For eight weeks over the summer, second-year MPA student Melissa Jennings interned for CARE International’s Pathways to Empowerment Program in Malawi. Jennings worked primarily on the midpoint evaluation of the five-year program, which uses the teaching of improved agricultural techniques as a tool for empowering women.
“Working abroad is really exciting because of all of the opportunities to learn about different cultures and perspectives,” Jennings says. “I think that we should be advocating for human rights across the globe, not just domestically. So when I saw an internship offering the chance to work on gender empowerment, travel, and work on a larger scale – specifically on the program evaluation – I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
The Pathways Program is based on The Pathways Theory of Change, which states that capacity, access, productivity, household influence and an enabling environment are all interrelated factors that, when addressed, can improve “the underlying causes of poverty and women’s exclusion in agriculture.”
In action, the program hosts a Farmer Field and Business School that teaches entire communities agricultural principles and techniques while building capacity in the skills and confidence of women and improving productivity. The school focuses on crops that do well in the region, such as groundnuts and soya.
This focus is important because 90 percent of the Malawian labor force works in farming. Agriculture makes up one-third of the country’s GDP and 90 percent of its export revenues.
The primary agricultural crop in Malawi is tobacco, which Jennings explains is a crop traditionally grown by men. However, the CARE program aims to increase access to markets for woman farmers as well. By providing community outreach, Pathways helps create an environment where women have more opportunities for decision-making and task sharing with their male counterparts.
The evaluation that Jennings participated in consists of qualitative research in the form of 34 focus groups and nine interviews. Malawian CARE staff conducted the focus groups, but Jennings worked with a translator to conduct several interviews herself. These focus groups and interviews help CARE staff gain a better understanding of how the communities felt about gender equality, task sharing, decision-making and other program indicators.
“For the most part, we were looking at [Malawi as a whole] and trying to get an idea of which changes were easier; of where the benchmarks are,” Jennings says. “That was the challenge of the research and the methods we used. We wanted to know if our benchmarks were what we thought they would be, or if we were projecting something onto our program participants.”
From the focus groups and interviews, CARE determined what desirable behavior changes the program can realistically hope to see in the next two-and-a-half years.
“The process also informed us of the social changes underway, and helped us identify which changes can be attributed to our program,” Jennings says.
Jennings explains that getting a glimpse into how women—and men—envision women’s empowerment and gender equality in a different country has been a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of the Andrew Young International Experience Grant .
“I couldn’t be happier with my experience. I definitely want to continue working on gender, racial, ethnic and other global equality issues. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do things like this in graduate school,” Jennings says. “But this has been, for me, the highlight. I’m thankful that the Andrew Young School was so supportive.”
Read more about Jennings’ experience in her own words on the Pathways blog.