Four Fabulous Female-Focused CSR Schemes

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Four Fabulous Female-Focused CSR Schemes

EngenderHealth, girls, friends, Jharkhand, India, ARSH
It’s International Women’s Day! As the world turns its focus firmly to women’s issues and celebrates all things female, we’re featuring four fantastic corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects that are improving the lives of women and girls around the world. NGO-led projects focusing on women’s rights, gender equality, ending female genital mutilation and securing female empowerment have been plentiful for a while, but business-led initiatives centring on women alone are only just starting to catch up. Today, we’re shining the spotlight on the innovative approaches and achievements of Nike Foundation’s off-shoot Girl Effect, the Latin American tech-training centre Laboratoria, Coca-Cola’s 5by20 scheme for women entrepreneurs and Marks and Spencer’s all-inclusive Plan A.

EngenderHealth, girls, friends, Jharkhand, India, ARSH
These four friends in the Indian state of Jharkhand are leading their peers in seeking out sexual and reproductive health education. When women and girls are well informed, they become empowered to make choices and advocate for the changes that’ll govern their futures. This image was captured by our photographer, Robin Wyatt.

Girl Effect

How can branding provoke social change for girls? That’s the question Nike Foundation set out to explore through its Girl Effect project. Its creators capitalised on broadcast technologies and social media as platforms to change the self-perception of young girls in Africa. Very much in the vein of ‘edutainment’, Nike invested in producing multimedia mechanisms that target girls aged 10 to 19, including radio soap operas, advertisements, glossy magazines, talk shows and female pop bands known for their Number One hits. This in itself might not seem very new or innovative, but Girl Effect applied the science of branding to unite all of these ‘products’ under the umbrella of a social movement. In Rwanda, this took shape as Ni Nyampinga; in Ethiopia, Yegna has been equally successful in hooking young girls in.

Girl Effect’s products feature real life, locally-relevant role models for girls to learn from, messages to reinforce self-belief and safe spaces where girls can network and grow. The Girl Effect Mobile platform provides access to gender-specific information on health, education, financial security and safety. It has 18 million users worldwide. Equally importantly, its clever branding forges a sense of belonging, solidarity and ‘girl power’, which instils in girls the permission to be visible and vocal. In 2015, Girl Effect became independent from Nike Foundation and continues to reap much praise from global media outlets as a social business.
Yegna, Girl Effect, Ethiopia, CSR

Plan A (Marks and Spencer)

Plan A is the umbrella name for M&S’s highly successful and much-praised schemes that seek to meet the criteria of an all-encompassing set of sustainability targets. In terms of female-focused initiatives, they have financed the manufacture of 40,000 ‘clean’ cookstoves for Bangladeshi households as part of Unicef’s carbon offset programme. The website quotes the World Health Organization, stating that air pollution from solid fuels inside homes is a greater cause of death in South Asia than tuberculosis or malaria. The fuel efficient, non-polluting stoves will improve the health of thousands of women and children, who tend to spend considerably more time performing domestic chores indoors. Manufacturing them is also creating employment.

India’s garment production sector, meanwhile, employs approximately 45 million people; around three-quarters of these are women. For a while now, fashion retailers like M&S have been facing increasing pressure to ensure that factory conditions are fair and humane. Through Plan A, the company has gone one step further by training its garment workers in literacy skills, workers’ rights and financial planning. Since 2012, over 15,500 seamstresses have received this training through partner organisation Geosansar, across 27 factories nationwide. One of the results has been a 30% increase in female workers opening bank accounts to manage their own incomes. Having financial independence and a safe space to save money is extremely empowering for such women, with multiple potential knock-on effects for households and communities.
sustainable fashion, fashion photography, TK, Brazil, CSR, sustainability
Many fashion retailers’ garments are produced in factories under unsavoury conditions. But M&S is investing in its female garment workers in India by providing them with training programmes in financial management. Elsewhere, other fashion brands are doing their bit to make the world a better place as well. This image was taken for TK by our Brazil-based photographer, Jaime, who specialises in documenting sustainable fashion projects.
Finally, we couldn’t write about M&S on International Women’s Day without mentioning their 2015 ranking in the Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women in the UK. Internally, efforts have been made to promote a healthy gender balance within senior management, and the Inspiring Women Network has been established to provide mentorship, role models and networking events for female staff. The network even has a school partnership to provide one-to-one mentoring to female students aged 15 to 17.

We’ve championed M&S’s exemplary CSR efforts in this blog post, which you may enjoy reading as well.


Feisty tech school Laboratoria provides training courses in coding and programming for disadvantaged young women in Peru, Mexico and Chile. It’s not technically a corporate conceptualisation or a CSR project, but it’s so unique and inspirational that we couldn’t resist including it here. It operates somewhat like a social enterprise with some income from the very low, subsidised fees it charges its students (US $ 16 per month), but has nonetheless received generous financial backing and sponsorship from some high-ranking companies and institutions, including Microsoft, Lenovo, Google, the Inter-American Bank for Development (IDB) and Latin American telecommunications giant Telefónica. It seems like businesses are queuing up to add their names to this progressive scheme and reap part of the credit for its results.

The real credit, however, undoubtedly goes to Laboratoria’s three young founders, with 35-year-old Mariana Costa Checa taking the lead as Co-Founder and Director. At age 29, the MIT Technology Review identified her as one of the five most innovative young people in Peru for her role in forging a new generation of tech-savvy young women. This is a significant feat in a traditionally ‘macho’ society with strongly prescribed gender roles, where the International Labour Organization says that 70% of the country’s unemployed and uneducated youth are female. The cost of higher education and difficulties in accessing vocational training are major barriers to the progress of girls from low income households. But Laboratoria (meaning ‘laboratory’) is making the IT industry, and programming in particular, inclusive and accessible.
La Laboratoria, women, software, coders, CSR, Latin America
Latin American ladies are confronting programming’s gender imbalance thanks to Laboratoria.
With the tagline, ‘codigo que transforma’ (‘code that transforms’), the training centre’s curriculum is market-focused and dynamic. Students currently learn coding languages and frameworks such as Javascript, CSS, jQuery and Git, and also attend personal development classes with a psychologist with the aim of overcoming barriers to learning. The tech boot camp quickly expanded from one training centre in Lima, Peru, to four, located also in Mexico City, Santiago de Chile and Arequipa in Southern Peru. Since it was founded in 2014, 400 girls have been trained, with an impressive 75% gaining employment after graduation. It’s little wonder that former US President Barack Obama himself has praised and celebrated the initiative of Costa and her young colleagues.

5by20 (Coca-Cola)

5by20 aims to empower five million female entrepreneurs across Coca-Cola’s value chain by 2020. By ‘value chain’, the company is referring to producers, suppliers, bottlers, distributers, retailers and recyclers. The project’s founding premise is that by skilling up, women start ripple effects within their households and communities, making them more able to contribute to their families’ incomes, more likely to educate their children and be strong role models, and more capable of taking part in local economies at the community level. Through localised training courses, female participants are learning about business skills, financial management and markets, as well as benefiting from mentoring and being part of a supportive network of like-minded women.

5by20 is underpinned by a belief in building scalable models and powerful partnerships; to that end, it draws on the support of TechnoServe, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the IDB. Five million women seems like an ambitious goal to achieve over eight years, but when one considers this backup and also Coca-Cola’s global reach and multinational nature, it becomes clear that the company is actually very well-placed to undertake such a large-scale development initiative. So far, 5by20 is indeed on target to succeed. In 2015, 372,000 women participated in training schemes across 60 countries. Rest assured that the beverage giant is not just delivering a workshop here and there and then leaving; it’s commissioning independent evaluations to monitor changes in personal incomes and the business profits of the entrepreneurs it’s supported.

Rudi, one of our videographers, captured the impact of 5by20 in the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. You can read about the project here, and also watch the resulting video below to hear from female beneficiaries themselves. We additionally recommend checking out the brilliant artisanal handicrafts, made by 5by20 women from recycled packaging.
Maimunah says that learning how to improve the presentation of her food products and dishes through the 5by20 workshops she attended has made her business better. To find out more, watch the video for yourself by clicking the play button.