partners and family: toward healthy and equitable relationships at home

Programs like EMERGE, used economic initiatives as an entry point to work more closely on gender with households. It provided training to married couples to enhance their communication with respect to matters such as money management, positive parenting, support for household work and decision making. Through this project, male change agents engaged with political and religious leaders to create space for a dialogue about GBV and develop alternative definitions of masculinity.[1]

Journeys of Transformation engaged male partners of women in VSLA groups, and stimulated discussions on household relationship dynamics, health and GBV. Concurrently, women discussed business skills, income generating activities, health and wellbeing, and GBV.[2] 

Husband schools in Niger, which has been implemented by UNFPA as well as CARE, bring men over 25 together to discuss health issues, discuss how to support women’s participation in community life and develop action plans.[3]

Family Business Management Training (FBMT) in Papua New Guinea works with smallholder coffee producers’ families that typically run their business at the household level, sharing tasks inside the family. Women bear the burden of both productive and reproductive work, while men control the budget decisions. The FBMT engages both men and women to improve their financial and management skills and, at the same time, share the workload inside and outside the house in a more equitable manner that makes the whole family happier and more productive.[4]

What does the evidence indicate?

  • GBVAs a result of Journeys of Transformation, both men and women reported coping better with stress, which they related to reduced abuse of alcohol by men and reduced violence against women. Some men also became more supportive of family planning and many men became more involved in child care activities than the control group.[6]
  • Husband schools were associated with the doubling of safe deliveries between 2008 and 2009.[7]
  • Family Business Management Training in Papua New Guinea helped to bring about incremental positive changes in household attitudes and behavior, such as joint decision making and more equitable workloads, which enable the whole family to achieve more from their coffee farming. This has also contributed to improve women’s participation in coffee extension services in Papua New Guinea, increasing from less than 5% to 33% (and as high as 55% in some areas).[8]

1. CARE International Sri Lanka (2015). EMERGE Final Evaluation; CARE International Sri Lanka (2016). Redefining Norms to Empowerment Women: experiences and lessons learned.
2. Promundo and CARE International in Rwanda (2012). Journeys of Transformation: A Training Manual for Engaging Men as Allies in Women’s Economic Empowerment. Washington, DC, USA, and Kigali, Rwanda: Promundo and CARE.
3. UNFPA (n.d.) Niger: Husbands' schools seek to get men actively involved in reproductive health; Edstrom, J., Hassink, A., Shahrokh, T. and Stern, E. (2015). Engendering men: a collaborative review of evidence on men and boys in social change and gender equality. EMERGE Evidence report, Promundo-US, Sonke Gender Justice and the Institute of Development Studies.
4. CARE (n.d.) Family Business Management Training: trainers' handbook.
5. Perlson, S., & Greene, M. E. (2014, June). Addressing the Intergenerational Transmission of Gender-Based Violence: Focus on Educational Settings Report.
6. Slegh, H., Barker, G., Kimonyo, A., Ndolimana, P. and Bannerman, M. (2013).'I can do women's work': reflections on engaging men as allies in women's economic empowerment in Rwanda. Gender & Development, 21:1, 15-30
7. Edstrom, J., Hassink, A., Shahrokh, T. and Stern, E. (2015). Engendering men: a collaborative review of evidence on men and boys in social change and gender equality. EMERGE Evidence report, Promundo-US, Sonke Gender Justice and the Institute of Development Studies, 49.
8. Bryan, A. (n.d.). CARE International in PNG: Coffee Industry Support Project.


Support groups with men and boys to redefine masculinities toward equity and peace

To support men to make changes in their own lives as well as shift gender norms in their homes and communities, a number of projects facilitated men's support groups for structured reflection on gender, power and masculinities. This work combined building positive support networks for men, supporting women's groups and leadership, alongside community social norms change campaigns:  

  • Abatangamuco is a men’s group supported by CARE in rural Burundi to challenge traditional notions of masculinity. They do so by helping other men realize that domestic violence, heavy drinking, leaving the majority of income-generating and household-related work to their wives, and excluding their wives from decision making is not only morally wrong but also an impediment to the family’s economic and social progress. These men visit communities and share their testimonies at open meetings (sometimes organized by religious leaders or local authorities) and also intervene personally in instances when a man is mistreating his wife. Abatangamuco has helped to create an alternative masculine status at a local level that men can aspire to, and it has become a legally recognized organization, with registered members and an organizational structure.[1]
  • CARE's Northern Uganda Male Engagement Initiative supports groups of men, with the title of role model men, to come together for reflection and discussion as community change agents, gender equitable partners and support as survivors of violence. Through these groups, members commit to share their learning with ten other households in their community, as well as lead local campaigns for gender equality and peace through radio and  theater. Members of these groups have also engaged with couple seminars, counseling on conflict management and resolution as well as peer education around topics related to gender and family life. These groups also work in support of women's VSLA groups within program areas.[2] 
  • The Young Men Initiative (YMI) in the Balkans, which involved CARE and a number of partner organizations, works with youth-focused civil society organizations (especially on HIV prevention and SRH) to help them engage young men on issues of gender, masculinity and health, with an emphasis on violence prevention. “Be a Man” after-school clubs and social marketing campaigns are organized, and residential retreats are held for more intensive engagement; training is led by youth facilitators, and topics include gender-based violence and substance abuse. The intent is to change popular conceptions of what it means to be a man.[3]

What does the evidence indicate?

  • A review of the Abatangamuco work, showed growing membership of men who make public commitments and take concrete steps as peacemakers in their homes and communities. Men themselves formalized a membership and organizational structure from which to continue to operate and grow.[4]
  • Qualitative studies of CARE Uganda's Male Engage Initiative indicate gains in the household, which include: family support for childhood education, improvements in SRHR and maternal and child health, greater household livelihood and food security, and closer family relationships. In community levels, people have valued positive support networks for men and a more enabling environment for women's leadership. However, issues of chronic and severe poverty, alcoholism and violence related to it remain a persistent challenge within programming areas.[5]  
  • The evaluation of YMI in Kosovo indicated that boys in intervention schools (in which YMI worked) reported perpetrating significantly less violence than boys in comparison schools. Even a year after engaging with YMI, 14% of participating boys reported having used violence against a peer in the preceding three months, compared to 26% of comparison school boys. YMI’s efforts do not seem to have significantly changed homophobic attitudes or the tendency to blame female victims of violence, however.[6]

1. Wallacher, H. (2012). The Abatangamuco: Engaging men for women's empowerment in Burundi. Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
2. Muhammed, A. (2015). Impact report on male engage initiative (MEI) of CARE's Northern Uganda Women's Empowerment Program. CARE and Glocal Community Development, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
3. CARE (n.d.) Young Men Initiative Website.
4. Wallacher, H. (2012). The Abatangamuco: Engaging men for women's empowerment in Burundi. Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
5. Wu, D., Baron, R., Martins, S. and Shannon, R. (2016). 'Man in the Mirror; Reflections on men and boys engaging gender work in development. CARE; Montoya, O. (2016). Final Research Report: The role of men in reproductive, child and maternal health in Northern Uganda. A participatory study with role model men. CARE and GWED G. Referenced in: CARE (2016). Engaging men in gender equality: Lessons from CARE Uganda.
6. CARE International-Balkans (2016). Young men initiative case study: YMI in Kosovo, 2011-2015.  


Supporting youth: solidarity, learning, self-determination and justice

CARE’s Tipping Point project in Bangladesh and Nepal supports adolescents, their families and communities to promote girls’ rights and dismantle the drivers of child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). Taking a developmental evaluation approach, this project began with intensive reflection and dialogue with staff and partners on topics of gender, sexuality and power. Its programming was formed based on community participatory analyses in project areas to identify the characteristics and nature of child marriage. Based on analysis, Tipping Point worked through adolescent groups for boys and girls to build leadership, support peer relationships and take action to prevent CEFM. Mobilization among adolescents – through theater, religious festivals, sports and cooking competitions for boys – aimed to engage social change work at the community level to begin shifting the conditions that reinforce child marriage practices. In addition, Tipping Point worked to build relationships between parents and children to strengthen connection and accountability for child rights within families. At key moments, the project also engaged with schools, religious leaders and elected officials to promote and support girls’ rights.[1] 


CARE’s Renacer program in Honduras supports programming led by youth to undertake participatory action research to analyze issues affecting them, and to address barriers to education. Non-formal education was provided, with the help of local volunteers (mostly youth themselves). Extra-curricular activities (i.e. sports, vocational training, handicrafts, civic action like repairing community infrastructure) are organized so young men and women, and boys and girls, can interact in an equal and respectful manner and develop peer networks. This provides a safe alternative to the violent and exploitative brotherhoods built through gangs. Gender roles can be challenged in a safe and supportive space.[2]

What does the evidence indicate?

  • While Tipping Point is yet to undergo rigorous evaluation, current reporting notes that leaders for social change are emerging among adolescent girls, boys and adults who engage with the project. In some cases, these leaders find that the project supports them to speak up about issues important to them, while others have learned more about CEFM through community discussions that Tipping Point has introduced. The project also reports success in linking parents with economic opportunities, and catalyzing re-enrollment of boys and girls into school. At the community level, Tipping Point efforts have also been credited for linking villages with resources from government funds and stakeholders.[3]
  • Evaluations of Renacer indicate that the role of adolescent girls and boys in program communities has been profoundly transformed. The context has shifted from one in which child labor, teenage pregnancy and violence is the norm to adolescents becoming powerful voices and actors for change in their communities. Providing a meaningful and empowering education, facilitating a network of supportive peer relationships for young men and women, and developing leaderships skills have been key. Youth activists have created three community organizations in order to sustain extra-curricular activities, mentoring and counseling, home visits to persuade out-of-school children to re-enroll and advance grassroots advocacy for child rights. Some youth groups have received local government support for education activities.[4]


1. CARE (n.d.) Tipping Point: digging up the roots of child marriage to replant the future. Website.
2. Moll, A., & Renault, L. (2014). Rebirth, empowerment, and youth leading social change: non-formal education in Honduras. Gender & Development, 22(1), 31-47. doi:10.1080/13552074.2014.889345
3. CARE (not published). Tipping Point Year 2 report. 
4. Moll, A., & Renault, L. (2014). Rebirth, empowerment, and youth leading social change: non-formal education in Honduras. Gender & Development, 22(1), 31-47. doi:10.1080/13552074.2014.889345