Hand in Hand partners with Fund for Innovation in Development to evaluate the impact of a project to boost Tanzanian women’s incomes by engaging with communities to shift gender norms

Hand in Hand, in partnership with Fund for Innovation in Development (FID), is launching a three-and-a-half year project to find out whether it’s enough to train women in business skills to increase their income, or whether engaging with the community to challenge the idea of what a ‘woman’s role’ can be will boost women’s incomes even further than with business skills training alone. Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) will be the project’s research partner.

In one of the largest randomized control trials (RCT) of its kind in East Africa, the project will develop and expand the body of evidence that shows shifting restrictive gender norms in communities can increase women’s incomes and savings.

Women in rural Tanzania face significant barriers when it comes to earning a living. They lack skills, resources, market connections and access to credit. Crucially, the majority are unable to make their own decisions about things such as healthcare, visiting friends or household purchases without their husband’s permission. What’s more, women are expected to be solely responsible for domestic labour and caregiving, leaving them little time to run a business. In many communities, a woman working is seen as threatening the man’s position as the breadwinner of the family.

When we involve the community in breaking down the social attitudes that hold women back, we see women with the power and time to take their businesses to the next level, women can increase the family’s income, creating a better life for everyone.

The FID funded project, will reach 4,800 participants (80% of whom are women). The RCT  will test the effectiveness of Hand in Hand’s existing training four-step model against an enhanced five-step training model that includes gender training.

Hand in Hand’s existing four-step model seeks to break down the barriers to women’s economic inclusion by providing women with business skills training, access to credit and support to reach new value chains. On average, these interventions yield a remarkable 100% increase in women’s incomes within three years.

The enhanced  five-step model (with the gender component) goes one step further – actively involving men and local leaders to create supportive communities where men act as champions for women’s entrepreneurship, recognizing that, when men and women work together, they stand a better chance at beating poverty. Implemented across 144 villages in the Dodoma and Singida regions of Tanzania, the intervention, and its randomized impact evaluation will be overseen by Principal Investigator Jessica Goldberg (University of Maryland).

Dorothea Arndt, CEO at Hand in Hand International, said: “All too often, women in disadvantaged, rural communities are told their place is at home, not running a business. By working with men and communities to challenge deeply entrenched social norms, we’re changing the rules of the game for women entrepreneurs, kickstarting a transformation that will lead to greater equality and brighter futures for thousands of families.

“The study’s results will tell us whether it is possible to grow women entrepreneurs’ income by engaging the community around them to shift their perception of ‘a woman’s work’. Our established training has already enabled women to double their incomes – this study will show if we can go even further. The findings will not only guide the effective implementation of our own programmes, but will also be shared with the many government agencies currently implementing livelihood programmes across Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Juliette Seban, FID Executive Director, said: “By investing in innovative programmes and their impact evaluation like this one, we support the generation of new  evidence on what works when it comes to tackling poverty, empowering NGOs and governments to adopt interventions that have proven to be effective. With one in four women being an entrepreneur in Africa, learning from this project has a strong potential to catalyze change on a much broader scale.”

Claudia Casarotto, Chief Global Programs Officer – Innovations for Poverty Action, said:

“Our research consistently shows that gaps remain in understanding the comprehensive impact of women’s economic empowerment strategies. This project uniquely integrates financial inclusion with community efforts to shift gender norms, directly addressing these gaps. By evaluating this holistic approach, we aim to generate robust evidence on how these combined strategies can effectively enhance women’s incomes and economic autonomy. The findings will inform policy and practice, contributing valuable knowledge to global poverty alleviation strategies and empowering policymakers and practitioners to implement proven, impactful interventions.”

Hand in Hand’s saffron project attains vital ISO certification

A pioneering initiative to lift saffron farmers in Afghanistan out of poverty has hit a new milestone, with producers involved in the project successfully securing ISO certification. The certification not only signifies compliance with international standards but, crucially, gives the product a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

Funded by Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Danida Market Development Partnerships Programme, the Organic Growth project aims to develop Afghanistan’s saffron value chain, creating jobs and tackling poverty.

Over the last few years, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has become more severe, with the World Food Programme (WFP) estimating more that more than a third of the country’s population is facing food insecurity. The Organic Growth project targets rural areas in the Herat province, where jobs are scarce, and is set to reach 3,000 farmworkers and processors.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan Executive Director, Dr Kamran Hekmati, said: “Five independent saffron companies who are taking part in the project have been awarded ISO 22000, which is a tremendous achievement and means the saffron they produce can now be sold on the international market, commanding a higher price. That money will directly benefit farmers in some of the country’s most deprived rural communities, so families can afford safe housing, medicine and put food on the table.”

Twenty years empowering women to fight poverty

Hand in Hand began in 2003; a single NGO founded by Swedish businessman, Percy Barnevik and development expert Dr Kalpana Sankar, with the goal of eradicating poverty in rural Tamil Nadu, India.

Then, as it does now, Hand in Hand operated in places where opportunities for formal employment were non-existent, with most people subsisting on under $2.15 a day. At its core was the simple premise: that local communities hold the keys to their own economic transformation.

As Percy Barnevik put it: “Our model puts people’s destinies in their own hands.”

Today, by investing in entrepreneurs’ skills and supporting them to access business loans and formal markets, the global Hand in Hand network has created 4.3 million enterprises and 6.2m jobs – lifting 19m people above the poverty line.

Investing in women’s power and potential

From the start, Hand in Hand recognised the pivotal role of women and placed them at the heart of its programming. That’s because, when women earn and control their own incomes, they channel their resources back into education, housing, nutritious food for their children and healthcare.

Two decades ago, this approach put us at the forefront of a sea-change in international development. Today, it’s widely acknowledged that empowering women is one of the most effective strategies for poverty alleviation.

Listening to entrepreneurs

In the last two decades, the world has changed dramatically. Who, twenty years ago, could have imagined the extent to which climate change, soil erosion and digital technology would affect the way we live? And who could have predicted that, in many countries, women would be losing, not gaining, hard won rights and freedoms.

What hasn’t changed is Hand in Hand’s founding principle – that entrepreneurs, particularly women, must be in the driving seat. And so, over the years, we have adapted our model in response to the evolving challenges they face.

Our programmes include:

  • working with women farmers to improve soil health, increasing yields and incomes
  • giving women entrepreneurs the digital and business skills they need to compete in markets that are, increasingly, online
  • tackling restrictive social norms and attitudes that hold women back by engaging directly with men and community leaders – so women have the power to make decisions and run a business on their own terms.

The world may have changed – but our mission, to enable women in the world’s toughest places to increase their incomes, and become a force for change in their communities, has not. If you’d like to find out more about Hand in Hand and our plans for the future, please contact me directly on darndt@hihinternational.org

Hand in Hand and Cartier Philanthropy project boosts Tanzanian women entrepreneurs’ incomes by $59 a month

A three-year trial conducted by Hand in Hand between 2020 and 2023 to support women to launch and run profitable businesses has helped create 457 businesses and 545 jobs in some of Arusha’s most disadvantaged communities – with women increasing their incomes by an average of 117% (USD 59.72 per month).

As well as providing 600 women with business skills training, mentoring and supporting them to access credit and reach larger markets, the programme also incorporated a gender-specific training module that sought to address and challenge the restrictive social norms and attitudes that prevent women from succeeding as entrepreneurs and run profitable businesses.

The programme also improved women’s financial resilience, with 65% participants saying they would be able to deal with a financial shock, such as an unexpected medical bill, without selling assets or borrowing money​.

As part of the trial, evaluated by International Center for Women’s Research (ICRW) and funded by Cartier Philanthropy, the partners and husbands of 300 women were also enrolled in gender-specific training – designed to shift men’s ideas about what a women’s role can be, as well as couples’ sessions where husbands and wives explored issues together.

In many communities, it’s believed a woman working outside the home undermines the man’s position as the family’s breadwinner. Women are also expected to be solely responsible for domestic work and childcare, leaving them little time to run a business.

Boosting savings and decision making

In a survey of 182 couples, ICRW found that providing male partners with additional gender-specific training improved women’s decision making within the home – with 62% of women able to make decisions about the things that matter to them, such as visiting family or friends, healthcare or household purchases – compared to 45% in the group where men did not take part in the workshops.

ICRW also found that engaging men had a significant impact on the amount of money women entrepreneurs were able to save, with women whose partners had taken part in the gender-specific training increased their savings by 49% – compared to women whose partners did not take part, whose savings decreased by 43%.

Changing attitudes in the home

Typically, women spend six to eight hours a day on unpaid domestic work​, which is why Hand in Hand worked with men to help them develop an understanding of a woman’s workload – as well giving them the skills to help with household tasks.

According to ICRW’s findings, men who had taken part in the gender-specific training reported spending approximately one hour more per day on domestic work – including household chores and care for children. Men who had not taken part in the training said they spent an hour less on household tasks and caring.

Both men and women had more gender-equitable attitudes at the end of the programme – with participants less likely to agree with statements such as ‘men should have the final word in disagreements’. Men who had taken part in the gender-specific training were more likely to hold equitable attitudes than men who had not. Moreover, women whose husbands had participated in the gender-specific training also experienced more positive shifts in gender attitudes, compared to women whose husbands who had not.

Hand in Hand Tanzania CEO, Jane Sabuni, said: “In the traditional societies we work within, the idea of a woman earning an income can be seen as threatening to a man’s status and position. Through this innovative field trial, we’ve successfully worked with communities to challenge attitudes that make it tough for women to earn money – with men even taking on a greater share of domestic tasks so their wives can spend time running their business.”

Hand in Hand International CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “We have been able to increase women’s incomes by an average of USD 59 a month in some of Arusha’s most deprived places.

“Women entrepreneurs can’t achieve their full potential unless their families and communities are behind them, but a shift in how women’s roles are perceived takes time. We know change rarely happens unless it’s driven from the ground up – so at the start of the project we engaged with clan leaders, church leaders and local government representatives – showing them the benefits of men and women working together as a team to boost their family’s incomes.”

Pascale de la Frégonnière, Strategic Advisor to the Board, Cartier Philanthropy, commented: “Deconstructing the traditional idea of masculinity is part of the challenge of empowering women across the world. Changing deeply engrained gender norms takes time. This field trial, which is also being implemented in Rwanda by Women for Women, aimed to fill a gap and start building the evidence base we will need if we want to engage men in a meaningful way to achieve gender equity.”

Emily Schaub, Women’s Economic Empowerment Specialist at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), said: “The findings from this trial suggest that men’s engagement has an important role to play in attaining more equitable gender norms and attitudes about men’s and women’s roles. These attitudes in turn can be facilitators of an environment that enables and supports women’s economic and social empowerment.”


Hand in Hand saffron producers receive organic certification

Hand in Hand is delighted to announce both of the saffron producers and exporting companies taking part in its Organic Growth project have now been certified by the US-NOP (National Organic Program) as organic and European Union (EU) organic C1 certificates (soil conversion for year 1).

Funded by Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Danida Market Development Partnerships Programme and a corporate foundation, Organic Growth is an innovative project to develop Afghanistan’s first organic saffron value chain – in partnership with German social enterprise Conflictfood, which will distribute the saffron once it has achieved full EU organic certification.

The project aims to improve the incomes of 3,000 farm workers and processors in the Herat province by making saffron growing more profitable. Organic saffron commands a higher price on the international market than non-organic saffron, but, to be certified as organic, producers must meet very strict criteria. It takes three years for saffron to be certified as organic as per the EU organic standards, while in NOP the saffron can be directly certified as organic if the company meets the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards. Both companies also passed their first EU years’ audit, a key step towards the important milestone of being certified as fully organic by NOP and meeting C1 for EU Organic standards.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan Executive Director, Dr Ahmad Kamran Hekmati, said: “Achieving US-NOP and EU organic certification shows we are well on the way to creating Afghanistan’s first organic saffron chain – a project which will raise incomes in some of the country’s most deprived rural communities, helping families put food on the table and pay for housing, education and healthcare.”

Visa and Hand in Hand project helps women scale up their businesses in Nairobi’s most deprived communities

Participants saw an average income uplift of USD $156 per month, despite the Covid-19 crisis, with more than 80% reporting improved financial management skills.

Hand in Hand’s Kenya Micro-Enterprise Success Programme (KMES) project, funded by Visa Inc., has delivered unprecedented results, with entrepreneurs typically increasing their incomes by USD $156 per month, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project is the first of its kind to target existing small business owners as well as first-time entrepreneurs. Delivered in Nairobi’s informal settlements, which the UN describes as “some of the most dense, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world,” the project aimed to boost local economies, create jobs, and lift families out of poverty.

The three-year programme provided 8,200 first-time entrepreneurs (6,560 of them women) living below the poverty line with the core business training they needed to start their own micro enterprises. It also provided ‘advanced’ training to 1,600 people (1,280 of them women) who wanted to scale up their  businesses, as part of its ‘acceleration’ cohort.

But, just months after the project began, Kenya was hit by its first wave of coronavirus cases, and the country locked down. For Kenyans, the pandemic wasn’t just a health crisis, it was an economic crisis as well – devastating livelihoods and pushing millions of families below the poverty line.

Despite this – the programme achieved remarkable success. Across the project, more than 80% of participants reported improved financial management skills. And, both first-time entrepreneurs and existing small businesses said they were now more financially resilient. This resilience played a crucial role in helping participants to weather the economic effects of Covid-19 pandemic — which, at the height of the crisis, saw 20% of Kenyans selling assets, 24% relying on loans to get by and over 40% skipping meals (World Bank.) However, thanks to the training, 90% of participants on the KMES programme reported that they would be able to withstand a financial shock without having to sell an asset or get into debt.

Overall, over the course of the project, first-time entrepreneurs increased their profitability by an average of 15%, earning an additional USD $150 a month. When the existing small businesses owners joined the programme they were typically making a small loss on each product sold. After taking part in the programme, they boosted their businesses’ profits by an average of 95%, earning an additional USD $192 a month.

All programme members received business and financial training, with existing small business owners being given additional mentoring and support to help them scale up their businesses. This included training in social media and digital marketing, and support to help them link up with larger markets and to access credit.

As a result of the business and financial efficiency training they’d received from Hand in Hand, programme members were able to act quickly to cut their costs, with participants in the ‘acceleration’ cohort seeing an average cost reduction of 43%. It was these cost savings that enabled entrepreneurs’ small businesses to remain operational throughout the pandemic, despite lockdowns which wiped out a third of the country’s micro and small businesses (Central Bank of Kenya.)

Being able to rapidly move their businesses online also played a key part in the entrepreneurs’ success. Many began to market their products on social and digital platforms during the pandemic, and the number of businesses taking mobile payments rose from 38% to a staggering 81%.

As the entrepreneurs’ businesses grew, so too did their ability to create jobs within their communities. Existing small businesses owners in the ‘acceleration’ cohort of the programme created 0.66 jobs per business, with first-time entrepreneurs creating jobs at a rate of 0.45 per business.

The programme also increased women’s decision making power, with 60% more first-time entrepreneurs reporting that they were now able to take part in decisions that affect their lives, such as household purchases, family visits and healthcare.

Eva Ngigi-Sarwari, Country Manager, Visa Kenya, said: “We are thrilled with the impact delivered by our partnership with Hand in Hand as not only did we surpass the number of targeted beneficiaries, but we have seen the immediate impact on their businesses.

“We will continue to seek out partnerships and opportunities that reach those traditionally underserved, providing them with access to resources that can help improve their economic livelihoods, businesses and communities.”

Hand in Hand Eastern Africa CEO, Albert Wambugu said, “At a time when businesses across the country were closing in record numbers these our members from Nairobi’s informal settlements were able to reduce their costs, expand into new markets and take their businesses online.

“Additionally, this project gave our members a path to digital financial inclusion, with a majority of entrepreneurs being able to access useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs, thus reducing poverty, unleashing their potential and boosting prosperity. Truly, we are grateful to Visa for their support.”

Hand in Hand International CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “This project equipped women with skills not only to get through the Covid-19 crisis but to create thriving enterprises. Women entrepreneurs in these extremely poor informal settlements have the odds stacked against them. Not only are they more likely to be digitally excluded, it’s often much harder for them to access credit.

“Thanks to this project with Visa Inc. these women have been able to confound expectations and succeed as entrepreneurs, even in the midst of a global pandemic. As a result of the training – which included social media marketing skills and support to access credit, they’ve been able to expand their businesses and lift their families out of poverty for good. What’s more, many of them are now employers, creating much-needed jobs in their communities.”

Hand in Hand’s statement on the ban on women NGO workers in Afghanistan

Following a letter issued by the Taliban’s Ministry of Economy on Saturday 24 December 2022, all national and international non-governmental organisations working in Afghanistan were instructed to immediately stop women from working. The Ministry has warned that they will revoke the operating licenses of any organisations that do not comply with these new restrictions.

Women staff play an essential role in NGO activities, providing humanitarian and development services, in order to respect traditional and religious customs. This exclusion of women will impact on communities in emergency food distribution, health services, basic education, livelihood training, protection services, and disability services.

Our response

In the immediate term, Hand in Hand Afghanistan, like many other Afghan NGOs, will be suspending its regular field activities and requesting only male members of staff work from the offices, with female members of staff working from home.

Hand in Hand Afghanistan is working with the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR), which represents 183 National and International Humanitarian and Development Organisations. Collectively, we are in urgent discussions with the Ministry of Economy to withdraw their suspension letter and engage in open discussions to find a constructive and durable way forward.

We will keep you updated as the situation changes. If you have any questions please contact Amalia Johnsson, Director of Programmes at Hand in Hand International on ajohnsson@hihinternational.org.


87% of Hand in Hand’s women entrepreneurs now have the power to make their own decisions

New data from Hand in Hand shows, after taking part in the charity’s entrepreneurship training, 87% of women participants in Kenya, Tanzania and Afghanistan said they were able to have a say about decisions that affect them, such as household purchases, family visits and healthcare. On average, just 40.3% of women in these countries reported that they were able to participate in household decision making (World Bank).

Hand in Hand provides women entrepreneurs with the skills and confidence to create businesses that lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Results from a sample of 9,000 most recent Hand in Hand programme graduates (from Tanzania) also showed that, on average, women entrepreneurs more than tripled their monthly profit (+322%)

The charity operates in some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities – where food insecurity is widespread. This income boost enables programme members to provide regular, nutritious meals for their families, pay for their children’s education and afford vital healthcare. In the last five years Hand in Hand International has supported the creation of 285,000 enterprises, transforming the lives of over a million people.

The data also showed that, despite an initial dip in earnings at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, (particularly in Kenya, which saw more frequent and prolonged periods of lockdown) taking part in Hand in Hand programmes enabled participants to weather the Covid-19 crisis, reporting no significant reduction in income, even as the pandemic devastated economies across the world.

Crucially, the programmes also enabled women to become more financially resilient – with 40% of participants across all programmes saying that they would be able to get through a financial shock, such as a bad harvest or unexpected medical bill, without having to sell an asset or get into debt.

Businesses were sustainable, with 88% of all micro enterprises still operational one year after launch.

Hand in Hand CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “In the communities we operate within, women face enormous barriers to equality – constrained by unwritten rules that restrict what they spend their time doing, and who they can see and talk to.

“Our programmes don’t just give women the skills to start their own businesses, the money they earn and the confidence they gain helps them to speak up and make decisions in the home, too.

“Increasingly, we are seeing women entrepreneurs taking up leadership roles within their communities – something that had previously been unheard of. We’re also developing a new strand of our programming to engage with men to shift their perceptions around what a woman’s role ‘should’ be.”

87% of women with the power to make their own decisions

285,000 small businesses launched

Average 322% percent increases in monthly income

Boeing launches new project to fight poverty and tackle the stereotypes that hold women back

Boeing and Hand in Hand are launching a new project in Arusha Region, Tanzania to support women to beat the odds and succeed as entrepreneurs, lifting 600 families above the poverty line. The project will work closely with women, men and with the wider community to challenge traditional attitudes towards women’s roles that prevent women from earning and controlling their own incomes, and from having a say at home or in their communities.

Arusha Region has some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. Record droughts in the country have resulted in increased food insecurity, which is particularly acute in rural areas like Arusha where most people depend on what they can grow to feed their families. Tanzanian women earn, on average, a third of what men do. They are also expected to be solely responsible for domestic work and childcare, leaving little time to earn an income.

This project will give women the skills and confidence to start their own businesses, as well as working with their husbands, fathers, brothers and male community leaders to shift cultural expectations around what a woman’s role should be.

The project is just a part of Boeing’s commitment to transforming the lives of women and young people in rural Tanzania. Working with Hand in Hand, they expect to create 4,000 jobs for women and young people by 2025, lifting 10,000 people out of poverty.

Jane Sabuni, CEO at Hand in Hand Tanzania, said: “Women can play a crucial role in helping households escape poverty but many are constrained from earning an income by longstanding cultural norms. By working with men, we show them that when women are able to work outside the home they can contribute to the family finances and everyone benefits.”

Kuljit Ghata-Aura, President of Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META), said: “We know when women are given the skills and confidence they need to become leaders, whole communities benefit. Boeing’s partnership with Hand in Hand is just one of the ways we are working to tackle gender inequality and help women reach their full potential.”

Hand in Hand CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “By investing in women’s skills and potential, Boeing is transforming the lives of thousands of Tanzanian families, and we are enormously grateful for their ongoing support.”

Giving women the confidence to lead: Boeing project transforms lives in rural Tanzania  

A two-year project in Arusha Region, Tanzania that gives women the skills and confidence they need to launch their own enterprises has lifted more than 1,600 people out of poverty, as well as giving 542 women vital leadership skills.

The scheme was delivered by Hand in Hand East Africa and funded by Boeing.

In rural Arusha, the majority of the women we work with live below the poverty line. Because of the training, women participants’ average monthly wage increased from USD 1.53 to USD 45.20.

One of the most important parts of the programme is the leadership skills component, which gives women the confidence to speak up and make their voices heard. After the training, 86 percent of the women we asked said they are now able to make decisions for themselves both at home and within their businesses, an increase of almost 30 percent. Many of these women are now also stepping up to take on leadership roles within their communities.

The project is just a part of Boeing’s commitment to transforming the lives of women and young people in rural Tanzania. Working with Hand in Hand, they expect to train more than 4,000 women and young people by 2025 creating 4,000 jobs and lifting 10,000 people out of poverty.

Jane Sabuni, Tanzania Country Manager for Hand in Hand Eastern Africa, said: “As literacy in the area is low, our trainers use oral storytelling techniques to teach leadership skills. These skills don’t just help women succeed in business, they give them the confidence to make have their say when it comes to household spending, their children’s education, and the issues in the community that matter to them.”

Hand in Hand CEO, Dorothea Arndt, said: “When women earn and control their own incomes we see a reduction in household poverty and vulnerability to financial shocks. By investing in women’s skills and potential Boeing is transforming the lives of thousands of Tanzanian families, and we are enormously grateful for their ongoing support.”

Kuljit Ghata-Aura, President of Boeing Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META), said: “At Boeing, we are committed to building better communities worldwide through focused investment that help break poverty cycles. Empowering women can bring paradigm shifts towards economic growth. We’re proud of our five year old partnership with Hand in Hand.”