The rapid development and diffusion of innovation, including digital technologies, is challenging the systems and capacity of traditional international development partners. Testing and scaling of innovation and technology requires agile thinking, continuously learning from research and continuous adaptation. Through our work leading the innovation and technology practice at Palladium, a global impact firm that strives to create positive impact and working in over 90 countries, we are tackling one of the key challenges requiring an adaptive approach: tapping into the power of technology to empower women and girls while mitigating real risks and negative impacts from the rapid scaling of technology.
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) are pioneers in research on how innovations advance gender equality . In ‘Innovation for Women’s Empowerment’ they describe three areas of innovation that, when they intersect, have the potential to progress women’s empowerment: (1) technology use, (2) social norm change, and (3) economic resilience. ICRW’s theory is that ‘when women flourish in any of these areas—and especially when they thrive in all three—there is a demonstrable shift in gender relations’.
Through Palladium’s innovation and technology portfolio we’re testing elements of this approach and building our own understanding of the intersection between innovation and gender equity. SPRING Accelerator (SPRING) uses human-centred design (HCD) to accelerate social enterprises with products, services, and business models specifically designed to have a positive impact for adolescent girls. With an initial design narrowly targeting girls, SPRING has been able to adapt known gender equity approaches to determine whether the social innovations have improved girls’ ability to earn, learn, save, or be safe. A key part of SPRING’s approach is in helping businesses to tackle discriminatory gender norms - one of the main barriers to girls’ empowerment - to create products or services to benefit girls. For more on this join SPRING, Palladium, and other business working to empower girls for an event in London on 11 October, the International Day of the Girl.
The Human Development Innovation Fund (HDIF), in turn, was not designed as a gender-focused programme—instead focusing on testing and scaling innovation in health, education, water, and sanitation. By design, like most donor-funded programmes, HDIF considered gender in its grant evaluation criteria and monitoring. But, once HDIF began supporting its now 43 grantees, a key question quickly rose to the surface: are these technologies empowering or further disenfranchising half of our intended beneficiaries? If we know that girls lag behind in access to STEM education, the internet, and supportive cultural norms, are those realities being exacerbated, mitigated, or improved by our innovation investments?
No one wants to look back on their social investments to realize that zealousness for new technologies resulted in more girls being left outside or behind. So, with the strong backing of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), we began a series of inquiries to understand the relationship between gender and innovation from actual implementation across HDIF grantees. This inquiry has explored the relationship from two angles, which are at times two sides of the same coin and sometimes lead to different queries:
As we started to explore the intersection of gender and innovation with grantees through the lens of the framework, we began to understand new aspects of their experiences. This included, principally:
Over the past two years we’ve collected learning across HDIF’s grantees and ecosystem programmes to distil into a White Paper with several initial insights:
HDIF’s team will continue to explore the intersection of gender and innovation and use our insights to adapt and improve the ‘living’ framework. Through sharing our learning with other social entrepreneurs, we aim to deepen the impact of innovation for women, girls, and other marginalized groups. To read more about HDIF’s emerging gender work follow us here.
This blog was originally published for Skoll.