Evaluating 15 Years of Adolescent Empowerment Programming in Africa

BRAC is one of the world’s largest NGOs, focused on eradicating poverty. Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) is one of BRAC’s flagship empowerment initiatives for female youth in Africa. Adolescent girls and young women in Africa face significant and interrelated barriers. For example, high rates of early marriage and child pregnancy limit girls’ ability to go to school and subsequently find employment. Simultaneously, a lack of employment opportunities for women lowers the incentive for parents or caregivers to invest in education. This cycle hinders women’s economic independence. Since its inception more than 15 years ago, BRAC’s ELA program has sought to break this cycle, providing life skills and livelihood training to women and girls through ELA clubs. This approach has shown the potential to improve health, education, and economic outcomes.

BRAC hired Understory to document the history and evaluate the impact of its ELA programming in Uganda, Tanzania, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Understory’s report culminated in recommendations for how BRAC and other NGOs could improve the design and implementation of ELA-like programming in the future.

Gathering perspectives from the field

In February 2022, Understory traveled to Uganda, Tanzania, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to visit the sites of ELA clubs and interview participants, mentors, staff, parents, and community members. Through nearly 100 interviews, Understory gained a deep understanding of ELA’s impact, its various iterations and adaptations over the years, and challenges in program implementation. These interviews formed the basis of Understory’s report and recommendations to BRAC.  

Identifying learnings for the future  

The evaluation process identified three key learnings for improving ELA programming: the importance of adequate resourcing and robust monitoring in achieving impact; the need for regular curriculum updates; and the value of formal mechanisms for community engagement. Based on these learnings, BRAC asked Understory to propose a condensed version of the ELA curriculum. Understory’s approach to revising the curriculum was informed by its interviews with participants, staff, and community members; and by social science measuring the impact of ELA-like programs. The revised curriculum centered both sexual and reproductive health and technical training, topics which interviewees found especially valuable, and that contributed directly to ELA’s goals of delaying pregnancy and generating income.

Sharing findings with the development community

Understory prepared a detailed version of the report for BRAC’s internal consumption. This internal report is guiding the next phase of BRAC’s investment in youth empowerment programs in Africa. Understory also wrote a simplified external version of the report to share with the development community at large, and conducted a webinar to present the findings.