Why resilient markets?
We started with a question – how do we pursue our women’s economic empowerment agenda in fragile settings, and what is the overlap with humanitarian interventions?
The programming already existed – we were working in places like Ethiopia, Niger, and across the Middle East in response to the Syrian crisis. But we also recognised how our sector has a tendency to develop tools and approaches in silos – and not work as effectively together as we might. CARE is no exception. At the same time the growing focus on job creation by donors, and on inclusive economic growth as a driver of stability, gave us a new opportunity to reflect and speak to this agenda based on our programming experience.
Over the past year or so, we conducted a broad literature review, undertook case study visits to different contexts, spoke with key informants, and held a workshop in Cairo with 30 staff from across our Middle East and North Africa region, to focus on the question: how can we effectively strengthen the economic empowerment of women (which is core to our mandate), but also strengthen the resilience of market systems as a whole? In the process we have discovered how broad this topic is, and drawn from CARE and others’ work on climate change adaptation, market access, women’s economic empowerment, emergency livelihoods, disaster risk reduction and peacebuilding.
So why those two areas, women’s economic empowerment and market systems?
Why is women’s economic empowerment important? CARE has laid this out in some detail, but we believe it is the right of women (like all people) to be economically independent and able to flourish to the full extent of their ability. And it is also smart: where women are more economically empowered, recent research shows that fewer people die in disasters because the economic empowerment improved disaster preparedness and health resources in the community. Economic empowerment is a foundation for so many other areas of development, from reproductive health rights and personal security to political voice.
Why then are market systems important? In short: scale, and sustainability. Market systems approaches support populations at a much greater scale than direct delivery interventions can manage. Yemen is a great example: there are 18.8 million people in need, and a humanitarian plan that can reach 12 million if fully funded – and it is only half funded. There is also the argument that if the livelihoods systems and the economy of the country can be supported to work again, then the dependency of affected populations for aid will decrease.
A new conceptual framework or just borrowing from others?
Having pulled ideas from so many disciplines a first task was to see if these different areas could come together coherently. Luckily we did not have to start from scratch. Borrowing from the resilience world, and USAID’s focus on building the resilience of market systems, we first took the anticipate, absorb, adapt and transform elements of building resilience (known as AAA or AAT). This could be overlapped onto CARE’s women’s empowerment framework that seeks to support change at the individual or agency level, the relational level and the wider structural level.
This seemed to also neatly fit onto a typology of a market system as one that involves individuals, relationships and value chains, encompassed by an enabling environment that includes laws and regulations as well as norms, social cohesion and conflict or other shocks.
Using this we started to piece together how interventions from different traditions and sectors could work to support individual women, support markets, and change the wider enabling environment.
The report lists the different interventions that we’ve grouped together, but to pick a few with a high degree of relevance:
1. The importance of talking with and listening to private sector actors on the topic of decent and dignified jobs. Donors are investing increasing amounts in job creation, largely through the private sector and from large-scale foreign direct investment. However, what we’ve seen is that many of the lowest skilled – and many women – are not going to be working in formal employment, but informal areas, and other forms of investment might reach them more effectively – including cash programming, investment in social safety nets, health, education and social care. We need more evidence on how to create employment for women, and what mix of formal and informal sector investment is needed. Likewise we have to work on moving people out of the informal sector into the formal which is a critical stage in preventing longer term exclusion and exploitation.
2. The link between humanitarian interventions like cash and development programmes on financial inclusion, based on models like Village Savings and Loan Associations and linking them via technology to banking services. The report lists the different ways that these groups, which CARE targets at women, can support resiliency at an individual level, and how the banking sector is responding. But more can be done to make this model, the cash modality and the entrepreneurship approach more seamless.
3. Market systems approaches offer impact at a scale which is not possible through direct delivery. Through greater uses of market mapping tools, aid agencies are starting to plan aid delivery with greater use of the market, as contractors, collaborators or as the object of assistance. We’d be the first to admit that we’ve not got it wholly right yet, but remote support programmes in places like Syria are going to be pushing us all to embrace this further, simply because the reach of traditional delivery models is so curtailed.
4. How market systems themselves are able to strengthen social cohesion, from the individual actor – like a firm – that hires across lines of social division, to the system of trade that keep communities in contact despite conflict. Some of this work can be supported intentionally, but as organisations like International Alert have argued, using inclusive economic growth and private sector motivations to foster peace has enormous untapped potential.
1. Gender norms matter. Economically empowered women will be the most effective reinforcement of market systems in the face of shocks. But there are also protection concerns that have to be addressed.
2. Job creation through foreign direct investment isn’t a slam dunk. We need to get the mix right between the formal and informal to ensure women have access to the benefits – or in moving women into formal employment, seek collaborations with the private sector.
3. Thinking through interventions – in terms of resilience, and focus on the individual, the market system and the structures – should help us move away from narrow siloed approaches, and build more towards a market-led approach, where the scale of impact can be much greater. It’s also exciting, opening up more partners, approaches and possibilities for traditional aid actors.
Next week, we’ll share how the event went and some of the best ideas to emerge from the discussion.