Mars Women Empowerment Plan

By Sarah Schaefer, Global Corporate Sustainability Director, Mars Chocolate Limited

Mars Women Empowerment Plan


Women provide approximately 45% of the labor in cocoa supply chains, yet they face discrimination in access to resources compared to their male counterparts. They often work unpaid on family farms and are not always viewed as “farmers”. Low education, poor access to health services and limited training greatly disadvantage women (and their families) from accessing resources that will better shape their livelihoods. They suffer time poverty – not only must they carry out farm work, they are also responsible for social responsibilities like cooking, cleaning and raising children. As well as contributing to cocoa labor, women provide 80% of the labor required for growing food crops.

Mars’ work

Launched in June 2015 in partnership with CARE International and the International Center for Research on Women, our Women’s Empowerment Plan is a pilot program in communities in Côte d’Ivoire to improve economic and social opportunities for women. Key focus areas include:

  • Improving access to training and production inputs for women farmers
  • Supporting women to improve their personal and family livelihoods
  • Increasing women’s leadership and community decision-making
  • Engaging with men and boys to address gender inequalities in households and communities
  • Advancing research into causes of women’s lack of participation and discrimination.

One of the main tactics to empower women in the agricultural sector is to increase women’s access to credit and other financial tools and services. Using CARE’s Village Savings & Loans Association (VSLA) methodology[1], Mars is enabling women to set up income-generating activities and become economically empowered.

Results and findings

In the first year of implementation, more than 60 groups of women in 14 communities established VSLAs; more than two thirds of these are already distributing loans. More than 1,500 women in those groups had received financial skills training.

The transformative effects of economically empowering women ripples through their households, communities, local economies, and beyond. Some benefits include:

  • Households enjoy improved livelihoods
  • Because women are caregivers, they invest more in next generations (e.g. nutrition and education)
  • Business productivity is catalyzed because there is a larger empowered workforce
  • Enhanced poverty reduction
  • Better gender equality leads to improved joint decision-making and social cohesion.

When households become more resilient, they are better able to cope with shocks and become less risk-averse. Coupled with financial training and empowerment delivered through the VSLAs, this enables women and their families to increase investment in cocoa farms, leading to greater productivity and a more sustainable crop. Ultimately this generates significant business benefits for companies like Mars, that source from these empowered communities.

Lessons learnt and how to scale:

Early on in our journey, we partnered with the International Institute for Research on Women (ICRW) to develop KPis and help us develop a theory of change to enable us to build a business model approach. This allowed us to position women economic empowerment as a strategy to deliver against our cocoa strategy rather than a stand-alone initiative. As a result, we are now in a position to work on scaling the findings of the pilot in our supply chain as we have a strong M&E framework which helps us understand how additional investment would accelerate our strategic goal to secure a sustainable cocoa supply chain.

[1] This approach to microfinance encourages women in poor communities to set up their own savings and loan groups, enabling them to save money, and lend to each other when the need arises (such as illness or falls in incomes) or when opportunity beckons (such as the chance to start a new business).

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