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Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women - East Africa call

Call for Proposals

Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – East Africa

Date issued: July 29, 2020

Deadline for submission of proposals: August 31, 2020

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, IDRC is pleased to launch a call for action research proposals on Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – East Africa, with a focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.


1. Background

2. Thematic priorities

3. What type of projects qualify?

4. Who can apply?

5. Application process and proposal guidelines

6. Project duration and budget

7. Proposal review criteria

8. Research ethics

9. Open access

10. Country clearance requirements

11. Enquiries

12. Permission for use and disclosure of information

1. Background

The Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative seeks to spur transformative change to advance gender equality in the world of work.

GrOW East Africa is a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Canada’s IDRC. It builds on the legacy of the recently concluded multi-funder GrOW program.  

The barriers to women’s economic empowerment are much more persistent and complex than is often assumed, and solutions are not linear. Gendered social norms and hierarchies limit women’s opportunities and market access, in turn hindering their ability to reach their full potential.

Evidence from the GrOW program suggests that in the past two decades, occupational and sectoral segregation along gender lines has increased in more countries than it has decreased, regardless of changes in per capita incomes.[1] Moreover, women’s increasing entry into paid work has not been accompanied by a commensurate change in the gendered division of unpaid labour within the home, leading to women’s “time poverty”. [2]

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the need for urgent action. The pandemic has exposed structural gender barriers and entrenched gender inequalities. Its impact is expected to hit women the hardest, and we have seen from previous pandemics, including the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, that women suffer greater economic losses in a pandemic. Their incomes also take longer to return to normal. The increased gender-based violence witnessed around the world and the added burden of unpaid care work will further compound gender-based vulnerabilities. There is a risk that the combined impact could claw back progress made on gender equality. Responses to the pandemic must therefore take gender into account.

East Africa records a high rate of women’s participation in the labour market (up to 84% in some countries), although most work in the informal sector or as unpaid family labour. There is little evidence that women have moved out of traditional activities or have diversified the types of paid work they engage in, as is the case elsewhere. Although important strides have been made to reduce gender education gaps, inequalities in labour market outcomes persist. There is still significant work to be done in achieving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. 

With a focus on Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, GrOW East Africa will support locally grounded in-depth evaluative and action research to provide evidence, practical tools, and guidance to inform policies and actions to build a better and more equal world for women. The goal is to enhance the effectiveness of evidence-informed policies, programs, and interventions on unpaid care and the gender segregation of work to address persistent gender economic gaps in eastern Africa. It will do so by forging partnerships with local communities and public and private sector actors to identify and scale successful solutions for achieving women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the world of work.

GrOW East Africa’s objectives are to:

  • deepen the body of evidence on promoting decent work for women and removing constraints to better and more remunerative work;
  • generate stronger and novel evidence and insights from research and evaluation to drive programming, strategy, and policymaking on promoting women’s employment and removing constraints to work; and
  • enhance and mobilize Southern researchers and institutions to take leadership roles in research and evaluation on women’s work, and to generate credible evidence to guide policy and action.

2. Thematic priorities

GrOW East Africa aims to be transformative, focusing on decent work for women, both formal and informal, while considering the role of social norms and societal power dynamics that shape women’s choices and opportunities. Supported research will focus on two inter-related themes: tackling continued labour market segregation and employment gender gaps; and reducing and redistributing unpaid care work. Research will take an intersectional approach and will consider needs, priorities, and constraints on different categories of women.


In East Africa, a key challenge is ensuring that women have access to gainful and decent employment. This requires improving employment conditions in the sectors where women are concentrated and enabling entry into sectors where they are underrepresented.

Available data suggests that women in East Africa are more likely to work in the agriculture and retail sectors and less likely to work in the manufacturing, construction, and utilities sectors [3] that offer higher earning potential. They are also more likely to work in the informal sector (92%, compared to men at 86%), and as unpaid family labour. This scenario remains prevalent, despite women’s increased participation in the labour market. The continued phenomenon is driven by barriers such as skills gaps, access to finance, women’s unpaid care work burden, unfriendly work policies, and discriminatory laws. These interact with the local context and existing social norms to determine the extent of employment segregation.

A combination of policies and interventions targeted at enhancing women's capabilities and mitigating adverse gender norms and discriminatory policies can reduce gender labour market segregation and enhance the return to labour for East African women in both formal and informal employment.

GrOW East Africa seeks to foster women’s increased participation in non-traditional sectors and in better, higher-paying jobs. Evaluative and action research under this theme will focus on how to increase the entry, retention, and advancement of women in high value sectors[4] such as manufacturing, construction, utilities (including alternative/renewable energy), and export agriculture, as well as enhance the earning potential of women entrepreneurs. The focus will be on the following sub-themes.

Sub-theme 1: Skills building and work readiness programs for women to increase entry, retention, and advancement in under-represented sectors.

Research under this theme will focus on testing scalable solutions for providing women, especially young women transitioning from school to work, with technical, work readiness, and soft skills that enable them to enter sectors where women are underrepresented as wage workers or as entrepreneurs (manufacturing, construction, utilities/renewable energy, and export agriculture). The research will also address barriers and test different mechanisms for addressing adverse social norms and creating an enabling environment to promote women’s economic empowerment, including by harnessing and strengthening the potential of women’s advocacy organizations and collectives.

In particular, the research will seek to address the following key questions:

  • What models of work readiness programs are effective in facilitating women’s entry into high value sectors as workers or entrepreneurs (especially young women transitioning from school into the workplace and women entrepreneurs)? 
  • What strategies work at scale to address the social norms, barriers, and adverse workplace or market environment and processes that prevent women from advancing in high value sectors, often dominated by men, and how can these solutions be effectively integrated into government or private sector-led programs aimed at women’s economic advancement?

Sub-theme 2: Enhancing the effectiveness of government procurement programs in achieving women’s economic empowerment.

Research under this theme will focus on assessing the effectiveness of government procurement programs in boosting women’s economic prospects and on testing solutions. It will seek to understand and address barriers that women face, especially those in the informal economy, and test scalable solutions (e.g. business registration, strengthening women’s collective agency) to enable access to government procurement programs. Working with government, the private sector, and/or women’s business movements and alliances, supported projects will address the following key question:

  • How can public procurement programs be used as effective instruments to enhance women’s participation in high value sectors and work (e.g. do quotas work)? What additional elements and solutions are needed to make these instruments more effective, and how can they be integrated into current and future programs?


Unpaid care responsibilities fall disproportionally on women. In East Africa, women do three to five times more unpaid care work than men. Gendered social norms that view unpaid care work as a female prerogative compel women to spend a substantial part of their day meeting this expectation (in addition to their paid activities). There is growing recognition of the implications of this “double burden” on the kinds of economic activities women can engage in, their earning potential, and their overall wellbeing.[5] Unpaid care work limits women’s economic opportunities, depletes them mentally and physically through the double burden of paid and unpaid work, and transfers care responsibilities to young girls in the family. Despite women's workforce engagement, the widespread expectation that women in East Africa will handle unpaid care work remains.

Through action research that tests locally grounded and scalable models for reducing and redistributing unpaid care work, GrOW East Africa seeks to improve labour market outcomes for women. Supported research under this theme will focus on the three following sub-themes.

Sub-theme 1: Scalable childcare provisions.

Projects under this sub-theme will test scalable solutions for affordable and quality childcare — whether private sector, government, community-driven, or a combination thereof — that works for women. At the same time, it will deepen the evidence base on the impact of childcare on women’s economic wellbeing by reducing their unpaid care work burden and it will explore the role of women’s collective agency in influencing changes on childcare provision. Supported research will address the following key question:

  • What scalable models work for providing childcare services for different women, and how can these models remain affordable, safe, and have positive impacts on women’s economic participation and the burden of unpaid care work?

Sub-theme 2: Changing norms and public perceptions about unpaid care work.

Gender norms and stereotypes shape the traditional roles of men and women, especially unpaid care work. Projects under this theme will test tools and approaches individually or in combination to change norms and public perceptions about unpaid care work at scale and in cost-effective ways. Supported research under this theme will address the following key question:

  • What works to shift norms and public perceptions on unpaid care in a cost-effective way and at scale, and how can these changes be translated into shifts in attitudes, behaviour, and expectations, in turn leading to the redistribution of unpaid care work? 

Sub-theme 3: Technologies that reduce and redistribute unpaid care work.

Technology and access to infrastructure can reduce the amount of unpaid care work that women do — but this is not always the case. Certain technologies reduce the drudgery of women’s work without making the division of tasks more equitable. Projects under this theme will focus on identifying scalable technologies that both reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. It will explore how women (through their collective agency) can promote the scaling of and increase access to these technologies. Supported research under this theme will address the following key question:

  • What scalable and cost-effective technologies have the potential to reduce the unpaid care burden of women while ensuring more equitable sharing of these tasks in households? What models work for deploying these technologies scale?

All projects should seek to tap into the collective agency of women by strengthening women’s voices (by working with and strengthening women’s membership organizations and other collective action groups and civil society organizations that are already working on these issues) to achieve women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the world of work.

3. What type of projects qualify?

GrOW East Africa invites eligible applicants to submit proposals for evaluative or action/implementation research. In both cases, the emphasis is on testing solutions that can be brought to scale. The program will NOT fund descriptive studies. 

Evaluative projects focus on assessing current or past programs related to the GrOW East Africa thematic priorities to generate evidence on what works. These projects should partner with policymakers, the private sector, and/or civil society actors (as appropriate) to provide practical guidance to improve policies, programs, and interventions that promote women’s economic empowerment and gender equality through transformative actions that address structural barriers (such as social norms).

Action/implementation research projects with key policy actors — the government, private sector, or non-governmental actors — will be supported as appropriate to test and/or scale solutions that address one or more of the priority themes of GrOW East Africa. Such projects are designed to provide a continuous feedback loop in policy and program design and/or implementation, with researchers embedded in ongoing or new initiatives implemented by the government, the private sector, or other stakeholders.

Women’s disadvantages and opportunities are compounded by other factors such as race, religion, and socio-economic position. Therefore, funded projects are expected to adopt an intersectional approach by moving beyond treating women as a homogenous group to identify what interventions will work for different categories of women or specifying a clear target for their work (for example, young women transitioning out of school, rural women, women working in the informal economy). While a focus on women is important, research teams should also consider and address the other factors that affect women’s economic empowerment, including social norms and inequitable gender relations within and outside the home and within the workplace. Proposals should identify ways to address structural barriers such as social norms and institutional and policy barriers that impact women’s paid and unpaid work.

GrOW East Africa is looking for projects that can be implemented at scale, with the potential to impact thousands of beneficiaries in a cost-effective way. Projects should include a research and policy uptake pathway with clear policy or programming entry points, tools, approaches, and networks for research uptake built into the project design. Preference will be given to projects that embed their research within their country policy context and that engage key actors (policymakers, the private sector, civil society, and/or implementing agencies) throughout the research process while developing and packaging evidence in ways that can be used to inform policies and practices. GrOW East Africa seeks projects where researchers work with knowledge users throughout the research process (including the private sector and policymakers) to set strategic directions and priorities and to frame and conduct research into practical solutions that can be adopted. Projects should include a detailed research uptake strategy as part of their proposal.  

4. Who can apply?

Applicants that meet the following criteria are invited to apply:

  • Type of organization: Proposed projects must be undertaken by research-oriented institutions with legal corporate registration. The lead institution must be registered in one of the countries of focus: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and/or Tanzania. Proposed research may be carried out by a research institution, research consortia, think tank, or non-governmental organization with strong research capacity. Preference will be given to projects with multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary teams.

UN, donor, and multi-lateral organizations are NOT eligible to apply. Applications from individual persons will NOT be accepted.

  • Collaboration: Research consortia comprised of up to three institutional partners may apply, however one partner must be designated as the lead institution. The lead institution should submit the application to IDRC on behalf of the consortium. The lead institution will sign the grant agreement with IDRC and as such will be responsible for receiving and administering the funds and ensuring that all grant conditions are met. All other partners will be third-party organizations and IDRC will not enter into an agreement with them. Partnerships between research organizations, policymakers, the private sector, and civil society are highly recommended. A letter of support to show private or government stakeholder engagement is encouraged.
  • Countries of research focus: Proposed projects must be carried out in one or more of the following East African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and/or Tanzania.

Researchers/institutions may only be the lead organization for one proposal, however they may be included in multiple proposals.

5. Application process and proposal guidelines

All applications must be submitted using the online GrOW East Africa Application Form in either English or French. Acknowledgements of receipt will be sent to applicants whose application was received before the deadline (August 31, 2020).

Incomplete applications, applications received after the deadline, or applications with missing components will be not be considered for funding. Applications are only considered complete when each section is completed in full and all supporting documents are provided. Some of the information required includes:

Project summary: Project title, project duration, country(ies) where research will take place, estimated total budget, project abstract, selected theme(s), project type.

General information: Principal investigator, lead institution, participating institutions, overview of institutions, contact details.

Research proposal: Clear articulation of the research problem, research objectives, proposed methodology, expected outputs and outcomes, relevance and positioning for large scale impact including policy/program uptake strategy, research ethics, challenges, and risks. Further details are included in the online application form.

CVs of research team: Applications must include the CV of the principal investigator from the lead institution and CVs of the lead researchers of each participating institution (if applicable). Each CV must not exceed two (2) pages. 

Budget: Applicants must provide a detailed budget that follows the guidelines provided in the online application form.

Provisional timeline: Applicants must provide a provisional timeline that summarizes the main activities, outputs, and policy/program engagements.

Additional institutional documentation:

In order to enter into an agreement, IDRC must be satisfied that your organization (the applicant/lead institution) has independent legal status (or “legal personality”) and can contract in its own right and name. Please provide a copy of the legal documentation by which your organization was founded or created in the location in which it is based (applicable only if your organization has had no prior grants with IDRC). Such legal documentation varies depending on the location and type of organization.

By way of illustration (to assist you in providing the necessary documentation), such legal documentation issued by government authorities for private sector/non-governmental organizations may include:

  • letters patent;
  • articles of incorporation;
  • articles of association;
  • certificates of incorporation; and/or
  • certificates of registration.

Legal documentation for public institutions may include:

  • legislation (acts of a legislature), creating public sector or governmental/quasi-governmental bodies.

All applicants should also complete the Institutional Profile Questionnaire.

 6. Project duration and budget

Through an open competitive process, GrOW East Africa expects to fund ten to twelve projects.

For evaluation projects, there is a budget of up to CA$500,000 each for up to 24 months.

For action/implementation research projects, there is a budget of up to CA$700,000 each for up to 36 months.  

The final grant amount and the number of grants will be determined after the selection of proposals and assessment of value for money.

Applicants must complete IDRC’s Proposal Budget (also provided in the online application form). Budgets for each collaborating institution (where applicable) are required, as well as a consolidated budget by the applicant/lead institution.

  • Budgets must be submitted in the applicant’s working currency (the currency in which the books of accounts are maintained). However, as a Canadian Crown corporation, IDRC restricts all contractual obligations for grants and contributions to the approved Canadian dollar amount.
  • The amount of an IDRC grant is based on the forecast costs of the project at the exchange rate between the working currency of the project and the Canadian dollar at the time the project is approved.
  • Budget notes are an essential part of IDRC's due diligence and form an integral part of the approval process. The rationale and support for arriving at each budget figure allows IDRC to understand the activities to be undertaken, their impact on project costs, and the reasonability of the cost estimates.
  • Please see Section D: Proposed Budget and Timeline for more information on budget categories and allowable expenses.
  • Please note that when the law limits banking transactions by Canadian financial institutions in a particular country, IDRC will not undertake any form of programming in that country that directly or indirectly results in Canadian funds flowing to it.

7. Proposal review criteria

All proposals will be evaluated by the same evaluation criteria, independent of grant size. The final selection process will consider the need for a balanced portfolio of projects engaging a variety of researchers, themes, and countries.

Each proposal will be assessed on the criteria below by a review committee comprised of technical experts (within IDRC and externally) and grant administrators.

Assessment criteria

Weighting (%)


  • Alignment of the proposal to the objectives, themes, and scope of the call.
  • Clear demonstration and justification that the proposed work addresses critical gaps in evidence and policy in the countries of the research.
  • Approach proposed in the research has clear potential to address identified issues and evidence gaps.
  • A clear integration of gender analysis in the research design, implementation, and analysis of findings, as well as the policy/program uptake strategy. 


Quality and rigour of the research

  • Research questions and objectives are clearly articulated, specific, and answerable.
  • Methodology is rigorous and appropriate for answering the research questions.
  • Methodology includes evidence of use of intersectional and multidisciplinary approaches.
  • Research approach is innovative and adds to the field/topic of research.
  • Research has the potential to generate new and scalable evidence and/or solutions.


Policy/program uptake strategy

  • Proposal has clear plans for uptake and capacity to generate program- and policy-relevant outputs in line with the context of the country of study.
  • Quality of in-country stakeholder analysis and feasibility of the proposed approach for stakeholder engagement to facilitate evidence use by a broader group of in-country stakeholders (including policymakers, the private sector, and civil society).
  • Clear plans and commitment from stakeholders (letter of support) to engage relevant stakeholders at different stages of the research process (including the private sector, civil society, and policymakers).
  • Proposal includes clear indicators for measuring uptake and plans for monitoring them.


Quality of research team

  • Strength of team composition, including capacity to integrate a range of relevant disciplines to the topic of research.
  • Track record of research team, including internationally acknowledged research outputs on the topic of the research (e.g. peer-reviewed publications), experience, and expertise with policy engagement and policy influence, and in using evidence to influence practice and scale interventions.
  • Capacity and experience with implementation research, including in building partnerships to facilitate research uptake and scaling successful interventions.
  • Clear implementation strategy and shared ownership between research partners.


Value for money

  • Proposal includes a clear results-based budget.
  • Scale and scope of the project and potential uptake of results justifies the size of the budget.
  • Budget reflects shared ownership among research collaborators.




 8. Research ethics

IDRC requires that research involving human subjects be carried out in accordance with the highest ethical standards. When relevant, grantees will need to obtain approval from an official institutional or national research ethics body, for which the process must be specified in the proposal.

In countries where it is not possible to obtain national ethics approval, the application must propose mechanisms for setting up an ethics review committee for the project and grantees are expected to submit the ethics and security protocols to IDRC.

9. Open access

IDRC’s approach to open access is based on the belief that the full social and economic benefits of research in support of development should be available to everyone who can use and build on it to improve people’s lives. For the purposes of this initiative, all research outputs must be made available to the public on an open access basis. Details regarding open access requirements may be found in the sample general terms and conditions below.

 10. Country clearance requirements

IDRC has conducted general agreements for scientific and technical cooperation with a number of governments. These agreements establish the framework for IDRC cooperation with that country by defining the rights and obligations of both IDRC and the government. As such, the applicant institution may be required to obtain country approval in accordance with these agreements prior to receiving funding from IDRC. This requirement applies only for selected applications. IDRC reserves the right to not pursue the funding of a selected project if the country approval is not secured within six months after IDRC officially announces approval of the project, as this would jeopardize the timely completion of the initiative.

Any selected proponents will be required to sign IDRC’s standard grant agreement specific to this GROW initiative, which reflects donors’ specific requirements, and is not negotiable. In the case of research consortia, the applicant/lead institution will sign the grant agreement with IDRC and will be responsible for receiving and administering the funds and ensuring that all grant conditions are met. Please refer to this sample of general terms and conditions specific to this GROW initiative.  

11. Enquiries

Any enquiries related to the call and application process should be sent by e-mail to Enquiries that affect all applicants will be added to the FAQs with IDRC’s responses to those inquiries (without revealing the source of the inquiries).

12. Permission for use and disclosure of information

By submitting an application under this call for competitive grants, the applicant consents to the disclosure of the documents submitted by the applicant to the reviewers involved in the selection process, both within IDRC and externally.

The applicant further consents to the disclosure of the name of the applicant, the name of the lead researcher, and the name of the proposed project in any announcement of selected proposals.

All personal information collected by IDRC about grant, scholarship, and fellowship applicants is used to review applications, to administer and monitor awards, and to promote and support international development research in Canada and in the regions where IDRC operates. Consistent with these purposes, applicants should expect that information collected by IDRC may be used and disclosed in IDRC-supported activities.

[1] Heintz, James, (2018). Stalled progress: recent research on why labor markets are failing women, IDRC; Klasen, Stephan, (2017), What explains uneven female labor force participation levels and trends in developing countries? GLM-LIC Synthesis Paper No. 7, October 2017

[2] Deepta Chopra with Elena Zambelli (2017). No Time to Rest: Women’s Lived Experiences of Balancing Paid Work and Unpaid Care Work, Institute of Development Studies/GrOW.

[3] Euromonitor International. 2020. Women’s Economic Empowerment in East Africa: An analysis of the literature and data. GrOW 2 Working Paper Series #1: IDRC

[4] World Bank. 2019. Tackling the Global Profitarchy: Gender and the Choice of Business Sector. Policy Research working paper; no. WPS 8865. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

[5] See for example, OECD (2019). Breaking Down Barriers to Women's Economic Empowerment: Policy approaches to unpaid care work, OECD Policy Papers March 2019 No. 18; UN Women (2018). Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment: Recognizing and Investing in the Care Economy, UN Women Issue Paper May 2018; Oxfam (2017). An Economy that Works for Women: Achieving Women's Economic Empowerment in an Increasingly Unequal World, Oxfam briefing paper, March 2017.