Championing programs and supporting projects that increase inclusion and chart a pathway out of poverty for women and girls globally is at the heart of Opportunity International’s work. We are pleased to share the 2021 winner and finalists in the Women and Girls Opportunity (WeGO) Award for their work to do just that.
Program: Mentoring for Women in Business
Partner: Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans
Opportunity International’s partner, Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans, launched the Financial Inclusion for Enterprise Development program in 2018 to increase access to financing, financial literacy, business training, and gender-equity strategies for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) owned by women. These are growing businesses that can create jobs for those living in extreme poverty. Within this program, in January 2020, Sinapi Aba launched a pilot project that matched 103 emerging women entrepreneurs with 52 women entrepreneur mentors who are currently running successful businesses.
Building on the success of the first pilot, the program launched a second Women Mentorship Program held under the theme: “Mentoring the Next Generation of Great Women.” A total of 225 participants gained trade skills and knowledge that will significantly impact their businesses. Mentor support ensures their businesses grow sustainably while creating a pipeline of new mentors for other women in their communities.
A ceremony was held in November 2021 as women graduated from the program. Mentors presented each mentee with a certificate of recognition and participants lit candles as they transitioned from participant to graduate. “The atmosphere was charged with a sense of great accomplishment as the graduates arrived from 10 regions of Ghana…their joyful demeanor was contagious and was a great sight to behold,” as shared by Sinapi Aba staff in a Facebook post. Staff from Opportunity International Canada and Opportunity International Germany were there to show their support.
Upon news of winning the $10,000 first place award, Joyce Owusu-Dabo, Chief Programs Officer at Sinapi Aba replied, “Thanks be to God! We are grateful to everyone who voted for Sinapi Aba mentorship program to put us in the lead. God bless you all! We are encouraged to continue to build and enhance the soft skills of the women entrepreneurs for financial inclusion.”
Program: Operation PeaceMaker
Partner: My Choices Foundation
Tragically, 40% of Indian women are victims of physical, sexual, or emotional violence—a statistic that only increased with the pandemic’s lockdowns.
My Choices Foundation exists to give women, children, and families choices to live free from violence, abuse, and sexual exploitation in India. My Choices Foundation’s program Operation PeaceMaker works with Opportunity International’s local Indian microfinance partners to reduce domestic violence through thousands of empowered community women called PeaceMakers, who are trained in family and marriage counseling.
Their five Safe Homes in the city of Telangana currently offer victims of violence access to legal aid, shelter, helpline support, and partnerships with the local police. My Choices is expanding the project beyond Telangana, with the goal to leverage current implementing partnerships in remote villages and quickly add additional counselors to conduct intervention and prevention programs.
In reflecting on 2021, My Choices shared in a blog post that this year has been a “courageous journey of persistent strength as we continued to adapt, embraced learnings, and marched on to empower women and girls to make choices to live a life free of violence, abuse, and exploitation.”
The second place $5,000 prize will support the organization’s expansion plans for a domestic violence helpline and online counseling to reach 100 partners across eight states within India.
Program: Women as Agents of Change
In India, only 1 in every 3 women has an active bank account compared to nearly half of men. Similarly, only 8% of banking agents are female. The Women as Agents of Change initiative empowers women socially and financially as last-mile financial service providers. The program builds networks of female banking agents and equips them with tablets or smartphones so they can provide banking services in hard-to-reach communities where there are no bank branches. Agent outlets run by local women provide a welcoming environment and high-quality services to build trust and confidence within marginalized women, so they can begin using financial services and get the help they need along their journey out of poverty.
Since the initial pilot in 2017, when 50 women represented 3% of the mostly male agent network, Opportunity International’s partner CDOT grew to 398 women agents, representing 30% of CDOT agents.
With its third place prize award of $3,000, CDOT has begun documenting the success stories of women banking agents with professional video production. These vignettes will help CDOT reach a wider audience.
About the WeGO Awards
The WeGO Awards were established in 2018 to celebrate and promote innovations in economic empowerment for women and girls around the world. The program honors Opportunity staff and clients across Africa, Asia, and Latin America who are working selflessly to overcome significant economic and educational advancement challenges for women and girls. It also calls attention to groundbreaking work that deserves expansion and replication.
The three 2021 winners were selected from a pool of 13 semi-finalists from around the world. A panel of women evaluated the merits of each submission through the criteria of technology, scalability, sustainability, the need to include men in social change, and the challenge of focusing on the next generation. Voting was open to the general public.
This year’s winners will be honored during Opportunity International’s 50th Anniversary Summit, on April 8–10, 2022.
Thank you to the Hall Family and Julie Hindmarsh for gifting this year’s prize funds.