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La Pépinière

SDDirect was the lead contractor on the Department for International Development (DFID) Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s Programme for Adolescent Girls and Young Women (La Pépinière*). SDDirect led a consortium with the Le Centre Régional de Recherche et de Documentation sur les Femmes, le Genre et la Construction de la Paix dans la région des Grands Lacs (CERED-GL) in Kinshasa, and M&C Saatchi World Services.

The overall objective of La Pépinière was to promote the economic empowerment of adolescent girls and young women. From 2015 to 2017, La Pépinière focused on generating evidence and engagement to design effective innovations that increase the economic empowerment of women and girls. Below are some highlights from the programme.

Introducing the Girl Led Research Unit

From April 2015, 15 adolescent girls and young women aged between 16 and 24, from diverse backgrounds, were trained as qualitative researchers to form DRC's first Girl-led Research Unit (GLRU). The GLRU embodied the girl-led approach of La Pépinière, underpinned by our Participation Principles which include meaningful engagement and valuing girls' time and contributions. These principles aimed to ensure girls' realities were understood and integrated into the design of research, pilot projects, and capacity building activities. The GLRU toolkit provides valuable material (describing approaches, exercises, etc) for those interested in pursuing peer-led research with adolescent girls.

The GLRU played a central role in supporting La Pépinière's qualitative research 'about girls, by girls' in DRC, which deepened understanding about what it means to be a girl in Kinshasa and what adolescent girls' and young women's economic and wider empowerment involves in this context. The Programme Completion Report noted that:

"The programme demonstrated the benefits of youth-led research by unlocking different perspectives than only peer-to-peer interactions seem to be able to generate, particularly in terms of the nature of relationships that girls enter into and the expectations placed on them."

The Gender Champions Network

Thought leaders on gender were identified across civil society, government and the private sector and invited to join a network of Kinshasa-based 'Gender Champions'. These Gender Champions played a key role in La Pépinière's capacity building workstream, complementing the work of the GLRU researchers and the international and national experts.

Together, these three groups had the expertise, experience, skillsets and perspectives that could potentially transform the ways in which adolescent girls and young women are understood and actively involved in policies and programming in DRC.

The primary focus of the Gender Champions was on building capacity within the Government of DRC and civil society. They were able to identify opportunities for change in key sectors and at different levels, and worked together to implement strategic approaches through complementary activities. For highlights of the Gender Champions work, read the four La Pépinière case studies here.

 Creating an Adolescent Girls and Young Women Economic Empowerment Index

In 2016 we designed an Economic Empowerment Index for adolescent girls and young women (watch our tutorial on this here). This index was rolled out through a large-scale quantitative survey, allowing us to test various hypotheses related to adolescent girls' and young women's economic empowerment. This report outlines the concepts, definitions, use and application of the Economic Empowerment Index for the Young Women and Adolescents in the Kinshasa context.

The mini-pilots

To assess the potential for innovation, the programme did extensive stakeholder mapping and capacity needs assessments, an evidence review of "what works" to economically empower adolescent girls and young women, as well as scoping studies on existing interventions and the media and communications landscape. These analyses shaped the design of three 'mini-pilots' which ran from 2016-17 to test "what works" to economically empower adolescent girls and young women, and how to tackle the social norms that constrain their opportunities.

Mini-pilots focused on adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) economic empowerment in the areas of mobile money/savings; social capital and inspirational role models; and social media interaction. The results of all three mini-pilots exceeded expectations in terms of improving financial independence, whilst two demonstrated improvements in AGYW decision-making on the use of their savings. Only one project met targets for achieving increases in enabling AGYW to determine the choice of employment.

A key strategy for the monitoring and evaluation of the mini-pilots was the involvement of the GLRU. From the outset each mini-pilot implementing partner was paired with 2 GLRU members and a mentor, who supported the data collection as part of the longitudinal study. Their involvement and support went way beyond monitoring and led to some changes being made in the design and delivery of the min-pilots, as well as contributing to a shift in attitude among staff members of some of the partners and participants around the value of meaningful girl-led participation. Their participation was clearly critical to the success of both the implementation and the monitoring of pilots.


In the final stages of the programme, learning from the research and mini-pilots were synthesised, informing the development of a revised theory of change, monitoring and evaluation framework, and operating principles and criteria for long-term planning.

The Programme Completion Report scored La Pépinière an 'A' grade, noting that:

"the programme has developed the evidence base on female social and economic empowerment, which is directly applicable to the DRC but also has a wider relevance internationally [...] aside from the core findings, La Pépinière has provided a demonstration effect at least of the great potential of employing peer-researchers to unearth rich and valuable findings about sensitive issues in the lives of AGYW; the strong demand of communities for feedback and the value of deploying peer-researchers in this process; and the credibility that being evidence-based adds to youth voice interventions."


*La Pépinière - "Incubator"

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