Courtenay Cabot Venton
Courtenay Cabot Venton is an international development economist. She works with large institutional donors and foundations, as well as non-profits, to figure out what is working, and what isn’t, when it comes to poverty reduction. Five years ago, Courtenay was asked to evaluate a Self Help Group (SHG) program in Ethiopia. She was blown away by the changes that these women were making in their communities – setting up schools, starting small businesses, advocating for access to services, and stopping childhood marriage. She spearheaded the development of a digital platform to support SHG facilitators, and that project is now being delivered in 9 languages with an ever growing base of partner organizations across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. She co-founded The Share Trust in 2018 because she saw a mounting interest in the ability of SHGs to create transformational change in their communities, and she wanted to support the ecosystem of organizations working in this space, and to bring together the evidence and learning that would allow donors and philanthropists to increase the size and impact of their philanthropic investments.
Julia Lowe is a consultant who works on strategy and research with social change organizations. She spent five years at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where she was a Program Officer and Advisor in the office of Co-‐Chair Melinda Gates; her portfolio of grants focused on platforms and programs that aim to reduce information asymmetries and accelerate social change, including self-help groups and innovative models of behavior change communication. Previously, she worked at The Clinton Foundation in Liberia and Jamaica, where she supported the government on health system strengthening initiatives, and as part of a University of Washington / Microsoft Research team that was investigating the impact of low-cost technologies on behavior change. Julia's work with self-help groups and other women's groups has inspired a portfolio of research to both understand how social networks may accelerate social change, and how external institutions, including philanthropy, can support them.
Nivedita Narain is a Professor, practitioner-‐researcher, and leader in the Indian SHG movement. Through her action research in Rajasthan, India she pioneered the concept of India’s first SHG programme in 1987 and in the early 1990’s she organized SHGs in Brooklyn, with immigrant women. She worked with the social development unit at the World Bank as it was formulating its initial policies around the value of Self Help Groups and their role in financial inclusion. She was a founding member of PRADAN, and she has remained a leader in the organization for 31 years, building their HR systems and philosophies, and building their engagement with academic and research partners to develop new insights about PRADAN’s work in the broader context of economic and social development. Following her PhD, she has pursued research and academic opportunities that will build the field of SHGs and better understand processes of social transformation.
Soledad Artiz Prillaman
Soledad Artiz Prillaman is a political scientist currently completing a post-doc at Oxford University, after which she will join the faculty of Stanford University in the department of political science. Her research focuses on comparative political economy, economic development, and gender, with a regional focus in India. Her academic research agenda seeks to shed light on the efficacy of Self Help Groups to bring about transformative social change.
In 2014, while conducting field research in India for her dissertation project, Soledad happened to meet with the incredible team at PRADAN. This meeting was where she was first introduced to SHGs. She was immediately taken by their approach to women’s empowerment through Self Help Groups and realized an immense desire to learn more about how these institutions function and what impacts they have on women’s lives. Soledad and PRADAN embarked on a multi-year collaborative research project to evaluate how and when SHGs improve women’s agency and voice. This research has highlighted the potential for SHGs to mobilize women, reduce gender-based political inequalities, and shift the nature of development. Through this work, Soledad has come to see how rigorous evidence on SHGs can inform our broader understanding of women’s empowerment, social change, and development.
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