Six things we learnt on Innovating for Gender Equality at CSW68.

Apr 19, 2024

Last month, the Global Innovation Fund and Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) co-hosted an event addressing the role of innovation in achieving gender equality by 2030.

The conversation, held on the sidelines at the Commission on the Status of Women 68, convened trail blazing organisations including Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), Projet Jeune Leader (PJL), Breakthrough India and StrongMinds to discuss the implementation and scaling of innovations that empower women and girls.

The session was sponsored by GAC and the UK’’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 

1. Innovation pays: and the data backs it up

Speaking on behalf of GIF, Alix Peterson Zwane emphasised that innovation pays.

GIF’s latest Impact Report shows that we have generated $43 in benefits for every dollar invested in GIF, totalling $3.5 billion in net economic benefits for the poorest.

Alix also argued that it is possible - and advantageous - to place a value on gender equality, both as an end itself but also as a means for achieving other development outcomes.

Under our Innovating for Gender Equality Fund, GIF has partnered with 14 ambitious innovators promoting gender equality. For example, we invested USD 16 million into No Means No Worldwide, who have successfully scaled their flagship violence prevention programme to reach half a million girls and boys in 2023. We estimate that they will prevent at least 80,000 sexual assaults by 2033; this is a measurable impact.

2. We should consider all investments through a gender lens


Karlee Silver and Kristen Neudorf shared more about GCC’s work as an innovation platform, and how, since 2016, GCC has sought to make gender equality an integrated part of every programme. Now, for example, 95% of the 200 innovators in the ‘Transition to Scale’ category are integrating gender equality into programme design and delivery.

In addition to funding, innovators receive support in the form of external expertise and access to a community to exchange learning on gender equality.

GCC’s innovators together serve over 21 million people, who would have otherwise not been able to access such services, 60% of whom are women.

GCC is also working to create opportunities for women in leadership and across delivery chains: 40% of innovations supported by GCC are women-led, and over 65% locally-led.

GCC has now partnered with a critical number of innovators working on gender equality and these are gaining momentum.

3. Taking a gender lens approach helps uncover unexpected triggers and causes of inequality

Sean Mayberry, CEO and Founder of StrongMinds, spoke about how the organisation is treating depression in Africa through their Interpersonal Group Therapy (IPT-G) model.

Mental health is a gendered issue: 25% of women have depression and, according to WHO, 85% of them have no access to treatment. StrongMinds have seen that depression is a huge contributor to gender inequality.

A depressed woman does not only suffer, but also has no power to change the triggers of depression in her life. Social isolation is key to this: women can get stuck in a vicious cycle where they are socially excluded because of their mental health, which in turn aggravates their depression.

StrongMinds has treated over half a million people in the past five years. They address triggers such as isolation by bringing people together in groups of 10 to 12 people to build social connections. Two years post-therapy, 77% of these groups continue to meet. Treated women are also going back to work, bringing their kids to school, and providing better nutrition at home. 

4. Evidence is key to getting governments on board

Fidele Rutayisire, founder and Executive Director of RWAMREC, shared more about Bandebereho. The 17-week programme which uses fatherhood as an entry point to shift regressive gender norms and promote positive masculinity.

Investing in evidence and continued monitoring is essential as programmes adapt and scale, Fidele argued.

A randomised controlled trial of Bandebereho showed wide ranging and sustained impacts including on women’s antenatal healthcare visits and male accompaniment, reductions in violence against women and children, and increased involvement of men in unpaid care work.

The team engaged with government partners early on from curriculum development through to evaluation. The positive evidence brought about interest from the Ministry of Health to scale Bandebereho through its Community Health Worker cadre. RWAMREC piloted it in one district first to learn about feasibility and fidelity of impact, and, building on this, is now rolling it out with the government in three districts. 

5. Innovation is essential for approaching shifting gender norms

Breakthrough works to make education systems in India gender transformative. Senior Director Nayana Chowdhury highlighted how fluctuating gender norms are a key hurdle in achieving equality.

For example, while access to education for girls has been widely supported in India, she highlighted how the education system has been co-opted by patriarchy, with families looking for better educated daughters-in-law.

Breakthrough is working to educate a whole generation to challenge such gender norms. The programme’s gender equality curriculum has been integrated in education systems in Punjab and Odisha and is being delivered by teachers in classrooms.

In implementing the programme, a key challenge has been to help teachers address unequal gender attitudes in their own lives. There are few female teachers beyond early grades, meaning that girls have few role models to look to, and even fewer Master Trainers, who set curricula.

Breakthrough takes teachers through a gender equality curriculum to look into their lives first before bringing gender equality teaching into the classroom. 

6. We need patient, flexible and trust-based funding to make gender innovation happen


Maya Ramarosandratana, Executive Director of PJL, provided insight on the crucial role of patient, flexible and trust-based funding for gender equality innovators.

Her organisation implements a comprehensive sex education programme for adolescents. In its first few years the innovation struggled with small, short term funding with many strings attached.

When PJL received its first multi-year, flexible grant, it allowed them to take risks and make crucial changes to improve and streamline their curriculum and delivery model to be lower cost while maintaining quality. This was key to making it scalable and adaptable for the most remote communities.

Ten years later, the Ministry of Education wants to scale and invest into their innovation. However, integration takes time, and while the government is willing to take on a lot of implementation, PLJ needs to provide continued technical assistance to support the government with adoption.

It is important that funders understand the speed of implementation in the contexts innovators work in, and the patient, flexible funding this requires.