May 19 2018

Mothers: ‘Gatekeepers to Change’

The power of Unbound mothers

The “Hope of Life” mothers group, formed by mothers of sponsored friends in Guatemala.


Empowered mothers are a force for positive change. Unbound’s program model is based on that conviction. And new survey results indicate the program contributes to mothers’ empowerment in employment, decision-making, community involvement and other areas.

In 2017, Unbound concluded an extensive evaluation aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of empowerment as experienced by mothers in the Unbound program. Seven hundred mothers at 26 Unbound program sites in Asia, Africa and Latin America participated.

The study focused on three indicators of empowerment that align with what Unbound aims to achieve and have also been validated in external research: increased choices in life, positive change and greater personal control. The responses of the mothers in the Unbound program were compared to responses from mothers of children on a waiting list for sponsorship. This provided an “apples to apples” comparison of families in similar circumstances, and provided an understanding of how the sponsorship program contributes to the empowerment of mothers.

When Unbound’s late co-founder Bob Hentzen first traveled to Latin America as a Christian Brother in 1959, he quickly discovered the importance of learning from those you seek to serve. “It didn’t take the wise old missionaries very long to communicate the message,” he said. “‘Roberto, eyes open, mouth shut, and just love God’s people.’”

A culture of learning has characterized Unbound’s work from the start, following the founders’ conviction that, given opportunity, people can usually find their own solutions. Nothing has illustrated that point more dramatically than the evolution of Unbound’s community-based mothers support groups.

“Mothers groups, in fact, started in India … many years before [Unbound],” Saritha Mendanha, coordinator of Unbound’s program in Hyderabad, India, said. “These were started to economically, socially and holistically empower women.”

When Unbound staff saw the potential of the small groups, they adapted the concept for the mothers of sponsored children. It wasn’t long before it spread from India to other countries in the Unbound world.

Today, creative initiatives are growing out of the mothers groups everywhere Unbound works. In Kenya, groups are providing venture capital for members through their own savings and credit cooperatives, while in the Philippines mothers are working together to provide community-based wholesale marketing of goods and services. In every case, the impetus for the initiatives came from the members themselves.

Unbound staff everywhere have come to understand — as Bob Hentzen did — that the answers are already within the mothers, waiting to be brought forth.

“You have to give them space,” Peter Ndungo, program coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya, said. “And believe in them. You’re not there to tell them what to do. You’re there to listen to them and support them on the way.”

Visit Unbound.org/EmpowermentStudy to read the full evaluation summary.

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