Global Outcomes

Community Participation and Empowerment

Global outcome report, October, 2013

Program background: Over the years the Unbound program has promoted and required the participation of parents and guardians of children in the program, with the belief that a child’s mother (or other primary care giver) is the best social worker for that child and by empowering mothers the whole family benefits. Unbound works toward programs characterized by mutual accountability and support, empowerment, sustainability, and a worldview where families are agents of positive change in their own lives and in their communities. Community participation and personal agency or empowerment are two of the organization’s four global outcome domains measured across all regions.

Purpose of the evaluation: In 2013, Unbound initiated a global evaluation with the purpose of better understanding the ways in which parents of Unbound sponsored children participate in their communities and feel empowered to make change for their families.

Methods and design: The data collection tool was designed in collaboration with three project coordinators representing different geographic and linguistic regions and was based on research on empowerment, leadership and civic participation indicators. The questionnaire includes specific questions on expressed voice, ownership and responsibility in the Unbound program, community problem solving, financial security, and social support. Six hundred ninety-seven randomly selected sponsored parents, principally mothers, participated in the anonymous questionnaire, placing the confidence interval at 3.7 with a confidence level of 95 percent.

Key findings and conclusions: The findings paint a picture of women who care for sponsored children, on a path out of the poverty of isolation and marginalization. They are connected to one-another in community, feeling empowered to change their families’ lives, and exercise leadership.

Ninety-one percent of mothers indicated they know at least three other women in the program that they can ask for help when they encounter difficult times. The Unbound community is not marked by the isolation of poverty, but rather an interdependent community. Families have others walking alongside them, sponsors, staff, and their peers. This final group represents connections that could last beyond their time in the program.

Ninety percent of mothers also believe they have the power to change their family’s situation. While donors and staff are a support, they are not sustenance. These women feel empowered to take the next steps.

Seventy percent of mothers feel confident in sharing their voice, usually or always speaking up about their ideas and opinions in Unbound, even if they disagree. In addition, 67 percent of mothers feel like leaders in the program. And their leadership spills over into their interactions with the larger community where 59 percent feel like leaders and 63 percent have worked to resolve problems in their communities beyond Unbound. Assigning attribution is outside the limits of this evaluation. However, when examining responses according to participation in Unbound small groups, one can see that parents who are part of groups are more likely to consider themselves leaders in both contexts and are more likely to be active in community problem-solving, suggesting a strong contribution of the small group program model to their self-concept and community agency.

At the same time the evaluation points to many women and families in Unbound’s program without accessible means to build financial security. More than half of the mothers of sponsored children do not have access to secure and reasonable lending to support their family’s financial development or long-term goals. And just 20 percent have taken loans through an Unbound small group. In addition, almost half indicate that they rarely or never set aside money for savings. All of the indicators of financial empowerment do improve when data is cross tabulated according to participation in an Unbound organized small group. This suggests the value of the economic development component of small groups, but also indicates that the current reach of this benefit is somewhat limited in breadth.

Finally, the evaluation outlines clear evidence of the status of partnership sponsored members and their families hold in Unbound’s community through the sheer quantity and quality of responsibilities sponsored parents execute. Ownership of the program it is not just an attitudinal state of those showing up to be present at activities. Sponsored parents are planning program activities and doing the leg-work to make them happen. Mothers are taking the responsibility to make sure their child’s correspondence with their sponsor is complete and more than half exercise accountability by ensuring that other children in their group or community are doing the same.

Parents across the Unbound world make the decisions about how sponsorship funds for their child are utilized. Over 40 percent sit down to create a personal budget, make purchases for their child’s needs and submit proper accounting. In short, parents are true and necessary partners, ensuring the development of their children and the sustainability of the program.

Lead Evaluators:

Melissa Velazquez, Unbound senior evaluation specialist
Becky Spachek, Unbound evaluation specialist