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Enhancing economic empowerment

Improving lives and livelihoods

All of the research that IDRC supports leads to one core goal: contributing to positive change in the lives of people in the developing world.

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This year’s Annual Report focuses on Enhancing economic empowerment because of the Centre’s significant and diverse knowledge and thought leadership in this area. Enhancing economic empowerment — individually and as a group — means helping people to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic growth in ways that recognize the value of their contributions, respect their dignity, and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth. This work embraces social and environmental objectives along with economic goals.

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New products, fewer losses, higher incomes

Breakthrough research by Canadian, Indian, and Sri Lankan researchers led to the development of nine promising innovations to prevent the post-harvest loss of mangoes and other soft fruits. The poor handling of mangoes, for example, can result in post-harvest losses of up to 35%.

Initial research for this CIFSRF project saw scientists in India and Sri Lanka testing nanotech applications of a natural plant extract called hexanal. Spraying mango orchards with a low concentration of the compound slowed fruit ripening by three weeks, enabling farmers to demand a premium price in the market. Applying the hexanal spray after harvest increased the fruit’s shelf life by up to 17 days.

The team also developed hexanal-impregnated packaging, made from materials such as banana fibre, to protect the fruit during shipping to overseas markets. Additionally, hands-on training on producing mango-based pickles, sweets, and other foods has helped women enhance their household income by 10%.


Together with institutions in Kenya, Tanzania, and Trinidad and Tobago, the research team is building on this success by studying hexanal applications with other fruits under various growing conditions.

A shared patent and Memorandum of Understanding was signed in March 2018 for the commercial production of the hexanal nanotechnology called “enhanced freshness formulation”. This agreement between Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Smart Harvest Canada, and the University of Guelph, paves the way to scale up and make this nanotechnology available to farmers in the Tamil Nadu region through commercial production.

Learn more about the mango-saving molecule


Boosting potato production and nutrition

In January, Colombian news media reported that sales of new, nutritious yellow potatoes would exceed all expectations by reaching 13 million consumers — the original target was 1.5 million. Three new potato varieties are the result of a CIFSRF project carried out by Colombian and Canadian universities. By marrying scientific knowledge and traditional practices, they developed potato varieties that yield 15% more than traditional varieties, are twice as resistant to late blight disease, contain double the amount of protein, and have nearly 20% more iron and zinc.

The improved cultivars have increased the incomes of more than 4,000 farmers by almost 18%, have high commercial potential, and are popular with consumers. Researchers are now supporting the marketing, adoption, and consumption of the new varieties.


Despite the high potential for scaling up production, previous research has shown that the availability of more nutritious potatoes and increased incomes are not sufficient to overcome malnutrition in smallholder families. This prompted the team to develop a model that includes communication, nutrition, and education strategies to increase food diversity. Recognizing the important role women play in the potato value chain, the team established Schools for Leaders in Food Security and Nutrition to train indigenous women to become community leaders in using improved agricultural, nutritional, and dietary practices. To date, more than 300 leaders have completed the course.

Read more about expanding the adoption of nutritious, disease-resistant potatoes in Colombia


Better food security and livelihoods

Poor soil fertility and land degradation contribute to low yields of inferior quality indigenous vegetables in West Africa. Innovations resulting from two CIFSRF projects — improved farming and post-harvest practices, fertilizer micro-dosing, and rainwater harvesting techniques — are now being deployed together by a team of researchers from Canada, Benin, and Nigeria to accelerate the adoption of the techniques.  

Successful promotional campaigns have increased demand for the vegetables and have led to 338,000 farmers (51% women) using these farming techniques. Engaging traditional leaders has helped farmers to secure more land, and, over a three-year period, the land devoted to these crops has increased eight-fold (from 10,090 hectares to 81,686 hectares). It is primarily women (72%) who have led the marketing of the indigenous vegetables in both countries, and the success of their marketing has increased revenue by approximately 120% in Nigeria and 90% in Benin.

The project facilitated access to improved seeds for various indigenous vegetables in both Nigeria and Benin, and a system was developed with farmers, universities, and the private sector to ensure that quality seed production continues. In addition, a microfinance scheme with favourable repayment conditions and low interest rates was developed in Nigeria to provide small loans to vegetable farmers.  

The project is also developing value-added methods to increase consumption of leafy and nutritious indigenous vegetables. Solar dryers are being tested, as are various foods containing the vegetables in powdered or slurry form. Frozen leafy vegetables and vegetable-enhanced products, ranging from syrups to bread, are proving to be attractive to consumers and are generating new market opportunities, particularly for women entrepreneurs. Government agencies are also helping to explore export potential. The team has also unveiled opportunities for new products in the nutraceutical industry based on vegetable extracts.

Learn more about how West African farmers are boosting yields and profits with less fertilizer


Fostering the economic inclusion of the most vulnerable

According to the World Bank Group’s 2017 Global Findex survey, approximately 1.7 billion adults (56% women) globally do not have a bank account, and virtually all of these unbanked adults live in the developing world. Reasons for not having a bank account include cost, distance, and distrust in the financial system. Women face specific gender-based constraints, including insufficient collateral, lack of financial literacy, and restricted mobility. Social norms also play a role in preventing women from accessing and using financial services.


However, access to formal financial services can help the world's poorest people prosper by reducing their vulnerability and providing a safe place to accumulate savings for emergencies, education, and other expenses. Savings are particularly important for women because they help them plan for the future, cope with risks, build their self-confidence, and strengthen their decision-making power.

With IDRC and Ford Foundation support, the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos and Fundación Capital have led a regional initiative called Proyecto Capital to find practical ways of helping the poorest people access and use appropriate financial services. Since its inception, this program has established relationships with key public and private stakeholders, signing 23 technical assistance agreements with government social protection programs and 18 with banks and credit unions throughout the region.

Proyecto Capital’s key innovation was to leverage government conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs to promote financial inclusion among the poor. As a result, government programs have progressively moved away from providing transfers in cash to making electronic payments through bank accounts or mobile money, which improves safety, efficiency, and enhances transparency. But facilitating access is not enough. Proyecto Capital efforts also helped millions of poor women to strengthen their financial capabilities to be able to use these formal financial services.

Working with financial services providers, Proyecto Capital has helped develop innovative pro-poor financial savings products and facilitated access through alternative delivery channels. For example, it harnessed technology to build financial capabilities and foster the use of savings accounts and mobile money in countries like Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru. It has also helped more than five million vulnerable women and youth take the first steps toward financial inclusion by providing financial education. Using innovative methods such as micro-entrepreneurship apps, online games and quizzes, and even short television soap operas, Proyecto Capital is building capacity and confidence among underserved groups to help them benefit from formal financial services.

By working with the government and the private sector, Proyecto Capital has reached 14 countries and aims to ensure that at least 10 million people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean will have access to, and use, an array of financial services.

Read more about promoting financial inclusion among Latin American youth


Toward a networked economy

Myanmar is one of the great Internet stories of recent years. After being virtually cut off from the rest of the world, millions of people have come online in only a few years. Access to the Internet and other means of connectivity has become indispensable to modern life. It is a crucial means for governments, businesses, and individuals to support economic growth, social development, and the functioning of a democracy.

In its transition to an inclusive information society, Myanmar needed to deal with multiple challenges, including gaps in telecommunications infrastructure and electricity provision, as well as skills gaps that limited people's ability to take full advantage of the Internet and devices to access it.

Buddhist nuns taking photos of each other in Myanmar

With IDRC support, LIRNEasia undertook evidence-based, empirical research to give policymakers, regulators, and telecommunications operators the information they needed to make decisions about how best to increase access. An inaugural nationwide survey on mobile phone and Internet usage, as well as communications needs, began in March 2015.

The results of this survey and a follow-up in 2016 were shared with policymakers and regulators, directly and through courses organized for policy actors by LIRNEasia and its non-governmental research partner, the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization. The timely results of these surveys informed the draft of Myanmar’s new five-year Universal Service Strategy.

Released in January 2018, this strategy addresses issues such as affordability, device ownership, and the need to boost digital skills. The strategy also includes considerations for a Universal Services Fund to ensure underserved areas gain connectivity at a price they can afford. LIRNEasia’s input on measures needed to provide access to ICTs by the disabled is also reflected in the strategy.

Learn more about mobile phones, the Internet, and gender in Myanmar

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Affordable childcare to unlock women’s earning power

Balancing childcare and income generation is a problem faced by mothers around the world. In a community like Nairobi’s Korogocho slum, where some 200,000 people eke out a precarious living, there are few safety nets. Here, the loss of an income can easily push a family into debt and crippling poverty.

As part of the GrOW program, the African Population and Health Research Center, in collaboration with McGill University, carried out research to explore the relationship between affordable, quality childcare services and women’s ability to earn a living. The results are now being widely disseminated to contribute to conversations with Kenyan government and private sector partners on potential sustainable funding options to expand the scope and quality of childcare services.


More than 1,200 Korogocho mothers participated in the project, through which they received vouchers for free childcare services. Retraining caregivers and providing material support also helped improve the quality of care in selected childcare centres. The goal was to test whether affordable and quality childcare is one of the factors preventing women from gaining decent work, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where childcare occupies a significant amount of women’s time.


Within the first year, subsidized access to childcare increased women’s economic participation. Mothers in the study were able to work fewer hours while increasing their earnings. The percentage of working mothers increased from 48.9% among those without free childcare to 57.4% of those receiving subsidies. The 8.5% increase brings the mothers closer to the levels of male labour force participation, in an environment where jobs and income-generating activities are hard to come by.

Could affordable daycare be the key to unlocking women’s earning power in Africa?


Turning an environmental risk into an economic win

Innovative techniques developed through an IDRC International Research Chair program are helping clean up Morocco’s abandoned mines while generating valuable construction materials. These innovations in recycling mine waste could provide marginalized communities with meaningful employment while addressing the environmental and health impacts of mining debris. 

Over the decades, more than 200 mines in Morocco have been closed. Often abandoned without proper decommissioning, these mines pose significant environmental and health risks to surrounding communities.

To solve this problem, Rachid Hakkou at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh and Mostafa Benzaazoua at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue pooled their unique expertise to generate the first map showing which mines were leaching harmful chemicals. They then developed a targeted, cost-effective technique to contain acid mine drainage.

The solution lay in pitting one mine’s waste against another. At the abandoned Kettara mine, a pyrrhotite ore mine, the researchers took advantage of the abundance of carbon-rich phosphate mine waste from a neighbouring mine to create an absorbent shield that retains and then releases rainwater through evaporation. This “store-and-release cover” prevents rainwater from oxidizing the mine waste and releasing acids that contaminate soil and groundwater.

Numerous trials confirmed the shield’s effectiveness. The team then scaled up the tests with the help of a Moroccan phosphate mining company to create a store-and-release cover over the entire mine site, a first in North and West Africa.

The idea of using one mine’s waste to neutralize another’s informed subsequent research into the potential uses of non-acidic mine waste. By mixing coal waste with local clay, researchers manufactured mortar, concrete, artificial stones, and bricks that meet international standards for mechanical and durability properties, as well as environmental performance. If successful, innovation in mine waste recycling could provide marginalized communities with meaningful employment while addressing the environmental and health impacts of mining debris. 

The project’s success earned the two researchers the prestigious Hassan II Prize for the Environment, awarded by Morocco’s Ministry of Mines, Water and Environment.

Learn more about working wonders with mine waste


Corporate governance

The Board of Governors is responsible for the stewardship of the Centre: it sets strategic direction and oversees operations. The Board acts and conducts all of its business in accordance with the IDRC Act, IDRC General By-laws, and governance best practices.

Go to Governance 


IDRC is accountable to Parliament and all Canadians for our use of public resources. Here are some of the measures in place that help us meet or exceed the standards set by the Government of Canada for accountability and transparency.

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Management’s Discussion and Analysis and Financial statements

The Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) provides a narrative discussion of the financial results and operational changes for the financial year ended 31 March 2018. This discussion should be read alongside the Financial Statements, which were prepared in accordance with International Financial Reporting Standards.

Read: Management's Discussion and Analysis and Financial statements for 2017-2018 (PDF, 2MB) 

Read the full Annual Report 2017-2018


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