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Drivers of Change: How Women’s Empowerment Can Help End Global Poverty

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By Tara Murphy Forde, director of research & impact, Global Partnerships, and Karen Larson, executive director, Friendship Bridge 

We're celebrating International Women's Day (March 8, 2014) by highlighting the importance of empowering women around the world. This year's U.N. theme is “Equality for women is progress for all,” and it echoes Global Partnerships’ (GP's) belief that investing in women is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty. 

What is the Need for Women’s Empowerment?

Let’s take a look at the stats*:

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**When women are able to earn an income, they typically reinvest 90 percent of it into their families and communities. 

What Happens When Women are Empowered?

At GP we believe that increasing women’s access to resources and information enables them to make decisions that improve the wellbeing of their families, businesses, and communities. In turn we seek partners like Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides microcredit and education to Guatemalan women, so they can create their own solutions to poverty. Through Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program, women start, expand or diversify their businesses and learn practical, applicable lessons on everyday topics including business, health and self-esteem. Today more than 20,000 Friendship Bridge clients participate in the program, resulting in:

  • A greater ability to weather economic shocks, such as illness or natural disaster
  • Decreased malnutrition
  • Decreased spousal abuse
  • Improved hygiene and health care
  • Increased number of children attending school, especially girls
  • Increased support, camaraderie, and self-esteem among borrowers
  • Increased family planning (borrowers are 50% more likely to have fewer children)

Empowering Women

GP seeks innovators – by that we mean organizations that aim to improve, refine, and renew their approach to solving the world’s toughest problems. By leveraging cross-trained loan officers to provide education during group repayment meetings, Friendship Bridge is achieving high levels of participation and excellent loan repayment rates while incurring low marginal costs. This refined approach means that Friendship Bridge can arm more women with the tools and information they need to transform their lives.

Furthermore, understanding that those needs evolve as women find their way out of poverty, Friendship Bridge launched an advanced education and technical training program in 2012. Through strategic partnerships with non-governmental organizations in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge has provided more than 800 women with new and applicable skills to enhance their businesses.

While the ripple effects and long term impact of this work may be hard to quantify, both empirical evidence and research indicate that investing in women pays both social and financial dividends. In turn at GP we see women as agents of change and today, on the eve of International Women’s Day, we honor all that they do to improve the wellbeing of their families, businesses, and communities.

Karen Larson joined Friendship Bridge in May 2009. Prior to her transition to international nonprofit work, she was the President and COO for Key Equipment Finance, Global Vendor Services, a division of KeyCorp. In addition to KeyCorp, Karen spent 12 years with ATT Capital, the financing arm of AT&T, successfully building and managing numerous technology manufacturer private label customer finance programs. As an industry leader, Karen has been a frequent speaker and author on the subjects of global leasing, outsourced partnerships, women in leasing and leadership training. Karen received a BA in economics from the University of California, San Diego, and completed executive education programs at Duke University, the Fuqua School of Business and Case Western University.

*Statistics from:

  • UNIFEM, “According to some estimates, women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor.”
  • The World Bank, “Women account for 58% of unpaid employment" (Ch 5 of The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development).
  • The State Department, "The World Bank published a series of major studies, including "Engendering Development," and "Gender Equality as Smart Economics," highlighting gender equality as a critical foundation for development investment. Their reports note that investments in women and girls strengthen countries’ ability to grow, reduce poverty, and govern effectively. They show that women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men."
  • The UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "While the number of illiterate persons has fallen over the past decade, 774 million adults – 64% of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills..."
  • World Health Organization, “Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women worldwide, with all cases linked to a sexually transmitted genital infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Due to poor access to screening and treatment services, more than 90% of deaths occur in women living in low- and middle- income countries.”

*All graphics were created with icons sourced from and created by (in order of appearance): OCHA; and Freepik:;;

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Blog Tags: international women's day   microcredit   poverty   women's equality   women's health   

A Friendship Bridge client stands beside canned vegetables and jams. She received advanced education training on canning and preserving  from Friendship Bridge,   helping her add inventory to her store. Photo was taken by Michael Allen and is courtesy of Friendship Bridge.
A Friendship Bridge client stands beside canned vegetables and jams. She received advanced education training on canning and preserving from Friendship Bridge, helping her add inventory to her store. Photo was taken by Michael Allen and is courtesy of Friendship Bridge.

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