Twenty years empowering women to fight poverty

02 Oct 2023

Two women in saris collecting water from a lake

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