Improving Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Mobile Phones and Training in Malawi


In Malawi, societal norms can limit women’s ownership of assets and control over family finances. As a result, women often have less household bargaining power than their husbands. While digital financial services (DFS) can benefit women’s economic empowerment, access to mobile phones significantly influences uptake and use. This project builds on prior research examining how mobile phone ownership and training on technical efficacy and property rights, benchmarked against unconditional cash transfers, impact women’s use of DFS and economic outcomes in Malawi.


Motivated by promising results at midline, this round of data collection will capture longer-term impacts on empowerment, and more broadly, the impact of financial capital versus technology on low-income households’ economic well-being in a developing country. Importantly, this survey will capture the longest-term impacts of any smartphone distribution program evaluated in the Global South to date. Finally, this round of data collection will conduct interviews with both women and their spouses, enabling researchers to better understand the economic impacts of both cash grants and smartphone distribution within the household.

Proposed Impact:

As one of the first and only randomized controlled trials on mobile phone ownership, this study promises to generate valuable evidence regarding the causal impact of mobile connectivity on economic livelihoods. Specifically, quantifying the relative impacts of providing low-income households with financial capital versus technology, combined with a deeper understanding of how husbands’ beliefs influence women’s control of mobile phones, will offer actionable insights for development programming and policy. Ultimately, these results will help inform the design of effective strategies to reduce mobile gender gaps and ensure that women benefit from digital financial inclusion.


Associated Institute: William & Mary, Claremont Graduate University, University of Michigan, University of Texas-Austin

Associated Investigators: Philip Roessler, Tanu Kumar, Shreya Bhattacharya, Peter Carroll, Boniface Dulani, Daniel Nielson

Country: Malawi

Implementation Partners: Institute of Public Opinion and Research (IPOR), Girls Empowerment Network (GENET)

WEE-DiFine Thematic Areas: Household bargaining power, enacting preferences, digital financial services, mobile phone ownership