Research on Women's Economic Empowerment 
Leading a team through Universalia Management Group (Montreal) to assess GrOW research on women's economic empowerment funded by IDRC, DFID (UKAid) and Hewlett Foundation. Over 30 research institutions in 50 countries.

The definition of WEE is "far more than women’s ability to compete equally in existing markets, or than the beneficial outputs of their contribution to growth; it should include women’s access to and control over economic resources, access to decent work, control over their own time and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions. In turn, WEE will only be achieved in cooperation with progress in other areas of gender equality like women’s access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, meaningful participation in political decision-making and freedom from violence " (AWID, FEMNet, Gender and Development Network).

Most of the research entails a partnership between North-based and South-based universities or research institutions. There is a wide range from randomized control trials to mixed methods, participatory and feminist research. Three broad aims: quality research; policy uptake and capacity building of in-country researchers. Still very much in process but important questions are being raised about what quality evidence is and how it can best be used to influence thinking, policy and practice.

Sisters Ink work on Financial and Reproductive Health Education for Youth and Children 
Building on what often works best informally- trust, learning, mentoring and play- we have created a social enterprise that challenges the tired divides between North-South as well as face-to-face and e-mentoring, between rigor and access. We play with solutions across boundaries and disciplines.

We have diverse experience in terms of context, language, nature of expertise and focus on academe, practice, policy work. This is a social business that brings independent consultants from around the world to work on contracts related to capacity building, gender justice and economic
empowerment in the broadest sense. The aim is to partly address the imbalances that exist in consulting and research that have too-often favoured Northern or established candidates. Building a mix within our teams allows us to bring high levels of competence and diversity while also providing our team members with opportunities to further develop their experience, research capacities and skills. We are at work on a peer coaching platform and collective blog to provide e-learning and e-coaching possibilities. We aim to make the best of what's out there in resources as widely accessible as possible.

We are currently working on a contract for FHI360 reviewing financial education programs and studies for HIV/AIDs vulnerable youth, orphans and vulnerable children. Our team is comprised of Meryem F, a Moroccan gender specialist, Sabrina S, a Swiss economics professor, Ida M, a Zambian HIV-Aids organizer and specialist, Patricia R, a Bolivian economist and me. One financial education program in Uganda working through youth clubs captures the situation well -"Women’s empowerment has three dimensions that are interrelated: political, economic, and control over one’s body." These financial education programs are combining financial literacy with awareness around body, sexuality, marriage. Early (often forced) marriage, teen pregnancy, forced sex are some of the biggest risks for girls in the Global South.

*Ship Festival, Finland 
Just back from a Social Innovation/Entrepreneurship festival in Finland. So exciting! It was a bit of a Dragon's den format where I was both a judge and a mentor. Invited by Momal Mustaq, an inspiring friend and social entrepreneur. She started a platform for women around the world to share new freedoms in mobility. It's called Freedom Traveller. See below.

Some of the start-ups at the festival included:

- a mobile phone app that turns it into a hearing aid
- a platform to connect Syrians to volunteers and agencies in Germany
- a platform that connects foodies to informal kitchens
- building materials made from plant cellulose
- a gaming type of app that allows people with bi-polar to detect their own early warning signs for depression

Important to ask what types of social problems businesses can really address. The limits of this frame and approach. There is a "New Public" where citizens and social businesses have stepped in to fill gaps where private sector or government have failed. At best, we find creative paths and new roles. At worst, it is offloading what should be a public function. Business will never be the best tool for ensuring justice and accountability. We still need activism for that.


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Food Systems and Networks 
Completed a contract with the Public Health Agency of Canada- Innovation Strategy to help them develop a framework for assessing the system or sectoral level readiness of programs. I did a literature review on mental health, healthy weights, systems change. Then transformational scenario planning with the Food Action Team at Ecology Action Centre to test the a draft assessment tool.

Further testing of the assessment tool across the projects revealed a number of findings. Reach goals may need to be tempered against the establishment of a strong vested network of partners that lay a foundation for governance, sustainable funding, learning and adaptation. Those projects that scored well formed intentional networks that were home-grown, context-specific and highly based on the relationships and aligned incentives of the partners involved. Sophisticated networks had partners that acted in concert to push learning, change practice and affect behaviours and policy. They were able to act on multiple levels, often multiple determinants of health, multiple sites, multiple issues. This included creative leverage of community-based private sector partners such as retail stores and health stores. Each project (set of partnerships) has a “sweet spot” for determining how much and what types of multiplicity is most strategic for the broader influence.

One highly rated project was a self-declared food network- a mix of partners: schools, non-profits, stores and health food stores. Though led by a non-profit they were able to be very savvy in assessing the market for local foods. This business savvy also supported sustained funding and a governance base. They were able to identify specifically where smart subsidy could be used (address financial barriers of First Nations hunters). Community infrastructure (ovens, freezer, gardens, community tables) provided critical points of connection as did events and festivals that supported social networks, belonging and connecting cultural practices past and present. Policy dialogue and influence was intentional and elaborated based on learning and evidence.



Banco Palmas, Brazil - What Role can Community Organizing Play against Structural Violence? 
Banco Palmas and Instituto Palmas grew out of community organizing in the seventies where poor, neglected favelas mobilized hundreds of local volunteers and lobbied all levels of government. This early neighbourhood association was able to establish community centres, irrigation, basic utilities and infrastructure. Their analysis of the local situation and economy led them to create community banks and a social currency. Both models have spread throughout the country.

The approach they took using "Solidarity Economy" builds on the idea that economies should be place-based focused on local economies and local relations of trust and accountability. In practice, this means building individual and collective capacity to continually analyze the current reality. It means building formal and informal networks to encourage people to buy and produce locally, to address other community issues of safety and identity through dialogue. The community oversight and accountability is key and a distinguishing factor in how most economic models are designed. Both locally and nationally, networks were created to ensure that broader community issues of relevance are addressed and not narrowly financial or economic concerns.

However, current crises in Brazil have clawed back some of these gains and called into question the notion that small and localized is beautiful. BP played a tremendous role historically and continues to play an important role in the community and national dialogue. Community organizing was effective when poverty was visible and tangible.

In today’s climate of a political and economic crisis nationally, structural violence such as trafficking, poverty is not tangible, visible nor locally confined to the outskirt communities, even to the borders of Brazil. The urgent questions today relate to how far community mobilization and building civic capacities can go in the face of hidden powers such as organized crime and trafficking or rooted problems of gender-based violence?

Community and networked responses have never been more critical. What kind of collective and community analysis is needed today? What shape does organizing have to take in a globalized world where structural violence exists? What does the Banco Palmas story ask of us?


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