BIGD’s WEE-DiFine Initiative Introduces Its First Round of Research Grants

In September 2020, BIGD’s WEE-DiFine Initiative launched its inaugural request for proposals (RFP). WEE-DiFine aims to build a comprehensive body of evidence that addresses the impact of digital financial services (DFS) on women’s economic empowerment (WEE) across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, WEE-DiFine seeks to support research that disentangles the causal mechanisms between the two. 

The response to our first RFP demonstrated that researchers around the world are equally enthused about our research agenda. We received 75 submissions with proposed studies across 22 countries. Approximately 60% of proposed projects were based in Sub-Saharan Africa, most heavily represented by Uganda and Kenya, and 40% in South Asia, predominantly India and Bangladesh.  

WEE-DiFine RFP #1 Statistics

  • Our largest funding categories were the most competitive. 60% (45) of the proposals requested funds for either large greenfield evaluations or extensions to existing impact evaluations. 
  • 40% (30) of the proposals requested small awards for pilot projects, qualitative research, and measurement experiments, with the fewest submissions in the latter two categories.

Proposals were vetted through a competitive multi-step review process consisting of an internal review, a peer review, and a high-level panel decision. 5 were selected for funding in Bangladesh, India, Tanzania, Kenya, and Burkina Faso, for an overall value of USD 755,294. Introductions to each of our studies are provided below. 

Number of Proposals Received by Country

Data: Proposals • Chart ID: GeoChartID4ff059cb119dgoogleVis-0.6.10
R version 4.1.0 (2021-05-18) • Google Terms of UseDocumentation and Data Policy

Digital Finance and Economic Empowerment: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Transaction Costs

Associated Investigators: Khandker Wahedur Rahman (BIGD), Jeffrey R. Bloem 

Country and Implementing Partner: Bangladesh, Shakti Foundation for Disadvantaged Women

Financial inclusion can potentially increase autonomy, bargaining power, and privacy for women. Since transaction costs pose a barrier to financial access, a reduction in these costs may increase women’s access to financial products, and in turn, facilitate WEE.  However, there is no existing evidence that explores the mediating role of transaction costs between DFS and WEE. This RCT will investigate whether a reduction in direct as well as indirect transaction costs positively impacts WEE. The study also will examine whether women perceive the benefits of reduced direct versus indirect transaction costs differently. Ultimately the study has the potential to inform the design of future DFS solutions to optimize transaction costs for increased financial inclusion and WEE.

Reducing Frictions to Increase Women’s Economic Empowerment: Payment Digitization and Product Traceability in the Burkina Faso Shea Nut Supply Chain

Associated Investigators: Diego Ubfal (World Bank), Andrew Brudevold-Newman (World Bank)

Country and Partner: Burkina Faso, L’Occitane Group, Laboratoires M&L

The shea butter production industry in Burkina Faso offers women a unique opportunity to pursue equal economic participation. However, inefficiencies in the industry impact female producers. This RCT will explore whether digitized payment services and automated quality traceability systems improve WEE in this context. More specifically, the study will evaluate whether these interventions reduce delays in payments and leakages of funds, improve women’s privacy and safety, and incentivize women to invest in higher-value production. WEE-DiFine funding supports lab-in-the-field experiments to assess whether bargaining power plays a mediating role on these impacts. The study aims to inform the development of payment digitization and product traceability programs in Burkina Faso and beyond.

Digitally-enabled Asset Insurance to Secure the Graduation and Empowerment of Women in Pastoralist Communities

Associated Investigators: Michael R. Carter (UC Davis), Nathaniel Jensen (ILRI), Sam Owille (The BOMA Project)

Country and Partner: Kenya; The BOMA Project

Periodic droughts strike pastoralist communities in Kenya and pose a threat to household wealth, especially for vulnerable women. Ultra-poor graduation programs, in conjunction with access to digital insurance, can be a promising solution to protect women’s assets. To evaluate this theory, the research team launched a five-year RCT in 2018 to assess the integration of index-based livestock insurance (IBLI), a digitally-enabled insurance mechanism, into BOMA Project’s Rural Entrepreneur’s Access Project (REAP) in Samburu County, Kenya. WEE-DiFine funding supports insurance contracts for women and a third round of data collection. The findings of this research aim to inform solutions for actors interested in designing programs with durable impacts on women. 

Understanding How Mental Accounting Impacts Women’s Savings and Economic Empowerment

Associated Investigators: Jeremy Shapiro (Busara Center), Samantha Horn (Carnegie Mellon Univ.), Aditya Jagati (Busara Center), Nicholas Owsley (Busara Center)

Country and Partner: India; Dvara Money

Can DFS, by reducing the burden of mental accounting, prompt women to save more? This pilot study tests the impact of a digital mental accounting intervention on women’s savings, goal-setting behavior, and intra and inter-household bargaining power. Researchers will randomly assign a sample of women to one of two groups. Women assigned to the treatment group will receive a digital savings account within a mobile application called Spark that will allow them to categorize and label their financial information. Women assigned to the control group will receive the Spark application with a standard savings account. The evidence generated from this study is expected to inform a future large-scale field experiment with implementer Dvara Money, as well as influence the design of DFS interventions.

Enhancing the Potential of E-savings to Boost Women’s Investment and Household Outcomes in Tanzania: Qualitative Insights to Extend a Large-Scale Randomized Controlled Trial

Associated Investigators: Nathan Fiala (Univ. of Connecticut), Annekathrin Schoofs (RWI and Univ. of Passau), Rachel Steinacher (Innovations for Poverty Action)

Country and Partner: Tanzania, Innovations for Poverty Action 

Financial products that target women often fail to consider gender-specific constraints, discouraging take-up. Household dynamics pose one such poorly-understood constraint. The research team launched a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in 2019 to better understand the role of household dynamics on the take-up, usage, and effects of e-savings accounts offered to female entrepreneurs in Tanzania. WEE-DiFine funding supports semi-structured interviews to validate and elucidate the results of the midline survey, and to potentially inform next steps in the experiment design. Ultimately, the project aims to understand how women can make more independent financial choices, and whether this independence leads to improved labor market decisions and economic empowerment.

BIGD’s Women’s Economic Empowerment and Digital Finance (WEE-DiFine) Initiative focuses on generating evidence on the causal impact of digital financial services (DFS) on women’s economic empowerment (WEE). Sign up for the latest updates on the Initiative.