Three ways in which the Market Development Facility has been mainstreaming Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) across the programme, creating more equitable impact.

What can we learn from the Market Development Facility (MDF), a market systems programme with more than a decade of insights from implementation in eight countries across the Asia-Pacific region? I went straight to the source,  Ajla Vilogorac who is their Director of Research, Impact Measurement and Inclusion.

1. Write inclusion into the job (title and responsibilities)

In the realm of development, inclusion often takes a back seat in both job titles and responsibilities, according to Ajla. So, in 2018, MDF renamed their Results Measurement (Monitoring and Evaluation) unit to Quality and Inclusion Unit (Q&I)1 and re-titled positions to place a stronger emphasis on inclusion.   

“We wanted to feature ‘inclusion’ in the title because we’ve always felt that being inclusive is the only way to work in the Asia-Pacific. Additionally, we wanted to ensure that the key functions, such as research and quality assurance, the Unit performs are reflected in the title. Beyond the traditional results measurement (monitoring and evaluation), our teams lead on research, assessing the impact and understanding how it all comes together: we wanted to ensure it is all evidence based, and it has gone through a process of triangulation before we report results.” 

With this title change, Ajla and her colleagues wanted to show that the Unit doesn’t chase numbers but emphasises quality and inclusion. They do this by digging into the stories behind them. They try to detect patterns and trends across the portfolio of programme investments, focusing on how they have impacted women and other disadvantaged groups. This means paying attention to both the quantitative and qualitative data. According to Ajla, the team has seen several cases where women have benefitted in non-economic ways as a result of this combination of data collection. For example, in the sugar sector, women report substantial benefits from MDF’s innovation to push their start time for work from 4am to 8am. Women interviewed by MDF say that this newfound time freedom has meant more than any increase in income.

2. Visualise the change you want to see

“We really couldn't get our heads around what constitutes transformative change,” Ajla said. So, she and her team developed a tool to visualise and track changes to women’s economic empowerment (WEE).

The innovative spider graph, featured in Beyond Income and Women at Work, measures access and agency in two different ways:

  • access in terms of provision of goods and services to women directly by the programme
  • indirect impact on their agency through workload management and household and community recognition

This graphic representation of WEE gave the team new insights. For example, Ajla realised that in the Asia-Pacific community recognition often means more for women than actual economic advancement.  

The spider graph tool, which represents quantitative data, also helped them make a stronger case for WEE among colleagues and peers within the MSD community, who often favour quantitative over qualitative data. 

“I'm a numbers person. I'm not saying that we should neglect approaches to capturing the numbers, but I think more emphasis should be given to telling the story behind the numbers, and the spider graph is the best tool we have to do it.”

3. Tailor tools to capture nuances around inclusion in your specific context

MDF currently operates in six countries across Asia and the Pacific. While the MDF team intuitively knew that inclusion, and even WEE, would differ in each country, it has taken time to develop and trial the tools to better understand which groups are excluded, and why, in each context. For example, in Sri Lanka, economically disadvantaged groups from the North (both urban and rural) are of interest to the programme, while in certain Pacific countries, rural populations are the target community.

The introduction of a Concept Note early in the design process helps staff focus attention on inclusion and its specifics in their given context. It is jointly developed by the intervention teams and the Q&I unit and has specific questions relating to inclusion and the impacts (tangible and intangible) on target groups. It also requires the author to connect their contextual understanding to wider system changes as well to the specific activities, budgets, and value for money.

Emphasise the how as much as the what
While the Concept Note tool (Box 1) puts the topic of inclusion front and centre at MDF, Ajla acknowledges that all tools have limitations if the team isn’t fully engaged.

“It's not just the tools we use, it is how we approach the research that makes the difference.”

Box 1: MDF Concept Note & Inclusion
The Concept Note explains the context, constraints and opportunities of the proposed intervention. It also shows how the partners are uniquely positioned to drive the change and planned activities. It assesses how the intervention addresses inclusion, by looking at:

The beneficiary profile and what changes (behaviour, price, productivity, access, voice etc.) are expected in the target beneficiaries; the projected income they will generate; and relevance of the results to the country context.

Barriers for women in the market system; opportunities to address them; the constraints women face; and the the organisation/partner capacity to address them.

Other forms of inclusion, such as disability, ethnicity, and nutrition.

MDF’s leadership agrees with Ajla on this point, and the project invests in staff training and coaching in WEE and cocial inclusion. Ajla takes things further; when she sees staff show an interest in inclusion, she delegates additional responsibilities to them. This may involve asking them to review the inclusion part of the Concept Note or conduct research to assess roles of women in the community and/or households, or assess the impact that the intervention has had on women. 

By making inclusion part of how MDF does business through tools, training and topical discussions, Ajla is seeing GEDSI being authentically mainstreamed across the programme.

1As of September 2023, the MDF’s unit name is “Research, Impact Measurement and Research” unit. 

This blog series is written by the Canopy Lab’s Managing Partner and Inclusion+ Practice Lead Holly Lard Krueger, with support from Research and Business Development Intern, Audrey Lodes. The Canopy Lab is a Washington, DC based consulting firm specialized in the practical application of systems thinking.   

Add your comment

Sign up or log in to comment and contribute.

Sign up