Want to help women take more control? Help them tackle multiple problems at once

By Karina L. Weinstein, FXB

As my colleague John Coonrod noted, women face an array of challenges which can’t be solved in isolation. If you help a mom send her daughter to school on an empty stomach, how much will she really learn? If you help a woman take her children to a doctor, but they are drinking polluted water, how much will their health improve? In fact, interventions that attack individual problems often fail to help people escape extreme poverty.

Ottilia Perez knows firsthand how both the challenges of poverty—and their solutions—are tightly entwined. When FXB approached Sra. Perez to join the FXBVillage program in Barranquilla, Colombia, she felt a sense of despair about her life. She was living in one room with her seven children, who were not attending school due to lack of financial resources, and she couldn’t land employment because she didn’t know how to read.

Sra. Perez with her children outside of her home. Photo Credit: Cecilia Lavergne, Director FXB Colombia

Through the FXBVillage program, Sra. Perez learned how to read and write, acquired the knowledge and resources to improve the sanitary conditions of her house, and learned how to provide quality nutrition to her children. Most importantly, she was given startup capital and business training to start a grocery store in her community. From the income she generated from her business, she was now able to expand her house, pay for her children’s school expenses, and provide them with better nutrition. (Listen to Sra. Perez’s story here.)

 What is an FXBVillage?

The FXBVillage Model is a time-bound, sustainable and holistic approach that provides access to capital and knowledge necessary to secure a livelihood for poor families. The model is based on the Public Health Paradigm taught by the late Dr. Jonathan Mann of Harvard University, which emphasizes the inextricable link between health and human rights and need for holistic approaches to break the cycle of poverty. Through 168 FXBVillages, 84,000 people have found their path out of extreme poverty since 1991.

Each FXBVillage works with 80-100 families, approximately 500 individuals. The FXBVillage Model offers funding and training for participants to start a small business and incorporates three years of support to address the five pillars of poverty: nutrition, education, health, housing, and income. As the participating families’ abilities to meet basic needs increases, FXB gradually lessens financial support, indicating that the families have become self-sufficient (referred to as the “graduation approach.”)

Through the delivery of essential services such as nutrition, education, health, and housing, FXB increases the capacity of poor families and children to reach their full potential. Moreover, with business coaching and training, participants are able to secure a livelihood. As FXB’s investment is scaled down each subsequent year and finally removed altogether after the third year, the sustainable income from income generating activities allows the families to provide for their children.

 What makes integration so hard?

Taking an integrated approach isn’t easy. The two biggest challenges we face are finding donors willing to support integrated programming, and understanding how the diversity of interventions actually contributes to people’s success.

FXB implements FXBVillages through the support from diverse funders ranging from the United States government to private corporations. (See the full list of our funding partners here.) Our most daunting challenge is getting donors’ buy-in for an integrated program. Most donors have specific issues they are passionate about and are hesitant to fund an integrated program for three years. Many donors question why the program targets a small number of families (80-100) since all donors are seeking maximum return on their investment.

Second, even though we have solid monitoring and evaluation data, it is complicated to communicate program results in a concise manner given that we have data across various dimensions such as health, nutrition, education, income, and housing.

 These two challenges are closely linked. FXB believes strongly in our model, based on the evidence we have seen from our past efforts. But in order to convince others, we need to help donors and other implementers to start seeing women and girls and their communities as the key drivers of their own development, and allow their choices to drive more decisions about how investments get made. If we achieve that, we are likely to see more integrated approaches take hold.