About 70% of the world’s poorest people are women. Women are half the world’s population, do 2/3 of the world’s work, yet they earn only a tenth of the world’s income and own less the a hundredth of the world’s assets. In many countries cultural barriers to women’s empowerment add to the problems any poor person faces in trying to obtain credit.

Most of these women will never have a formal paying “job” but must depend on their own ingenuity to scratch out a living. The vast majority of working women in the world are self-employed. They have difficulty obtaining any financial services due to their lack of collateral, property rights, social status, and business skills.

Microfinance – making very small loans to enable thousands poor people to start or expand enterprises — is an important tool to help impoverished women, who are not able to meet the collateral requirements for even a very small (starting at about $100) business loan from a traditional lenders like banks. Microfinance and enterprise development programs in more than 100 countries are successfully helping to move tens of millions of women out of abject poverty throughout the world.

The IDEAS Approach: 3 Steps toward Empowering Women through Microfinance

The first step in empowering women in developing nations is providing small loans for poor women entrepreneurs in developing nations. Since microfinance has been so important to economic survival, the second step is to help underemployed or unemployed women in developing countries gain the skills and experience they need to become staff and professionals in the field of microfinance. IDEAS has found that when women are doing the market research, impact assessments, and evaluating the effectiveness of microcredit programs, those programs are more likely to address seriously the needs of poor women clients. The visibility of women in leadership positions sends a message that reverses centuries-old patterns of discrimination against women. Women leaders become role models and sources of inspiration for other women struggling to break out of poverty and powerlessness.

The third step of economic empowerment for women in developing nations is for them to become the key decision-makers in the management and the board of financial institutions. Most MFIs are run by male managers and have predominantly majority male boards, even though 70% to 95% of their clients are female. The MFIs argue that there are no women who are qualified to fill these positions. Many organizations are working only on the first step of lending to women micro- entrepreneurs but IDEAS is one of the few working on the vital second and third steps of training women to be consultants, trainers, staff, and board members .

As you look at the Consulting Services tab, Evaluation Services tab and Training tab on this website, you will see that we are experts in many areas that are diverse, including market research, institutional evaluation, balanced scorecard, social performance manangement, microfinance renewable energy, microfranchising, socially responsible investing among others.

We are able to provide such a wide array of services for several reasons:

– We have been working for over 35 years so we have learned and taught a lot of different topics along the way;

– We created many tools in many of these fields, wrote the instructions, combined them with other tools in the field, and taught them to others on 4 continents;

– We have many Associate Consultants who have a wide variety of experiences and expertise so we can bring them in as needed to assist a client;

– We are or have been practitioners as well as trainers so we have learned a lot from the school of hard knocks. That experience is especially valuable to learners;

– We have done field work, trained and provided assistance in many different countries and cultural situations. Each time we have an experience with one organization, we learn how to do something differently or better and then pass those new concepts or methods to others. Thus, over the years, we have built a wide variety of skills that we can offer;

– We learn proactively so that we have new tools to apply when a given situation calls for the new tools or techniques;

– We are social entrepreneurs, pioneering different institutions and approaches – such as creating the first socially responsible investment vehicle to lend to microfinance institutions in Nicaragua and also 20 years later creating the first microfranchise in Nicaragua. So the longer we work as entrepreneurs, the more innovations we create. People seek out innovators to teach them to be more creative in their organizations.

Many people immediately think of IDEAS in the context of our assisting microfinance institutions (MFIs), Microfinance Networks, and enterprise development organizations as we have for a couple of decades. We have helped create a non-profit MFI as well as a for-profit MFI.

Professionals from many organizations are aware of our years of contributions in international organizations like SEEP Network and national and regional MFI networks.

However, we also provide a variety of services to other types of institutions like non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs), cooperatives, social enterprises, and microfranchises.

We also have worked for donors and socially responsible investors to help them do due diligence on those organizations in which they have a desire to finance. We have helped create a non-profit Microfinance Investment Vehicle (MIV) and also a for-profit MIV.

We have assisted for-profit corporations that desire to create jobs in low income communities.

Please contact IDEAS to see how we might help your organization or your social enterprise.

As we train those who will assess and assist organizations, we have placed a high priority on training women. Decades ago, we made the analysis there were far fewer female professionals and board members in economic development organizations and financial institutions in developing countries. We chose to set an emphasis in training particularly younger women to enter and progress in the field of microfinance, enterprise development, evaluation, and many others. Many have gone on become executive directors, board members, and hold other important positions. Some who have flexible schedules have continued to be Associate Consultants with us. We have been told that their presence and the gender training that they received by working with us has made a big difference in their careers and in their organizations.

Many clients are surprised when we arrive to assist them with a team that is majority women. A few years ago, a microfinance institution in Guatemala that hired us to do an impact evaluation. It’s all male staff of was very surprised at the gender composition of our team that we brought from three different countries to evaluate them during three weeks. It led to many interesting discussions as to why the vast majority of their clients were women and there was not a single woman in their field staff. IDEAS’ women evaluators saw things that the male staff had not. Eventually, it led to changes in the organization that today is very different.

Our strong commitment to women’s empowerment runs through all the work we do. We definitely do train men as well but they are aware of why they are often in the minority in our courses. Most are very supportive as they realize that changes are needed.

IDEAS has many Associate Consultants on different continents. Therefore, we only need a very small staff to handle training and technical assistance across the globe. We have consciously trained local professionals in many countries who understand the cultural context and poverty situation in their own and neighboring countries. This has several benefits. We are dedicated to building the capacity of local people to serve their own country and region as consultants. Also, when we learn of a need for trainers we can refer the contracts to them. In that way, we may work our way out of a job.

Finally, when there is a contract that is complex and requires the particular expertise of IDEAS, we organize a variety of consultants from different countries to work on the same contract. By using Associate Consultants who also have their own work in their country, we can grow or shrink, adapting to the different annual demands for work.

We have had many contracts in which an international organization needed us to work in many different countries in different languages on the same contract. For example, one required us to do work in Spanish, French, English and Russian and write the overall report in English. An international organization that had seven affiliates in Latin America required field work in the seven countries. We only had to use two air tickets to do the work because we had Associate Consultants to do the work in the other five countries.