How-to Guide: Understanding Gender Impact 

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Acumen and Unilever have partnered to bring a gender lens to impact measurement with a new toolkit designed to better understand how programs and services are affecting women and girls across the globe. Created with Acumen’s Lean Data team, the toolkit, A Lean Data How-to Guide: Understanding Gender Impact, delves into the work of five different programs within Acumen’s portfolio and Unilever’s initiatives to develop a new, highly effective framework that entrepreneurs, impact investors, corporations, donors and philanthropists can use to measure their impact on women and girls.


You are here because you believe in gender equity, you understand the impact that comes when we consciously support efforts that empower women and girls, and you know that, despite recent progress, we are not doing enough.

The facts are familiar, and sobering. Despite increasing focus, headlines and attention, concrete progress on many critical gender equality issues have been painfully slow. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, “At the current rate of change, and given the continued widening of the economic gender gap already observed last year, [the gender gap] will now not be closed for another 217 years.” This is not acceptable.

We also know that turning intentions into concrete actions is hard, and that measuring success is harder still. This is exacerbated by the fact that accurately measuring, tracking and documenting gender-specific impacts has been challenging. Yet, without tools to measure, how can we know if we are making progress? Closing the gender gap, whether through the work of corporations, impact investors, social enterprises, governments, donors or not-for-profits, simply cannot happen without useful, practical, accurate tools for measuring gender-specific impacts.

And it’s true: data can be daunting. It can feel complex, academic, and difficult to manage. Data on gender, which includes but goes well beyond just tracking the number of women and girls impacted to help us understand unmet needs and changes in peoples lives, has been particularly hard to come by. But we must start, even if we don’t yet have all the answers.

This report shares our approach developing a Lean Data Gender Tool in partnership with Unilever. It reflects the first leg of our own learning journey, and our aim is that it will help both Acumen and Unilever better assess the intra-gender impacts of their investing and sustainability initiatives. We also hope the tool will be useful to other similarly motivated organizations, and maybe even those that do not yet have a specific gender focus. Join us.

A little background: who, what and why

This report grew out of a multi-year partnership between Unilever and Acumen focused on developing entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges that each organization is tackling. In developing this report, we’ve also had the input of additional experienced advisors along the way, including the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). This project builds on work done by Acumen and ICRW in 2015, shared in the report titled, Women and Social Enterprises: How Gender Integration can Boost Entrepreneurial Solutions to Poverty. The report underscored the social and economic value intrinsic in incorporating a gender lens as a social enterprise and investor.

It also builds on Unilever´s experience and engagement in multiple gender-based partnerships across their value chain. This work is detailed in the “Opportunities for Women” report, which describes how a gender-focus can be applied to programmes such as sourcing, distribution, and consumer-specific branding.

With increasing momentum in gender-lens investing, the development of a Lean Data Gender Toolkit takes Unilever´s and Acumen´s work on gender a step further. Our collective goal has been to develop a new gender measurement tool that help to better understand gender impacts across the value chain.

The first question you might ask yourself is: why develop a new tool, rather than apply one that already exists?

Unquestionably there has been extensive, high-quality research on gender equality and the impacts that can be achieved by explicitly working to support women and girls. However tools for tracking and quantifying progress (or the lack thereof) on achieving gender-specific goals, especially in the context of fast-moving interventions or social businesses, are few and far between.

We knew that if we were experiencing this gap, others were likely feeling it too, and we believed that we could make a positive contribution to the field by developing such a tool. Our goal has been to create a measurement tool that is easy-to-use, cost-effective and that helps programme designers hear the voices of those they aim to serve. Through the development of this tool we’ve also been keenly focused on data that is as resource efficient as possible, which we believe will be key to encouraging wider uptake.

What you’ll find in this document

This document reflects our first phase of work and is being released in conjunction with the Gender Smart Investing Summit on November 1-2, 2018, in London. It is meant as a preview of our full report that we will be publishing in early 2019, and it details the approach and methodology for the Gender Lean Data Tool and provides preliminary insights from two out of five projects that have piloted it: Inclusive Distribution Entrepreneurship Model “Shakti” in Colombia, a Unilever programme, and LabourNet, an Acumen investee. The full report will be released in conjunction with International Women’s Day in March 2019, and will include a deep dive analysis into the gender dynamics in each of the projects conducted, as well as a combined analysis across the five projects completed.

Stay tuned.

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