Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Women mean business! Learning how to support women enterprises in Uganda

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On a recent World Bank mission in Kampala, we held a roundtable with Ugandan women entrepreneurs and witnessed a cacophony of anger sweep the room as one brazen male banker stood up and declared “We have the loan products; women just need to step up and be more ambitious!” The collective frustration felt around the room was a result of him revealing little empathy for the real challenges Ugandan women face in running and financing their businesses. But why don’t women entrepreneurs take out more loans, what constraints do they face, and what services can support them to grow their business? In the new Uganda Generating Growth Opportunities and Productivity for Women Enterprises (GROW) Project, we have incorporated a learning agenda using impact evaluation to tackle some of these important questions.

In this blog, we share some lessons from the ongoing collaboration between the Government of Uganda and the World Bank Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) to learn from the GROW project through impact evaluation.



Use a participatory process with the client right from the beginning

The Uganda GROW project plans to deliver a multi-sectoral program that pairs finance (loans and grants) with business development services and productive infrastructure, including childcare, to support women to grow their businesses. At the design stage of the project, almost two years ago, GIL started working with the government and GROW project team to advise on the design of the proposed interventions based on the existing body of impact evaluation research. Presentations summarizing evidence of what works to support women entrepreneurs in Uganda and beyond were given during implementation support missions, right when the client was making program design decisions. GROW is designed to offer several programs that have already proven to be effective in addressing gender gaps in skills and capital and sectoral gender-segregation to help boost the profits and livelihoods of Ugandan women entrepreneurs.  Some of this existing impact evaluation evidence is summarized in a policy brief and blog.

Design the project to tackle multiple constraints

Tackling multiple constraints can strengthen project impact. The figure below summarizes the four components of the GROW project and how programs directly link to specific constraints identified for women entrepreneurs. For example, the interventions in component 1 will directly tackle skills, networks, and norms constraints; component 2 draws on the evidence from the access to finance literature to incorporate gender-specific design considerations into the loan products (e.g. flexible collateral requirements and loan terms) to overcome barriers to accessing credit. GROW also includes a “policy innovation and evidence generation” sub-component that involves building a learning agenda that incorporates impact evaluations to establish a causal link between certain project components and key outcomes of interest. The learning agenda could also include innovative pilot activities within the GROW project to test the key gender constraints faced by the beneficiaries targeted under the project.

The Uganda GROW project is designed to tackle multiple constraints faced by women entrepreneurs
The Uganda GROW project is designed to tackle multiple constraints faced by women entrepreneurs

Build capacity by supporting the client to measure impact

On the most recent mission, GIL conducted an impact evaluation workshop with our government partners. The goal was to support the client to understand what impact evaluation is and how to do it, and to brainstorm on what innovative research questions could be answered through the GROW project. We presented different impact evaluation methods, discussed the project’s research priorities, and worked to highlight gaps in the existing scientific evidence. The government partners were keen to learn from previous research and excited to use impact evaluation methods to expand their ability to analyze and adjust programs based on evidence. We discussed how an impact evaluation could involve a randomized controlled trial of a project component, smaller pilots to test innovations, or “nimble impact evaluations” to answer operational questions. We loved seeing our government counterpart using the “constraint – evidence – intervention” framework when introducing the work to other stakeholders.

Proposed research ideas include examining the impact of relaxing informational constraints on the demand for credit or childcare services for Ugandan women entrepreneurs. Another idea is to examine enabling factors that can support women entrepreneurs to make the best use of the services offered by the GROW project. Over the next few months, we plan to work with the client to identify the priority research questions and finalize the design of the GROW impact evaluations.

Large multi-sectoral projects like GROW provide ample learning opportunities to design interventions based on evidence and to conduct rigorous impact evaluations for policy reform or innovation.  Building a learning agenda into the operations of GROW will not only support the Government of Uganda to deliver the most promising interventions but also contribute to our understanding of new solutions to unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs.


Sreelakshmi Papineni

Economist working at the Gender Innovation Lab

Margarita Puerto

Social Development Specialist, World Bank

Wei Chang

Economist at the Africa Gender Innovation Lab

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