US announces first funding for women's economic empowerment initiative

USAID chief Mark Green (left), White House adviser Ivanka Trump (center), and women association president Bamba Awa (right) meet women entrepreneurs at the demonstration cocoa farm in Adzope, Ivory Coast. Photo by: REUTERS / Luc Gnago

WASHINGTON — When the U.S. government launched the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative in February it offered few details about what the whole of government effort around women’s empowerment would entail.

On Wednesday the first round of funding announcements — $27 million to 14 projects tackling issues from land rights, to workforce training in the tech sector and access to value chains — was made at an event featuring presidential adviser Ivanka Trump and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green.

Launched in February, the W-GDP initiative aims to reach 50 million women by 2025 through its work in three key areas: supporting workforce development and skills training; helping women entrepreneurs with access to markets, capital, and networks; and working to change laws, regulations, and norms that limit women’s ability to fully participate in the economy.

The administration initially set aside $50 million at USAID in a W-GDP fund and on Wednesday announced that about half of it would go to a W-GDP Incentive Fund aimed at getting missions and field staff to put together proposals that could scale innovative local solutions, a senior administration official said in a press briefing.

USAID received more than 100 proposals from staff seeking funding for projects through the W-GDP Incentive Fund. Those were ranked and reviewed by an interagency panel and 14 concept notes were selected focusing on scaling effective programs and leveraging partnerships. Those 14 awardees will split $27 million for projects in 22 countries, leveraging more than $260 million from public and private sector partners and aiming to reach more than 100,000 women.

Three of the awardees were highlighted at Wednesday’s event: the Industree Foundation, a not-for-profit based in India that works to build women-owned collectives and links them to global value chains; Landesa, a not-for-profit focused on land rights; and a collaboration between Citigroup and Laboratoria focused on training women in Latin America for careers in the tech sector.

“What you’re seeing today is really how we’re using a new collaborative ethic to unlock dollars beyond just grants and contracts,” Green said, adding that the “all of government” approach is aligning incentives and is making an “enormous difference.”

Green said that this was just the beginning of the administration’s work on the initiative, which he sees as vital to its efforts to help countries on their “journey to self-reliance.”

Ivanka Trump spoke of the need to work on changing regulations, policies, and cultural norms that are holding women back, which she called “maybe the most critical” part of W-GDP’s work.

She applauded Côte d’Ivoire, which this week passed new laws as part of its family code giving women a more equal say in household financial decisions, the ability to inherit, and new protections against domestic violence.

“That’s the type of thing that will really create extraordinary transformative change,” she said.  

Trump also highlighted a State Department program that will bring a group of women to the U.S. later this year as part of an exchange to discuss barriers to change and how they can be addressed. The program aims to support local leadership and elevate role models while also learning from them.

While only $50 million was allocated to the W-GDP fund by USAID this year – a small amount for an initiative aiming to impact 50 million women – President Donald Trump requested additional funding for the next fiscal year to continue to support the initiative and it seems likely Congress will approve an allocation to the initiative.

Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida and Rep. Mike McCaul, a Republican from Texas — cosponsors of the Women's Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act, which passed last year — spoke about the bipartisan nature of global women’s economic empowerment. They highlighted the national security as well as economic and social benefits of investing in women.  

While the first funding announcements are out, some of the questions from the launch have not yet been answered, including exactly where the W-GDP initiative would be housed and how it would be operationalized. The latest announcements don’t shed much light on some of the operational questions, though it appears that the White House, led by Ivanka Trump, and USAID are spearheading the work.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.