A Global Initiative for the Empowerment of Women

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The Need

“In the nineteenth century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.”
– Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

The IMAGINE initiative is an intervention that goes to the very heart of this moral mandate by providing women the empowerment tools to improve their lives, lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and sustain these changes over time.


IMAGINE empowers women in challenging life circumstances in developing world countries to envision and create new possibilities for their lives through participating in a four-day training program called the “Empowerment Workshop.” This training program, developed by David Gershon and Gail Straub—pioneers of the field of empowerment and founders and co-directors of Empowerment Institute’s School for Transformative Social Change—has successfully been applied over the past thirty years in over forty countries worldwide.

This program addresses the part in women’s empowerment that is often missing—agency or self-efficacy—which enables the traditional investments in outer resources such as education or microfinance to be more effective. This agency is achieved through the application of the empowerment methodology, which helps individuals increase their self-knowledge so they can discover what’s important to them; translate this knowledge into a compelling vision; identify and transform the limiting beliefs that inevitably arise when creating something new; and adopt an actionable growth strategy to attain their goals.

These empowerment tools then serve as part of a support system to sustain their personal growth over time and enhance the program’s impact, beyond the women, to their families and communities. Ongoing program monitoring and evaluation ensures optimization of the Empowerment Workshop’s cultural adaptation and effectiveness in delivering agency.

Research conducted by Dr. Anita Shankar of Johns Hopkins University confirms the positive impact, staying power, and ripple effect of IMAGINE’s ability to further agency.

“The results of our evaluation of the IMAGINE program provide compelling evidence that facilitating human agency, a foundational component of empowerment, is not just possible, but is feasible and can be accomplished in a relatively short time with minimal costs. This enhanced agency in turn catalyzed participation in other development activities, leading to significantly more effective utilization of existing opportunities and resources. Further, the combined focus on fostering individual agency and the group format that facilitates collaborative learning leveraged existing relationships resulting in substantial advancements in key areas of social and economic development.”

IMAGINE is being implemented in six countries: Afghanistan, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, and has been culturally adapted.


Each IMAGINE trainer is selected from an established NGO that addresses women’s empowerment issues and has access to women living in challenging life circumstances. Funds for their participation are raised through foundation grants, donations, and small groups of women each contributing $1,000, called IMAGINE Giving Circles.

The IMAGINE certification process consists of attending the Empowerment Institute to participate in two U.S.-based trainings in January and June, with practice and coaching provided in the interim. After certification, each IMAGINE trainer is responsible for conducting Empowerment Workshops for a minimum of 200 women in their home country within two years, with the support of a trained coach provided by the Empowerment Institute. After attendance in the Empowerment Workshop, the workshop participants partake in a follow-up monthly support group. This support group not only allows them to sustain their growth over time, but enables IMAGINE to monitor and evaluate their behavioral changes.

These 200 women are in turn responsible for communicating the core empowerment concepts to at least twenty-five individuals in their communities. Each IMAGINE trainer will therefore impact a minimum of 200 women x 25 family members, friends, or community members for a total of at least 5,000 individuals in two years. It is expected they will impact many more people over time as they continue to grow the program in their country.