Four Pillars for Sustainable Change in Cocoa-Growing Supply Chains
CARE and Mars’s Women for Change program works with women and their families in cocoa-growing communities to improve livelihoods so that communities can thrive. The program started in Côte d’Ivoire in 2016, founded on CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) approach. Between 2016 and 2022, more than 77,000 VSLA members (58,000 women) were supported through CARE’s partnership with Mars.
At a time when the cocoa sector faces multiple threats and urgently needs scalable solutions that deliver meaningful, sustainable change for farmers and their households, the Women for Change model presents a powerful opportunity. The Women for Change model is built on CARE’s traditional VSLA approach but extends beyond that to ensure women in cocoa-growing communities can play an integral part in the cocoa supply chain. Beyond impact solely on financial aspects of the members lives, the Women for Change model offers the opportunity to create real sustainable change by building in elements that strengthen opportunities and access to education, health services and nutrition services.
Over the life of the program, financial access to savings substantially increased for members. They have collectively saved over $7.4 million over the course of the program. On average, VSLA members in this program have saved $63 annually compared to $0 annually at baseline. The loans disbursed by VSLAs strengthened not only financial inclusion but also access to education and health. Of the loans distributed, 64% of the funds were used to bolster individual income-generating activities for members. However, members also used the funding from loans to finance educational pursuits (13%) and access to health and nutrition services (6%).
The VSLAs are the entry point for four essential interventions: Financial Inclusion; Entrepreneurship; Gender Equity; and Healthy Families.
1. Financial Inclusion
In order to strengthen financial inclusion, the program focuses on the improvement of literacy and numeracy skills and connections to formal finance. The literacy and numeracy program for VSLA participants has been identified as one of the most significant activities for addressing some challenges faced by participants in Women for Change. As women build their financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills through VSLAs, their finance needs grow. CARE is building partnerships with financial institutions for favorable women-friendly credit opportunities.
As members of savings groups start to collect capital, demand for basic entrepreneurship training quickly emerges. The Women for Change model integrates microenterprise training, which supports members to select income-generating opportunities, plan how these businesses will run and manage the enterprises once started.
3. Gender Equity
Household dialog sessions are conducted and focused on increasing women’s role in decision-making and increasing women’s voices at home and in the community. Additionally, a network of more than 160 gender committees has been established. These committees, usually made up of at least two men and two women identified by community members, become champions of gender equity within cocoa-growing communities.
4. Healthy Families
This intervention promotes nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and child protection. As part of the nutrition and health curriculum, members are taught about the different food groups and shown how to access local foods and provide a balanced diet for their families combined with information on family planning and contraceptive measures. Additionally, the child protection element of the training focuses on the prevention of child labor and the promotion of child rights.