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The Africa Gender Innovation Lab: Generating Evidence to Accelerate Poverty Reduction Through Gender Equality

May 9, 2016


The Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) generates impact evaluation evidence to help policymakers and other development professionals better design interventions and policies to close gender gaps in earnings, productivity, assets, and agency. A conservative estimate suggests that for every dollar GIL has spent on research, it has directly influenced 46 project dollars.


Gender inequalities and stereotypes constrain the opportunities of women and men, boys and girls, through different pathways. Most inequalities based on gender have historically put females at a disadvantage, although in some domains, reverse gender gaps are appearing. Lack of land rights, for example, reduces incentive to invest in that land, impeding their agricultural productivity; when girls start families at a young age, they leave school without the skills that would allow them to transition to productive economic opportunities; when social norms discourage women from working in certain higher-paying, male-dominated sectors, this exacerbates the gender wage gap and reduces women’s ability to contribute to their own and their families’ welfare. To address such issues, projects and policies must be informed by an understanding of the specific needs of both women and men. For example, if policymakers know that social norms make it difficult for women farmers to attend training sessions, they can maximize impacts on productivity by making training more accessible and convenient.

While evidence documenting gender gaps and recognition of the importance of closing these gaps for poverty reduction and economic growth has been growing, policymakers and other development professionals have been frustrated by a lack of rigorous evidence and practical advice on what solutions work best and how to integrate these into their work. For example, before the establishment of the Africa Gender Innovation Lab: We knew that adolescent girls faced interrelated constraints that impeded their school-to-work transition, but we did not have clear evidence on the specific combination of interventions that would most effectively address these constraints; we knew that women farmers tended to be less productive than their male counterparts, but we did not know how much of this resulted from lower access to productive inputs and how much to lower returns to those inputs.


Since its inception in 2013, the Africa Gender Innovation Lab has worked with Bank-funded projects, as well as external projects, to design more than 50 impact evaluations that can help policymakers understand what works best to address gender inequality across four thematic areas: land, agriculture, entrepreneurship, and youth employment. Working with external organizations has enhanced the GIL’s ability to test innovative solutions, as these organizations tend to be smaller and more flexible, while working on World Bank projects has allowed the GIL to leverage large amounts of project financing to scale successful pilot programs. 


Most of the GIL’s current portfolio of impact evaluations will start to deliver results over the next two years, but several have already made significant contributions to the evidence base and have also informed project and policy design.

Most of the GIL’s current portfolio of impact evaluations will start to deliver results over the next two years, but several have already made significant contributions to the evidence base and have also informed project and policy design.

In Uganda, the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program shows that, when it comes to interventions targeting the empowerment of adolescent girls, it is important to go beyond vocational skills and entrepreneurship training—especially in a context of high adolescent fertility and gender-based violence. In addition to vocational skills training, the ELA program provided girls with life skills training (e.g. sexual and reproductive health, negotiation, self-esteem) through mentor-run girls’ clubs—“safe spaces”—in which they could socialize and learn. As well as being 72 percent more likely to be engaged in income-generating activities, girls who participated in the program were 58 percent less likely to be married or cohabiting, 26 percent less likely to have a child, and 44 percent less likely to have had sex against their will during the 12 months after the program ended. Results from the ELA impact evaluation have helped inform the preliminary project designs for the countries participating in the Sahel Women's Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project (SWEDD). Researchers from GIL have been working closely with the SWEDD project team to promote the evidence generated by ELA and other rigorously tested programs for adolescent girls, including by producing a briefing note on best practices and a research compendium. So far, six of seven countries in SWEDD have included safe spaces and/or life skills training in their proposed activities.

In Uganda and Ethiopia, GIL research has demonstrated that a lack of access to information on the relatively higher profits of traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as metal work, is a key barrier that prevents women entrepreneurs from crossing over into these sectors. Thanks to this evidence, the Republic of Congo Skills Development for Employability Project decided to provide its participants with information on relative earnings achieved in different trades.

In Rwanda, results from an impact evaluation of the government’s Land Tenure Regularization (LTR) pilot program demonstrated that simply clarifying existing land rights, and mandating joint husband-and-wife titling, led farmers to increase investments in their land by 10 percent, with double the impacts on women farmers. Results of the evaluation also revealed a critical detail: While the program increased the likelihood of married women having documented land rights, women who were not formally married, and who represented 30 percent of beneficiaries in the pilot program, actually experienced an 8 percentage point reduction in their probability of having documented land ownership, as the LTR program had been designed with only formally married women in mind. This evidence helped the government to change the program design to specifically include women in informal, common-law marriages. The redesigned and nationally scaled-up program has now issued 6.1 million titles, with equal rights for all women.

Bank Group Contribution

The GIL has pulled together a team of quantitative and qualitative research experts, with a high degree of specialization in rigorous impact evaluations (i.e. those utilizing a control group). These experts have worked with World Bank Group project teams, as well as with external project partners, on every stage of impact evaluation design and management. External partners have included client governments in 23 African countries, NGOs such as BRAC, bilateral agencies, including USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corp., and academic institutions such as MIT and the University of the Witwatersrand. GIL research has been funded by US$13 million from the Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE), a multi-donor trust fund dedicated to building awareness, knowledge, and capacity for gender-informed policy-making. GIL has also been supported by US$11 million of World Bank Group budget.


The UFGE multi-donor trust fund has been made possible by generous contributions from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Moving Forward

As the world’s largest multilateral development institution, the World Bank Group enables GIL research to influence massive amounts of development funding and to share lessons learned across all regions of the world. A recent estimate suggests that the GIL is directly influencing project components worth more than US$603 million. The success of the GIL has contributed to the subsequent establishment of regional gender innovation labs in three other World Bank regions: East Asia and the Pacific; Middle East/North Africa; and South Asia. In the coming months and years, the GIL will continue to build on its current success by:

  • Going beyond identifying broad interventions that work to reduce gender inequalities by testing more fine-tuned solutions. For example, in the case of training programs for adolescent girls, the GIL is moving beyond asking whether training programs work for adolescent girls toward uncovering the specific combination of program components that work best together, including jobs skills, business skills, life skills, and access to finance.
  • Working with project teams and World Bank management to take further results to scale, just as GIL has done in cases such as Rwanda Land Tenure Regularization, the Republic of Congo Skills Development for Employability Project, and Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Regional Project (SWEDD, see above).
  • Producing a variety of knowledge products to ensure that GIL research is as useful as possible to a wide range of audiences. Along with policy briefs and research papers, this includes a series of “white papers” which will present an in-depth overview of World Bank Group and non-Bank Group research on constraints to economic opportunity, interventions to address them, and knowledge gaps in specific thematic areas, including agricultural productivity, land and property rights, private sector development, and youth employment. These white papers will not only guide GIL’s future work program but will also help sector experts in other institutions to prioritize the most effective interventions to address gender inequalities.
  • Ensuring that GIL and other gender research influences World Bank Group country programs through a variety of channels, including Systematic Country Diagnostics (SCDs), Country Partnership Frameworks (CPFs), and Poverty Assessments.


By helping policymakers and other development professionals identify and address those gender inequalities that are the most serious constraints to development, the ultimate beneficiaries of the GIL will be African women and men and their communities. In the case of the Rwanda Land Tenure Regularization program, that unmarried women now have more secure land rights and therefore greater confidence in making agricultural production decisions benefits not only the women themselves but also their families, who can expect to see the fruits of these additional investments in the form of greater household food security and income.