Business Training Makes a Difference for Women Entrepreneurs, Our Randomized Control Trial Shows
With a currently struggling global economy and an increase in poverty for the first time in decades, the need for proven economic mobility solutions is greater than ever.
We at Street Business School champion small business ownership as a way for people of all backgrounds and education levels to break free from poverty and give their families a better life. Our six-month entrepreneurship training and coaching program has helped thousands of women across 25 countries gain the skills and confidence they need to start their own businesses and build their family income.
We knew our programs worked, as we saw our graduates grow into successful female entrepreneurs, but we never worked with a third party to qualify and quantify our impact — until now.
To determine the difference Street Business School really makes for women living in poverty, researchers from MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in the U.S. and Universidad del Rosario in Colombia conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) of our programming, the gold standard for measuring impact.
The trial analyzed the outcomes of hundreds of Ugandan women from 2018 to 2021, comparing those who received SBS training with a control group who did not. Among the findings, SBS graduates increased their incomes by an average of 95 percent within 18 months of completing their training, from $2.47 per day to $4.82 per day on average.
These findings mean the world to us. Beyond numbers on a page, these figures represent lives changed, women who have learned to believe in themselves, and communities that are made stronger by a burgeoning network of resilient new entrepreneurs.
As such, the women who participated in the study aren’t merely “subjects.” They are our true partners in this effort to find actionable ways to lift communities around the world from poverty through the contribution of women. To strengthen and maintain this partnership, we went beyond gathering data. We went into the communities for a “data walk,” in which we shared the results of the trial with the women who participated and gathered their feedback to inform our next steps.
“What we learned in the data work is going to change the way we do things,” says Margret Mugaba of our Uganda team, who led the engagement with program participants.
Taking it to the streets: Inside the “data walk” in Uganda that unveiled the results of our randomized control trial
The randomized control trial included 940 women from five communities, all within 50 kilometers of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. Each was asked to blindly select a piece of candy from a bag to determine her study group assignment:
- Group A received the full SBS curriculum, along with three one-on-one coaching visits with SBS staff at the participant’s business or home.
- Group B received SBS training on the same schedule as Group A, and were strongly encouraged to sign up for scheduled one-on-one coaching visits at the training site.
- Group C was the control group and did not receive any training.
While the study was conducted by independent researchers, Street Business School’s team in Kampala was a key partner, selecting the focus communities for the study, registering the participants and conducting the trainings.
In April, they returned to the communities to meet with hundreds of women and discuss the results of the trial. “The participants were really, really excited when they got to know the results,” says Mugaba, who most know as “Coach Maggie,” an SBS program assistant who focuses on measuring and evaluating impact data.
Like our business training curriculum itself, the data walk used local context to make complicated information more digestible for participants across education levels. To compare income changes among the three groups, for example, Mugaba and her team used stacks of bar soap in different colors. “This is something that any Ugandan woman understands, because it resonates with her community,” Mugaba says. “If we just talked about percentages, they would never get to know, but using local materials made it easier for them.”
Surprises and lessons learned
Group B — those who opted into coaching sessions at the training site — frequently had the best outcome of the three, reaching 149 percent higher revenues than those of the control group by the end of the study. This is a significant increase in success that speaks to the value of on-site training.
These findings indicate that an on-demand coaching model creates more robust results. But that came as a surprise to Mugaba and her team. “Over the years we’ve seen that this coaching works when we come to the women’s home or business, but to our surprise those that were never visited performed better,” Mugaba says. On-site coaching is also about 30 percent more cost-effective to provide, making it clear this is the model to pursue going forward to maximize business growth.
Another surprise? The control group made big gains, too. Over 65 percent of them started business ventures and were steadily building their profits by the end of the study. “That was really a shock,” Mugaba says, “and we had a focus discussion with the participants to find out why.”
Those in the control group received weekly SMS messages asking for income data, so economic mobility was already on their minds. But they also live in the same community as the women in the other groups, going to the same shops, attending the same church, and using the same community services. Many, we later learned, even shared the same household.
“You may find that my mother lands in Group A while I land in the control group. The chance is that I will emulate what she has learned or what she’s putting into her business,” Mugaba explains. One woman from group C said, “I admired how they were doing it because I saw some of them did have businesses and they started, so I got a push and thought, ‘How about I also learn from them and start a business, even if I’ve not yet been trained?’”
Learning from resilient entrepreneurs
That the trial participants increased their incomes during the most significant economic shock in a century is telling, but that’s not to say they haven’t faced challenges. “For most of them right now, they say things are a bit tough because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s changed everything,” Mugaba says. “There’s also currently a general price increase in things because of high fuel prices, and that also in the long run affects how they’re doing business.”
Among other psychometric outcomes, the trial analyzed grit, which measures women’s perceptions of their ability to cope with challenges like these and persevere. Group B had, on average, a 3 to 4 percent higher score on the grit scale than the control, an increase that is in line with interventions that explicitly target grit. This provides valuable insights to best prepare successful entrepreneurs for all economic conditions and other challenges.
“From my personal perspective, I feel the SBS training is needed now more than ever before,” Mugaba says. “The training teaches resilience for someone to be able to get up even when things are hard or to identify opportunities in the community other than the ones they have known before.” Indeed, a number of participants pivoted to new businesses after their first ventures were shuttered by COVID-19 lockdowns.
Members of the control group had the opportunity to register for SBS training during the data walk. Nearly all of them did — and they’re now about halfway through a training that will be heavily influenced by the data walk and the insights their peers shared. SBS is dedicated to the continual betterment of women business owners and their entrepreneurial success.
“We should continue disseminating results because one, it is ethically correct to share results with participants. But secondly, it’s a learning point, both for the coaches and for the participants,” Mugaba says. “We are already starting to implement some of the things that we got from the results and from the reactions of the women who participated. Some of those practices are now going to go into the control group as they go through that training.”