Empowering Women and Girls for Equitable Economic Growth: SWEDD Roundtable Catalyzes Public-Private Sector Investment in Sahel

Photo credit: UNFPA WCARO

On the sidelines of the mid-year African Union (AU) Summit, GBCHealth along with companies and other private sector organizations, political leaders, and bilateral and multilateral partners participated in the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) Resource Mobilization Roundtable, themed around “Investing in Women’s Empowerment and Human Capital as a Development Strategy for Growth.”

In his keynote address, the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, commented on the presence of seven Heads of State of Sahel countries at the event, saying their attendance is a testament to “our convergence of views on the issues and challenges for the development of our continent, especially those relating to the acceleration of the demographic transition, which depends on greater empowerment of women and will allow the development of human capital, as levers for accelerating economic growth and increasing the well-being of the populations of Africa in general, and the Sahel region in particular.”

The roundtable, a day-long event on 6th July in Niamey, Niger, was organized by the Minister of Population of Niger, the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the West African Organization for Health (WAHO) and GBCHealth. It brought together more than 150 personalities from all walks of life and served as a platform for positioning the issue of women’s empowerment and the demographic dividend at the heart of Africa’s development agenda. The mobilization of all these leaders, managers and actors, as well as the number and quality of the commitments, demonstrates the relevance of the approach pursued until now by the SWEDD project and the problems it addresses.

SWEDD aims to empower women and adolescent girls, and reduce gender inequality by improving access to quality maternal and child health services as well as family planning. GBCHealth has partnered with the UNFPA to encourage smart investments in health, empowerment, education and employment to support women and adolescent girls and to positively impact the Sahel region’s demographic dividend, a term which refers to the significant social and economic benefits that can be gained from investing in and harnessing the potential of the growing number of youth and working age inhabitants of African nations.

UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, said that reaching the demographic dividend and the Africa we want means investing in young people, especially girls. She emphasized that “the African Union has prioritized the demographic dividend as a vehicle for sustainable development, and the continent has made great strides towards harnessing the potential of its people, especially its women and youth. Nevertheless, we need greater commitment to reduce the inequalities that continue to hinder the demographic transition and leave too many people behind.” She further commented that “Africa’s success in achieving the SDGs and the aspirations of Agenda 2063 will depend on women’s empowerment and the level of self-reliance they achieve.” The UNFPA’s report on the event can be found here.

Program success

As the Ministers of the SWEDD countries highlighted during the event, the program has already seen sustained progress. In a few short years since its launch in November 2015, the SWEDD project has taken numerous actions towards its objectives, including:

  • Sensitizing nearly 630 million people on reproductive, maternal and child health issues
  • Supporting more than 106,000 girls in school enrollment and retention
  • Training nearly 100,000 girls and young women in income-generating activities
  • Training more than 10,000 midwives on new health technologies
  • Strengthening health training through the establishment of three regional centers of excellence
  • Establishing regional networks through religious leaders and traditional leaders, parliamentarians, young people and journalists
  • Establishing six National Observatories of the Demographic Dividend

These and many other successful initiatives of the SWEDD project have contributed to many success stories and significant progress between 2015 and 2018:

  • There has been an increase in girls’ high school completion rate from 35.1% to 40.3%
  • The average income for women has improved by 3.4%
  • There has been a decrease in the number of child marriages
  • Over 4.3 million additional women have begun to use contraception
  • The number of midwives has grown by 15%
  • Nearly 500 national experts have been trained to oversee the National Observatories
  • Over 3,400 safe spaces have been established to help empower girls

Despite this progress, millions of girls in this region still do not have the opportunity to finish school, learn about sexual and reproductive health (SRH), and access economic opportunity. The private sector’s involvement is needed to improve education, economic empowerment and health for girls and women.

Given its progress over last three years, the SWEDD project is seen as a model innovative partnership and an effective regional integration tool that should be strengthened and expanded in Africa. Speaking at the event, Dr. Amadou Aissata Issa Maiga, Minister of Population of Niger, stated “these encouraging results also explain the demand for extension of the project to the six [additional] countries; it requires more investment. It is therefore essential that countries consolidate and intensify partnerships both nationally and internationally. To this must be added the strong will expressed by the States and the international community to see the SWEDD project strengthened and extended to all eleven Sahel countries and beyond.”

Project extension through 2023

The project was recently extended through 2023 and to the eleven countries in the Sahel region. It is fitting that the planning for SWEDD’s temporal and geographical expansion took place in Niger, in the presence of the country’s President, First Lady and numerous Ministers; the initiative was originally launched in Niger in 2015, and Nigerien leadership has been vital throughout the growth of the project. The SWEDD project was initially in six Sahel countries – Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire – and has since begun expansion to Benin, Senegal, Guinea and Cameroon.

The demand for additional investments is supported by a business case including a theory of change and analysis on the scale of the challenges, the quantification of beneficiaries and areas of high impact interventions.

Public and Private sector commitments

The resource mobilization roundtable raised strong commitments needed to scale up the project. In addition to the political will of SWEDD member countries to participate in investing in women’s empowerment and human capital as a development strategy for growth, partners (bilateral, multilateral, private sector, NGO and civil society) also pledged to support and contribute financially, materially, technically and socially.

Ms. Joelle Dehass, Resident Representative of the World Bank in Niger affirmed that at least US$290 million or more will be mobilized by the Bank to scale SWEDD in its phase of expansion.

Technical partners, including UNFPA and WAHO, will continue to provide and scale programs to keep girls in school, to improve SRH programs, to develop and support women’s entrepreneurship and to build capacity of girls and women in new technologies.

The SWEDD program called on the private sector partners for:

  • Financial support for keeping girls in school
  • Training and capacity building
  • Job creation and professional integration of trained girls
  • Strengthening the supply chain for SRH products
  • Advocacy support with respect to SRH, education, and early marriage
  • Creating supportive and safe environments to educate and empower girls

Each of the 12 private sector representatives expressed their support with commitments. Some of the commitments declared at the event were to:

  • Train 300,000 young entrepreneurial girls with in value chain projects in Benin, Burkina, Côte d’Ivoire and other countries of the sub-region
  • Provide job training for 500,000 girls in sector specific areas e.g. agriculture, crafts, art and digital professions
  • Provide 1,000 scholarships for girls to attend universities
  • Distribute and provide donations from health, education and solar backpacks
  • Create jobs for girls on assembly platforms
  • Adapt and implement technology for birth registration to broader populations
  • Promote the entrepreneurial leadership of ten thousand women in all SWEDD countries by building their capacity as true entrepreneurs and creating sustainable businesses;
  • Develop, adapt, accelerate awareness and behavior change through media communication

The president of the regional steering committee of SWEDD, Prof. Mariatou Kone, Minister of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Fight Against Poverty in Cote d’Ivoire, announced a need for investments up to US$100 million by country for five years. She expressed her satisfaction to see the private sector agree to provide additional support for the project for three main goals: 1) consolidate the achievements of the initial phase of SWEDD, 2) expand the areas of intervention and 3) multiply the number of project beneficiaries. The commitments reflect the optimism of SWEDD project stakeholders.

Of course, governments and civil society also have a vital role in the continued growth of SWEDD, through means such as:

  • Creating an enabling environment for women’s empowerment and empowerment
  • The introduction of investment incentives
  • The institutionalization of gender-responsive governance
  • Improving policies that promote gender equality and encourage actualization of the potential the project aims to empower
  • Increasing the representation of women in the administration and the participation of women in decision-making bodies

To that end, President Issoufou assured that the Nigerien government would “ensure a national environment conducive to investment” and “strengthen every day the trust of investors through a fluid and transparent communication, the security of people and property, the introduction of tax incentives and especially the introduction of the good governance through the pursuit of reforms in the areas of justice, taxation, human rights, equity and gender equality.”

Ending his address, President Issoufou stressed, “The private sector with its know-how will make it possible to complete this chain and offer Africa as a whole a credible and reliable alternative for financing its development, in accordance with Agenda 2063 and the objectives of sustainable development.” Finally, renewing his commitment and the commitment of his SWEDD peers to strengthen national initiatives for the investment of national resources, the Head of State of Niger invited private partners and other donors to “mobilize rapidly the financial resources, strengthening the public-private partnership for the comfort and development of our common populations.”

Investing in SWEDD means playing a part in improving the opportunities offered to women and also contributing to economic growth. These interventions ultimately benefit business as they engender a more robust economic environment, provide opportunities for investment in future employees and customers, and reduce systematic risk and volatility.

GBCHealth is looking to engage with private sector champions who are interested in supporting this work. We are soliciting participation in roundtables with other leaders and champions, such as this one; in partnerships to replicate, expand, scale projects; and with new ideas to address challenges in product and service delivery, capacity building and knowledge.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a tool for effectively mobilizing the private sector’s resources; you can read more about PPPs in this month’s issue of GBCHealth’s News & Opportunities newsletter here. More information about future private sector involvement and partnerships will be available through GBCHealth’s website and newsletter as they take form and are implemented.

If you’re interested in learning more about the SWEDD program, or have programs and ideas to contribute, please contact Vrunda Rathod at .


Matt RomneyEmpowering Women and Girls for Equitable Economic Growth: SWEDD Roundtable Catalyzes Public-Private Sector Investment in Sahel