W-GDP initiative releases 10 agency action plans, announces new funding

A scene from the anniversary of the W-GDP initiative in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Freddie Everett / State Department

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced new investments and partnerships as part of its Women’s Global Development and Prosperity, or W-GDP, initiative on Tuesday, emphasizing plans to tackle legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers for women.

W-GDP aims to reach 50 million women in low- and middle-income countries by 2025, focusing its work on three pillars: improving access to vocational training and helping women secure jobs; supporting women entrepreneurs through access to capital and networks; and removing legal, regulatory, and cultural barriers to women’s economic participation.

It is the third pillar that was highlighted as a key focus in this latest announcement, which included an 80-page report detailing how 10 U.S. government agencies, including the Department of State, Department of the Treasury, and U.S. Agency for International Development, are currently working to help address legal and regulatory barriers, as well as laying out how each agency can best advance that work.

What has Trump’s flagship women’s initiative achieved so far?

W-GDP has galvanized government resources in its first year but faces challenges in measuring progress and outlining the scope of its work.

A total of about $122 million in “progress and partnerships” was announced, with the biggest amount, $34.6 million, going to the W-GDP incentive fund that focuses on legal and regulatory hurdles. The latest round of awards through the fund will support 16 organizations in 43 countries.

“This is a thrilling moment to push forward with the institutionalization and integration of W-GDP into our overall foreign policy,” a senior administration official said at a press briefing Thursday. Addressing legal and regulatory barriers is particularly important to achieving women’s economic empowerment, the official added.

“We see them as low-cost, high-impact interventions,” the official said, adding that it doesn’t often cost much to help push politicians to get to the finish line and change laws. The U.S. can then help with technical assistance and support for local women’s organizations, business organizations, and others who can ensure that the new laws and policies can be implemented.

All the agency action plans focus on pillar three activities and are “critical to interagency coordination and collaboration,” the official said. “We really rely on each agency and department to identify and articulate its own commitment.”

The effort at DOS was a comprehensive process focused on crafting plans that would be measurable and have concrete results, the official said.

USAID outlines a five-year plan for how the agency will address legal and regulatory barriers to women’s economic empowerment. The first goal, according to the plan, is to institute a strategic approach across the five legal areas for reform that are the focus of W-GDP — property rights, access to credit, authority to sign legal documents, ability to travel freely, and the elimination of barriers that limit the occupations or hours that women can work — and set ongoing targets for reform that it will support.

“We see them as low-cost, high-impact interventions.”

— Senior U.S. administration official

Between February 2019 and February 2020, USAID was supposed to develop a reform agenda as the basis for program design implementation, though it is unclear if that has been completed. The plan doesn’t provide details about that agenda, but it does outline how USAID will prioritize and fund reforms.

USAID will examine the broader systems and dynamics when evaluating a situation in a country, identify how long different changes may take, and ensure that that there is political will, according to the plan. Activities funded to address issues under the third pillar of W-GDP will require implementation periods of at least two years, “with a preference for three to five years,” according to the report.                   

The agency will prioritize reforms in countries where there is political will, by analyzing intervention needs and potential impact, assessing the U.S. government’s presence in a country and support from the private sector, civil society, and citizens, among other factors.

USAID’s W-GDP learning agenda will also create a track around these so that implementing partners and interagency partners can share lessons and help “promote internal organizational change and workplace-culture indicators,” according to the report.

USAID will also work with DOS to improve reporting systems, including disaggregating all “person-level data by sex.”

Tuesday’s announcement included a number of other commitments, including partnerships with Walmart, Mastercard, Microsoft, the Reliance Foundation, and WEConnect International.

The administration also announced $23 million for the Invest in Women Portfolio focused on addressing challenges around access to finance; $10 million through USAID's New Partnerships Initiative to increase women’s economic empowerment as part of conflict prevention and recovery work in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines; and $7 million to support women’s land rights.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor 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.