Economic and Social Empowerment (EA$E) for Refugee Families

Through a pioneering program combining financial capabilities and gender equality, the IRC supports refugee families’ economic empowerment.

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Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

New York: New York (10168); Arizona: Phoenix (85302); California: San Diego (92020), Los Angeles (91206), Sacramento (95825), Turlock (95382), San Jose (95128); Washington: Seattle (98148); Utah: Salt Lake City (84110); Georgia: Atlanta (30345); Texas: Dallas (75206); Maryland: Baltimore (21218)

Focus Areas (required)

  • Human Rights & Equality

Date Started


Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)


  • over $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

Twitter URL

Facebook URL

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Refugees arrive to the US and are faced with significant economic uncertainty and asset/income loss while navigating a different culture and language. Financial instability can threaten family and relationship functioning, often due in part to abrupt changes in traditional gender roles. The combination of limited financial skills, economic pressure and relationship stress can be devastating to families and may contribute to family violence.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

IRC’s international programs developed the Economic and Social Empowerment (EA$E) framework to support women’s economic empowerment by coupling income-generating activities for women with a structured discussion series for the women and their spouses on gender dynamics. Together they learn how gender norms function at the household level, often conspiring to limit women’s opportunities. Then, they envision ways to cooperatively embrace changes in her earnings and in the family dynamic. This award will support the adaptation of the EA$E approach to the context of refugee families in the US, in order to promote family economic wellbeing, reduce risk of domestic violence and ensure gender equitable outcomes. IRC aims to incorporate the gender discussion groups from the EA$E model into IRC’s robust financial capability programming, leveraging the safe and familiar context of the IRC office to promote both financial and domestic behavior change. IRC’s existing financial capability services are bundled and encompass classroom training and financial coaching and counseling – these will be augmented with gender discussion groups to encourage gender equity in family finances.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Through a randomized control trial evaluation of the EA$E framework from 2010-2013, participants described the benefits of engaging in gender discussion groups. One male participant explained his experience, “Before, when I had money, I spent it alone. But from now on, when I have money, I do not spend it alone anymore; I present it to my wife so that we make expenditure for the family.” Another participant explained “… we learned how to live with your wife in the house in order not to have of argument, how to save our goods, how to raise our children so that they can succeed.” These testimonials, along with many others from participants, show the impact of programming on family finances, familial relationships, and overall wellbeing. Engaging men and women in women’s economic empowerment has been identified as an important long-term strategy to improve gender equity.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

In the US the IRC helps immigrant families uprooted by war and persecution to rebuild their lives. Using culturally appropriate, evidence-based and trauma-informed approaches, the IRC offers a holistic suite of programs that integrates case management, public benefits access, workforce development and financial capabilities services. IRC has its own CDFI lending subsidiary that offers credit-building, consumer and small business loans to low-income refugee families engaged in our services.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • race/ethnicity
  • religion
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The IRC is the only US refugee resettlement agency that also works globally with displaced populations, allowing unparalleled opportunity for transferring learning from best practices overseas to the communities here. Unique among resettlement agencies, IRC has national technical staff dedicated to developing evidence-based programming in economic empowerment and women’s protection and empowerment. This has led to immense advancements in innovative and impactful programming, such as the EA$E model, bundled financial services, and a proprietary lending institution that supports credit building.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

In 2014, IRC partnered with researchers to evaluate the impact of EA$E. The published findings show that engaging women and their spouses in discussion groups that focus on gender equity through a financial lens can help prevent marital conflict, intimate partner violence, and associated negative health outcomes for the entire family. This approach helps families build a foundation of equality, shared financial decision-making, and attitudes supportive of women’s empowerment. As shown in IRC’s 2017 report, Financial Capabilities for New Americans, those clients in the US who received IRC’s financial coaching had correlated positive outcomes in net worth and net, total and wage-based income. Additionally, clients with access to IRC’s financial capabilities services were more than twice as likely to have a FICO score, most of which were positive, as compared to those clients who did not.

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

IRC plans to adapt the EA$E program for use in our economic wellbeing programming for refugees in the US. Embedding the adapted EA$E model into existing programs will allow IRC to cost-effectively reach over 6,000 refugees already engaged in employment services, financial capability training, asset building opportunities and small business development each year. IRC will utilize established technical support teams and channels to disseminate the model across 24 US cities. IRC’s recent strategic investments in building local gender capacity locally will facilitate the scaling of EA$E.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Open Sourcing

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

IRC hopes to use the funds awarded by the Unlocking Change Challenge to adapt, pilot and evaluate the EA$E framework and model in the US. With a tested and adapted model, and IRC’s national reach and experienced staff, IRC will be able to leverage this award to improve gender equitable outcomes, promote financial stability in underserved households and attract donors and programmatic support to continue to grow the EA$E program throughout the US through cost- effective bundling of services.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The project team is comprised of dedicated, full-time IRC Technical Advisors, Jessica Dalpe, Halima Gellman and Jon Vosper, each of whom support the IRC’s network of 24 offices through sector-specific expertise in Women’s Protection and Empowerment, Gender Equality, and Economic Empowerment, respectively. Additionally, this project will be supported by Jhumka Gupta, ScD, MPH, who led the evaluation of EA$E internationally. Finally, practitioners from across the IRC’s 24 offices will be included.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall, would you champion this entry as a excellent example to move forward to the next phase of the challenge and become a semifinalist?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Is this entry IMPACTFUL on financial wellbeing?

Yes, absolutely! - 66.7%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry SUSTAINABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 33.3%

No - 0%

5. What are some of the HIGHLIGHTS of strengths of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 66.7%

Clarity of Model - 0%

Clarity of Writing - 33.3%

Idea Originality - 100%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 66.7%

Impact measurement - 33.3%

Impact Potential - 66.7%

Financial Sustainability - 0%

Team - 33.3%

Partnerships - 0%

Potential to scale - 33.3%

6. What are some of the areas for IMPROVEMENT of this entry?

Connection to underserved community - 0%

Clarity of Model - 50%

Clarity of Writing - 0%

Idea Originality - 0%

Understanding of the marketplace or sector - 0%

Impact measurement - 100%

Impact Potential - 0%

Financial Sustainability - 50%

Team - 0%

Partnerships - 100%

Potential to scale - 50%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Matty Siman

This is very impactful and meaningful work, especially given our currently political climate.