There are concerns about how projects using a systemic approach can achieve inclusive changes for poor and disadvantaged women and men. We argue in this post that they can.
Four ways to be inclusive
Defining and targeting poor and disadvantaged women and men
It’s important to have a clear definition of poor and disadvantaged women and men, and to systematically ensure that they are at the centre of the interventions. The selection of geographical working areas and of sectors is crucial. Disadvantaged people often live in remote places. Thus, working in a remote area already gives higher potential to reach them.
A thorough analysis can identify sectors that have the potential to include poor and disadvantaged women and men, be it as producers, workers or consumers. For example, in Guatemala, the project PRODERT selected three department  with a high percentage of indigenous groups of Mayan origin with an average economic poverty rate of 86% and extreme poverty of 50%. For the sector selection, the participation of indigenous women, and the potential to benefit from the sector’s growth were key criteria in sector selection.
Making the ‘extra effort’
It’s often assumed that if projects work with individuals who are not poor and disadvantaged, benefits will ‘trickle down’ to more disadvantaged women and men. However, the experiences of projects applying systemic approach (e.g. Samriddhi in Bangladesh, EYE in Kosovo, Risi in Albania) disprove this idea. Supplementary actions, at least initially, are necessary. These include subsidised skills improvement, supporting collective actions of target groups, physical infrastructure, and access to technical, as well as financial and business services.
The supplementary actions of projects, however, should avoid creating dependency or establishing parallel structures; they need to be built on a clear vision of ‘who will do and pay for such support and service’ beyond a project’s life span. Supplementary support needs to be used carefully, and projects should not continuously assume different functions of actors (e.g. coordination, training etc.). 
Identifying the business cases for disadvantaged groups
Reaching poor and disadvantaged women and men also required finding partners who share the goal of inclusiveness and identifying business cases for poor and disadvantaged women and men. As part of elaborating a business case for women, the Making Markets Work for Farmers in Meghri in Armenia working in horticulture started the collaboration with a tea entrepreneur who shared the goal of reaching very poor women and saw a business incentive. The very poor women, who do not have fruit orchards, agreed with fruit orchard owners to allow them to collect blossoms that fall from fruit trees. The women mix these blossoms together with other herbs and sell them to the tea entrepreneur. The entrepreneur trained these women on how to collect blossoms and herbs in order to assure the required quality. Yet it’s important to ensure that such limited success is replicated (beyond an ‘island of success’) for reaching additional poor and disadvantaged women and men.
Better results can be achieved when strategies take into account the ability of poor and disadvantaged women and men to make their own effective choices and to transform these into desired outcomes. For example, recognising the lack of sound career advice for young women and men in Albania, the project Risi works with public and private sector players. It has reached out to the media to strengthen their capacities to report on relevant and adequate labour market information. The project has supported innovative recruitment services to close the gap between existing high-end headhunting companies and the public employment services. This has included supporting the creation of mobile apps for employment application processes and for job postings.
Economic growth isn’t everything
Inclusiveness isn’t just about achieving economic growth or addressing economic inequality (in absolute or relative terms). It’s also about improving human capital and increasing the voice (agency) of poor and disadvantaged women and men to participate meaningfully in development initiatives and achieve social and political inclusion.
Make the goal clear
It’s often thought that inclusiveness and growth can’t go hand in hand. Many development projects choose or prioritise one over the other as their goal. However, the inclusiveness goal of any development project is fundamental. If a project fails to be inclusive, then it has a serious problem in its overall goal.
Get partners on board
Long-term and large-scale impacts require the participation of those who have the power and leverage to work with poor and disadvantaged women and men. This can include the public and private sector as well as civil society and community leaders. Partners have to share the vision of empowering disadvantaged women and men; this has important implications for their selection at the outset, and subsequent interactions regarding capacity building and incentives.
Monitoring what matters
Most projects that apply systemic approach have a detailed monitoring and results measurement system, tracking quantitative changes. However, we need to place greater focus on qualitative aspects, and to track
whether initial successes are linked to long-term strategic thinking of lasting impacts beyond the targeted primary stakeholders (e.g. poor and disadvantaged women and men);
- whether projects uphold the ‘do no harm approach’ (also called ‘displacement’), ensuring that none of the projects’ interventions exacerbate conflict, or have a detrimental impact on (possibly other) poor and disadvantaged women and men.
To conclude, economic, political and social inclusiveness is fundamental for the success of projects. Inclusiveness is primarily about poor and disadvantaged women and men, but projects must work with other partners who have the power and leverage to make a lasting difference. It’s critical for projects to go beyond the moral imperative of ‘doing good’ and understand what the key barriers to inclusion are and design solutions based on the incentivise and capacities of actors. This, in turn, requires from the outset clear vision and practical strategies for ensuring long-term and large-scale impacts.
 Guatemala is divided into 22 departments.
 See Ruth Egger. Development and Subsidies – an art: conceptual foundations, SDC, Bern.
Michael Blaser is development consultant specialising in market systems development.