Shaping U.S. policy to increase property rights for women worldwide

Shaping U.S. policy to increase property rights for women worldwide

Burkina Faso
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In poor countries, land is gold—it is the greatest asset to achieve self-sufficiency. However, women often lack land rights. Women Thrive Worldwide works with women’s organizations around the world (gaining their input and feedback) to continuously shape U.S. international aid so that it effectively improves women’s economic opportunities.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Though women play a critical role in agriculture, producing the majority of the food grown worldwide, they own only about 2% of land. While the land law in Burkina Faso does not officially ‘discriminate’ against women, the criteria to obtain land, such as being head of household, exclude women. Thus, women must rely on their husbands or male relatives to access land. Should women lose their husbands (to illness for example), they would also lose their land—their source for shelter, food, and income. Further, without official title to land, women have virtually no collateral for obtaining loans, and are less likely to have the means to leave abusive relationships. Increasing women’s access to land is crucial to unlocking women’s potential to build wealth and making a sustainable change in their lives and their communities at large. However, ensuring women’s land rights is complicated, requiring changes to law and traditions.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Women Thrive Worldwide’s initiative is unique because of our ‘dual advocacy model,’ which we created to ensure that we always work WITH local women to develop solutions to ending poverty in their communities. Our work with our partners and survey of 108 women representatives of civil society organizations worldwide revealed how the common lack of access to land prevents women around the world from supporting their families and building wealth. In collaboration with our partners, we address the need for women’s land rights by shaping U.S. policy to pay attention to the unique needs of men AND women. We also guide our local partners to use U.S. policy to push for increased access to land in their own countries. WHY WOMEN? Women and girls make up 70% of the world’s poor. Research and experience have shown that women in poor countries are more likely to use their income for food, healthcare, and education for their children. Investing in women not only lifts the majority of the world’s poor, but also has a tremendous ripple effect on their families and communities. WHY U.S POLICY? The U.S. spends more than $20 billion a year in foreign assistance with the objective to promote economic growth and reduce poverty, among others. To make sure the U.S. gets “more bang for the buck,” we firmly believe it should invest in women who, as stated above, are at the greatest risk of being poor, yet have the greatest potential of lifting whole communities out of poverty.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

When the U.S. takes a forward-looking stance on women’s rights (including land rights), women in developing countries are empowered to take advantage of those policies to push forward change within their own governments. For example, when Women Thrive worked with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to adopt a comprehensive gender policy that ensures its investment programs effectively reach both men AND women, women’s organizations in Lesotho used the policy to push their national parliament to finally pass a dormant piece of legislation that they had been requesting for years—legislation that was needed to attract MCC investments to Lesotho and that granted all married Lesothian women equal rights to own property! Recognizing Women Thrive’s work with the MCC as a ‘breakthrough’ in women’s empowerment and gender equality, InterAction (the largest alliance of U.S.-based international development and humanitarian non-governmental organizations) awarded us the 2007 Mildred Robbins Leet Award for the Advancement of Women. With the Changemakers award, Women Thrive will strengthen its work with Coalition Burkinabe pour les Droits de la Femme (CBDF), a national advocacy network of grassroots women’s organizations, to achieve CBDF’s goal of increasing women’s access to land and securing a 30% quota for women's participation in the MCC’s agricultural and land access projects in Burkina Faso. Women Thrive has provided training to CBDF and connected CBDF with key players in land reform. Together we are poised to create transformational change for millions of women in Burkina Faso by increasing their access to land!
About You
Women Thrive Worldwide
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, DC

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

Women Thrive Worldwide

Organization Phone


Organization Address


Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on


Do you have a patent for this idea?


Women Thrive works with CBDF to increase women’s access to land (legally and culturally) in Burkina Faso by:
1) Shaping U.S. policy to intentionally improve women’s economic opportunities (including access to land), giving women’s organizations a tool for their advocacy;
2) Enabling rural women to tell key players in D.C. and Burkina Faso in person what they need to succeed;
3) Uniting women’s organizations in Burkina Faso to push for increased access to land;
4) Building community support for women’s increased access to land; and
5) Educating women to participate in U.S. government programs, such as the MCC.

Through these actions, CBDF and women’s groups have gained increased legitimacy and credibility within their government. Additionally, American and Burkinabe policymakers increasingly seek Women Thrive’s and CBDF’s expertise on a range of women’s issues (including property rights). However, lack of funding has hindered our capacity to respond to the increased demand.


Women Thrive Worldwide is a leading non-profit organization shaping U.S. policy to help women in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty.

Because land rights is a critical foundation for women to escape the cycle of poverty, Women Thrive, in partnership with CBDF, will achieve the following in Burkina Faso:

• CBDF and women’s organizations are engaged in key discussions involving land reform, providing input and feedback on laws and guidelines such as the Cahier de Charges (land distribution guidelines) and Réorganisation Agraire et Foncière or “RAF” (Agrarian and Land Reorganization).

YEAR 2 to 3:
• Women’s legal access to land increases (e.g. through revisions to the Cahier de Charges and RAF)
• A 30% quota for women’s participation in agriculture and land access projects operated under the MCC is established.

YEAR 3 and beyond:
• Women’s ownership of land increases (e.g. via MCC land access projects).

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


If so, how?

Women Thrive’s dual advocacy model uses a multi-pronged approach to impact public policy. First, Women Thrive works with policymakers in Washington, D.C. to shape U.S. policies to respond to the needs of women worldwide, while simultaneously supporting our partners who advocate in their own countries. Then, our partners monitor how U.S. policies work on the ground and keep us informed about local realities in their country. In this way, Women Thrive and our partner organizations work together to influence policy and make concrete changes at both the community and national levels.

For this project, we will measure our impact on public policy by our ability to achieve the outcomes listed under Question 10 and through a project evaluation. Examples of best practices and lessons learned from the evaluation will inform our land access initiatives in other countries, and will be made available to organizations interested in replicating this work. Currently, Women Thrive has a local partner in Ghana and is in the process of selecting a third partner country in Africa. These partnerships provide additional launching points to expand our land access initiative in Africa.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

Increasing women’s economic opportunity (including land rights) worldwide requires collaboration from a large, diverse base of organizations, businesses, government agencies, and individuals. For this reason, we have grown our community to include more than 60 organizations and 40,000 individuals. We also played an instrumental role in convening the Women, Faith and Development Alliance, which has leveraged over $1.5 billion to empower women and girls worldwide. By uniting the strengths of these committed partners, we can stimulate growth in the local economy for women and men and reduce the need for outside aid.

It is also vitally important that we do not speak FOR beneficiaries; instead, we must speak WITH them. Thus, when we aim to break down specific barriers, we turn to the voices of rural women for insight. In this way, we can ensure our work responds to the actual priorities of the women we strive to empower.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Women Thrive Worldwide is a non-profit organization that shapes U.S. policy to have the greatest positive impact on the lives of women living in poverty in the developing world. Because we work to impact public policy, we do not accept government funds. However, we are supported by dozens of distinguished foundations, organizations, and corporations (including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Pax World Women’s Equity Fund, and Milk Global Specialties, among others), and nearly 200 dedicated individuals.

Since our founding in 1998, we have grown into a $2.2 million organization, and are working aggressively to both diversify funding and increase unrestricted funding. To achieve this, we are looking for innovative ways to turn our network of over 40,000 grassroots activists into donors. We have also been growing a major gifts program for several years, and have had successes in this funding area, even in a challenging economy.

Our goal to diversify and increase funding also applies to our land access initiative in Burkina Faso. Winning the Property Rights Competition will not only provide much needed support to expand Women Thrive’s and CBDF’s work in Burkina Faso, it will also increase the visibility and credibility of the program to attract new donors and contractors. Further, by educating agencies and contractors to make sure their programs are not unintentionally leaving women behind and boosting CBDF’s expertise on women’s issues, we have developed a path to increased financial and political sustainability for CBDF. Indeed, with the help of Women Thrive, CBDF is increasingly seen as a local gender expert, and agencies and contractors have expressed interest in working with CBDF to conduct outreach to raise awareness of laws and programs for men and women.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

In 2005, I traveled to Hambantota, Sri Lanka, where I met Shareena at her little roadside food stand, selling homemade snacks. A year after the 2004 tsunami, relief had poured in. However, signs of devastation were still everywhere: broken-down houses, boats beached on roads a mile from the shoreline, and tattered relief tents still being used as shelter.

Shareena had received a microcredit loan from a local women's organization, which was administering a U.S. aid-supported program to help women pick themselves back up. With her $50 loan, Shareena was able to rebuild her business: She bought a new stove that she made snacks on to sell near her home, supporting her son and disabled husband.

This, of course, is the kind of women's microcredit success story the world loves to hear. Women get small loans, work hard, and more than 95% of the time, they repay their loans. In fact, Women Thrive Worldwide (of which I am Co-founder and President), advocated with members of Congress to set up the post-tsunami, women-focused small-grants fund that enabled Shareena to get her loan.

However, while microcredit has earned its rightful place as a player in the global economy and as a tool to reduce poverty, I've also seen firsthand its limitations. Shareena and millions of women like her have to be more focused on repaying their debt than on investing in growing their business.

Microcredit produces micro-income, and, because of the unique barriers that women face, there's often no place beyond “micro” for women to go. For example, Shareena could never access the $5,000 loan she would need to expand her business because she doesn’t own land or any other collateral to obtain a loan.

There are more than one billion people worldwide living on a dollar a day or less, the majority of whom are women. We are not going to reach all of them with individual $100 loans. There is not enough microcredit, and microcredit is not enough.

Large-scale, sustainable change must address fundamental barriers that affect women. Because land is the most important (and often most inaccessible) asset for the world’s poor, system-changing solutions must include land and legal reform. Further, providing secure land rights to women gives women and their communities a foundation for economic growth. Investing in women’s land rights is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

Ritu Sharma is the President and Co-Founder of Women Thrive Worldwide (Women Thrive), and is a leading voice on international women’s issues and U.S. foreign policy. Due in large part to Ritu and Women Thrive Worldwide, the interests of women living in poverty worldwide are now being incorporated into U.S. economic assistance and trade policies and, in some cases, into U.S. law itself.

A first-generation American of East Indian heritage, Ritu's family left behind generations of violence and poverty in Punjab, India to build a new life in the United States. Her family’s legacy and her first-hand experience of the injustices suffered by women, combined with her strong belief that American citizens must ensure that the U.S. acts positively in the world, led Ritu to create Women Thrive Worldwide in 1998.

Ritu is an adept coalition builder, political strategist and communicator who has led numerous advocacy campaigns to success. In 1995, at age 26, she led a coalition of more than 100 organizations to influence the United Nations Summit on Social Development. Ritu also served on the official United States delegation to the Summit and later on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations General Assembly Session on Women, also known as “Beijing Plus Five.”

She continues to build and grow diverse coalitions that link women’s organizations from around the world with U.S. businesses, think tanks, and NGOs to rally their efforts to help women in poverty.

She is an eloquent public speaker, drawing on her personal stories, travels, unusual insights, and “out-of-the-box” thinking to inspire audiences to get involved to change women’s lives for the better.

Ritu holds a Bachelors of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

She is the author of An Introduction to Advocacy: A Training Guide, which has been translated into six languages and is a primary reference for advocates around the globe. She serves on the Board of Directors of InterAction and the Center for Global Engagement and has been regularly quoted on gender, global women’s issues, and U.S. foreign policy in many media outlets, including: The Washington Post, National Public Radio, The New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Fox News' Strategy Room, Washington News Channel 8. Ritu is also a founding member of Pax World Mutual Funds Women’s Advisory Council.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another source, please provide the information.

We heard about Changemakers through the Philanthropy News Digest.

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Policy advocacy to strengthen property rights or increase security of tenure, Legal education and awareness.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

Women Thrive works with its partners to explicitly secure land rights for women through law, policy, or program changes. We also support our local partners to educate the public of new programs and policies and how it would affect them so that they are culturally and socially enforceable.