Client name: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Duration: July 2007 – October 2013

Location: Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Southern Philippines, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Vanuatu

Improving women’s access to economic empowerment to reduce poverty through private sector development in the Pacific and across Asia.  


There are significant links between improving women’s economic advancement, empowerment and overall economic growth.

Economic empowerment means ensuring women have the opportunity to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth, as well as negotiate respectful treatment.

The Australian Aid Program has recognised the importance of women’s economic empowerment, describing it in the 2011 AusAID Gender Equality Strategy as one of four pillars around which its work on gender equality and women’s empowerment has been structured. It was also explicitly linked to economic growth in the 2012 AusAID private sector development strategy.  


The Enterprise Challenge Fund (ECF) was established to address this important area and was a six-year A$20.5 million Australian Government initiative, matching grants to private sector enterprises in nine countries. It aimed to contribute to poverty alleviation by creating income generating opportunities and access to goods and services with a positive economic benefit for poor people.

The program incorporated gender equality in a number of areas supporting the integration of gender throughout the fund. As a guiding principle, the program sought to “ensure that women as well as men are able to benefit” from the program.

Over the past six years, the program marketed the ECF to women’s business groups and associations, targeted industries with gender opportunities to enhance pro-poor outcomes, considered impact on women in the proposal process, and included gender experts as part of the overall fund management and selection process.  This set a foundation for selecting the right private companies to consider the role of men and women in their project.  Additionally the fund targeted gender equality during implementation through reporting requirements and working with specialists to enhance program outcomes.  


At project’s end in July 2013, more than A$11 million had been approved by the Enterprise Challenge Fund for 21 projects, positively impacting the lives of more than 75,000 of the poorest people (50% women) of the region during that time.

In 2013, the ECF team reviewed how the projects funded by the ECF supported women’s economic advancement.

Example includes:

Nature’s Way Cooperative, Fiji (grant value A$263,321) has 160 shareholders who are growers and exporters, with the vast majority being small farmers. Nature’s Way used an ECF grant to expand Fiji’s quarantine treatment capacity for the export of fruit and vegetables through increasing and expanding existing infrastructure; improving handling and treatment systems; and obtaining organic produce certification for the facility. Women in particular benefitted when the company purchased automated packing and grading equipment that reduced the weight of the loads and allowed more women to be employed in factory floor positions.  

The review also looked at conditions where this type of impact can be stimulated through a challenge fund or private sector development program. 

Additional discussion and analysis has been conducted in the Women’s Economic Empowerment – Practice and Policy Implications from the Enterprise Challenge Fund (Nethercott et al, 2013).