Creating Private Sector Alignment for Women's Empowerment in Colombia: The Cacao Effect

This post was authored by the Feed the Future Advancing Women's Empowerment program and was originally published on Agrilinks.


This profile showcases how the USAID/Colombia Mission engaged different private sector actors to identify common interests around women and youth inclusion and empowerment in the cacao value chain. Through a participatory co-creation process, the Mission developed a Global Development Alliance Activity called The Cacao Effect that addresses issues around sustainable cacao production, incomes, and inclusivity of women and youth in the sector. With the Mission, the Activity developed a Gender Inclusion Strategy that uses education efforts to engage women and youth, as well as mainstream gender equality and inclusion in cacao-producing communities. The profile highlights the specific actions the Mission took to align business and development interests around gender equality and inclusion and develop related interventions to ensure inclusive results. 


The Cacao Effect is a five-year (2019-2024) Global Development Alliance (GDA) Activity that is implemented through a public–private partnership between USAID, Luker Chocolate, the Luker Foundation, Enel-Colombia, the Saldarriaga Concha Foundation, EAFIT University and The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). USAID has directly contributed USD $6.9 million, and private sector contributions have totaled USD $30 million, for a total USD $36.9 million. 

The Cacao Effect is part of the Luker Chocolate sustainability program, called “The Chocolate Dream/El Sueño de Chocolate. Luker’s approach to this program stems from a long-term vision that focuses on three main objectives: improve well-being, protect the environment and increase the income of producers and communities. Through collaboration with USAID, Luker has integrated gender equality and inclusion considerations across the different Activity components.

Identifying and Engaging Fundación Luker

In 2018, USAID/Colombia released a GDA addendum. To raise awareness of the GDA, the Mission conducted a large outreach campaign to potential private sector partners applicants. This included organizing informational coffee sessions with the Contracting Officer (CO) and initiating conversations with private sector partners. One such partner was Fundación Luker, which applied for the GDA proposal. 

Finding Alignment on Gender Equality through Co-Creation

During 2018, the Fundación Luker concept paper was selected by USAID/Colombia and began an in-depth co-creation process. This included several site visits to Luker’s cacao growing areas as well as their headquarters to understand the cacao value chain and Luker’s interests and capacity. USAID/Colombia technical specialists participated in the visits to understand the company’s willingness to expand to conflict-affected areas. 

Luker generates alliances from the basis of social innovation and shared value. For the company, it was relevant to generate value linked to USAID/Colombia’s priorities and to the business itself. As part of the co-creation discussions, the Mission held in-person workshops with all prospective partners, including Luker, in which the gender and social inclusion (GSI) specialist participated to share USAID/Colombia’s GSI strategy and to explain the Mission’s expectation and requirements around gender and youth inclusion. This helped Luker and others understand and brainstorm ideas to include these groups. Gender equality is a priority for the Cacao Effect and through the co-creation process Luker and USAID were able to create a Gender Inclusion Strategy.

It was important for Luker to promote gender and inclusion in the communities through education efforts. With Women’s World Banking (WWB) Foundation and the Saldarriaga Concha Foundation, The Cacao Effect developed the “School for Equality” strategy, which is geared toward rural families in Colombia and covers five thematic areas spanning gender roles and stereotypes, family as a social organization, care economics, citizenship and equitable participation. The project implemented the “School for Equality” strategy with 98 cacao-farming women living in the project implementation area.

In addition to the School for Equality, gender, inclusion, and youth are transversal themes that are addressed by The Cacao Effect throughout the different project components. Some examples include facilitating women and youth engagement in cocoa production activities, promoting participation and equitable decision-making in associations, strengthening women and youth startups in the communities and developing socio-emotional and resilience skills of youth, men and women alike. Finally, The Cacao Effect focuses on developing marketable Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math capabilities of youth participants to raise their attractiveness in the labor market.

Gender and Inclusion Results

The Cacao Effect has learned that beyond the trainings, meetings with women created a sense of trust and allowed the recognition and strengthening of solidarity among the families as well as reflection about cultural burdens and areas of inequality based on gender experienced by all people in society. Context- and cultural-specific discussions were essential considering that the focus was to generate an environment of trust where women could feel free to ask and question themselves, as well as to deal with their feelings in each reflection.

Through other activities like the Women and Cocoa Forum in Tumaco or Purple Carnival in Necoclí as a part of Women’s Day celebrations, The Cacao Effect has also collected valuable feedback and findings. For example, female participants believe that it is fundamental to address the right to economic autonomy as a strategy to acquire more recognition, self-esteem and quality of life. Participants also noted that an area for improvement relates to the lack of knowledge on individual rights, opportunities, and assurances, particularly for mestizo, indigenous and Afro-Colombian rural women. 

To address the above-mentioned findings, a second stage of the School for Equality was developed in 2022. The second version was implemented in communities and educational institutions in the four subregions with the purpose of training men and women leaders to carry out pedagogical processes on gender equality and generational inclusion. In 2022, the School for Equality sensitized 98 participants on issues related to gender roles, stereotypes and care economy. Twelve participants were selected as replicators to prevent violence and promote equitable distribution of care tasks in their families.

Impacting the lives of cacao farmers and their families must not only imply improving productivity, but it must also include social strengthening, promoting comprehensive, equitable, and egalitarian development in families, within organizations, and at the community level. 

Additional Information and Resources