A prominent poverty graduation program for women in rural northern Kenya has had big financial impacts, according to new results from an ongoing study led from UC Davis.

by Alex Russell | May 09, 2022: The USAID-supported impact evaluation has found that The BOMA Project’s Rural Entrepreneur Assess Project (REAP) in Samburu County, Kenya significantly increased business assets, income and savings for most participants with additional benefits for nearby women who did not take part in the program. These results were reported at a Washington, D.C. event on April 21, 2022 at the National Press Club.

“On average, women who participated in REAP generated a lot of income and savings while preserving the value of their initial asset grant,” said Michael Carter, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk & Resilience and the study’s principal investigator. “We also found variation in psychological assets, such as levels of depression, that appear to drive who benefits from the program.”

Increased Assets, Income and Savings

Since 2018, Carter has led the impact evaluation on REAP, The BOMA Project’s flagship program, which provides training, mentorship and asset grants to small groups of women to start businesses. Targeted at the poorest women in communities across Samburu County, REAP sets out to build tangible material assets as well as intangible psychological assets, such as the self-confidence to succeed.

The study found that REAP participants who had just completed the 24-month program had, on average, 324% more in business assets, 32% more in total annual household cash income and 509% more in cash savings than non-participants in communities where no REAP programming took place.

Those benefits generated a total return-on-investment (ROI), also called a benefit-cost ratio, of 3.1, meaning that every $1 invested in REAP delivers about $3 in benefits to communities in Samburu. This ROI was driven in part by spillovers from REAP participants to women in their communities who were eligible for REAP but who were not offered to join.

Carter has also found evidence that these benefits come in part from how REAP changed participants’ desire for economic advancement.

“When you lift constraints that hold people back in life, what people want also seems to change,” said Carter.

Depression Blunts the Benefits of Programming

Carter and his team found that women’s levels of depression going into REAP determined whether they would benefit from the program. Women experiencing severe depression, which was roughly 30 percent of all women in the study, had almost no benefit from participating in the program.

Sam Owilly, chief scaling officer for The BOMA Project, said that these high levels of depression are representative of the substantial shocks and stresses women in the region face in their daily lives. These include an increased likelihood of drought caused by climate change as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and even geopolitical dynamics like the war in Ukraine.

“I think the correlation between economic viability and psychological wellbeing is actually the groundbreaking outcome of this experiment,” said Owilly. “We’re going to be a bit more intentional in factoring in psychological and mental health in terms of targeting.”