Case Study Series: Women-Inclusive Return on Investment (WI-ROI)

  • Date Posted: March 25, 2024
  • Authors: Erin Markel, Sabine Garbarino, Yaquta Fatehi
  • Organizations/Projects: Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships Activity
  • Document Types: Case Study or Vignette
  • Donor Type: U.S. Agency for International Development


Banner image for the Women Inclusive Return on Investment Case Study Series: Unpacking the Return on Investment of Women-Inclusive Business Practices

These case studies profile select small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have implemented a women-inclusive intervention and can demonstrate financial returns for that investment. The case studies help address a gap in evidence from firms in lower- and middle-income countries on the return on investment (ROI) from women’s inclusion and unpack themes from USAID’s Women Inclusive Return on Investment (WI-ROI) Framework.

The case study series features:

The cases are designed to support:

  • Gender lens investors to see relevant examples of how to put the WI-ROI Framework into practice and its usefulness as a tool for working with firms in their portfolios on a gender return on investment strategy.
  • Development practitioners through tangible examples of how they could measure the ROI of gender-inclusive interventions at the firm level and an understanding of how to replicate the approach (including pitfalls to avoid) within their own work.

Case #1

Grean World, an Ethiopian company established in 2016, sells solar products and improved cooking technologies. It specializes in “mirt stoves” — locally made concrete stoves designed for baking injera bread, a fundamental Ethiopian staple.

Despite the potential of these improved cookstoves to mitigate adverse health effects, reduce women’s time on domestic work and address deforestation, there were significant hurdles to their widespread adoption due to financial constraints in many households, particularly in remote areas.

To address this challenge, Grean World evolved from a centralized sales model to one that prioritized female village-based sales agents or village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs). These VLEs, being integral parts of their communities, brought a unique level of trust and credibility. They understand the challenges of using traditional stoves, comprehend household decision-making processes, and can tailor their communications and engagements accordingly.

This change in model led to a 5% reduction in the unit cost of each cookstove, as well as dramatic sales increases across the board. Grean World customers reported tangible improvements in their health, citing reduced “eye scratching and coughing” since adopting the new stoves.

Case #2 

Okeba, established in 2017, is a grain and seed processor in Uganda with domestic and regional customers throughout East Africa. Like many firms, Okeba’s profitability is determined by input costs, labor, and sales revenue. Most of its processing staff (sorters) are women with childcare responsibilities, which created a challenge: reduced productivity (approximately 20% of processed bags needed to be resorted due to low quality).

Staff with childcare responsibilities often worked fewer hours because of the lack of outside childcare or brought their children to work, which resulted in distraction and additional requests for time off when children became ill at the factory.

Ultimately, Obeka created an onsite childcare room, including supervision, in response to this challenge. This helped create a more women-inclusive workplace while delivering financial returns and lessons for calculating WI-ROI, including—thinking beyond increased output, the ideal time to calculate opportunity costs, and the benefits of granular data and business intuition when implementing WI-ROI initiatives.

Learning Note

Many initiatives are increasingly recognizing opportunities to support the private sector to empower women in the workplace and generate direct financial benefits (WI-ROI) from these investments. This learning note highlights key steps (and data needs) in what may seem like a complicated process for selecting, evaluating, and tracking WI-ROI investments in SMEs.

Key women’s inclusion considerations include understanding the business model and how (if) policies benefit women, how new women’s inclusion business practices can be compared with existing models, and what data currently exists or may need to be created to accurately assess pre- and post- interventions.

Although the two case studies above focus on ex-post financial performance impact, there is immense potential to integrate a WI-ROI lens in early-stage partnerships based on MSP’s experience applying its WI-ROI Framework across four firms. The approach outlined in this learning note can be used to guide WI investments across the development cycle.

The case study series has been captured by the Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships Activity as part of a broader research agenda of seeking to isolate the ROI of women-inclusive interventions within firms across the countries in which USAID works.