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Social Norms Are Difficult To Change, Can Entertainment Help?

Key takeaways for women’s financial inclusion from the 2018 International Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit
Mother working in a brick workshop brings her daughter to work, Iran. Photo credit: Kaveh Zakaryaei Nejad, 2017 CGAP Photo Contest.

Zari is a six-year-old girl who goes to school, skateboards and learns about making healthy choices – and is the most recognized children’s television character in Afghanistan. She is featured on Sesame Garden, the nation’s version of Sesame Street. She is also changing minds around the acceptability of girls’ education in a country with some of the lowest rates of girls’ primary school attendance in the world.

Danny Labin of Sesame Workshop and Clemence Quint of Magenta Consulting talked about this initiative during their session at the 2018 International Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit in Bali last month. One in four children under the age of 14 in Afghanistan know who Zari is. Regular viewers are more likely than non-viewers to feel that it is important for both boys and girls to go to school and to believe that girls as well as boys can be doctors and engineers. Many Afghan fathers say Sesame Garden changed their minds about sending their own daughters to school. “There’s a generation of kids [growing up] looking up to a girl character as a role model,” said Quint. This program is creating a relatable character that can be the conduit for a number of different messages around deep-rooted social norms and beliefs, and is a good example of the power of “edutainment” or entertainment education in promoting behavior change.  

As we understand more about the critical role of social norms in promoting women’s financial inclusion, we are starting to see more examples of Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) approaches incorporated into financial inclusion efforts. The Women’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice (COP) participated in the April Summit in Bali to learn from the SBCC community and establish linkages to leverage their expertise for the women’s financial inclusion community.

The auxiliary session organized by the COP, Expanding BCC to New Frontiers: Making the Case in Women’s Economic Empowerment, featured speakers from Women’s World Banking, Oxfam and Nathan Associates, and focused on specific tools and approaches they have used to shift social norms and promote behavior change. Women's World Banking shared results from Nawiri Dada, a nationwide social communications campaign in Kenya whose objective was to deepen financial inclusion among low-income women by encouraging them to open and use bank accounts. The campaign used popular media to influence knowledge, attitudes and practices around common psychological barriers women faced in connection to saving in banks. They partnered with established national banks to link the campaign with no-frills savings accounts, to ensure that awareness raising was matched by an actual service.

Nathan Associates shared an example of how they are working with stakeholders to promote women’s employment and career advancement opportunities in the Malaysian transportation sector. Oxfam presented a diagnostic tool, which they have piloted in Pakistan, that aims to better understand how social norms relating to unpaid care work, gender-based violence, early marriage and sexual and reproductive health rights affect young women’s economic empowerment.


The most effective social and behavior change communication strategies are those that link normative messaging with access to a specific service.


The Summit featured deep discussions about the future of SBCC, as the community grapples with challenges around achieving scale, proving effectiveness of applied approaches, and identifying opportunities for growth and partnership. Some of the key takeaways for the COP in terms of application of SBCC approaches to women’s financial inclusion are:

  • The most effective SBCC strategies are those that link normative messaging with access to a specific service. The Nawiri Dada campaign clearly supported this finding, illustrating how linking its media campaign to basic accounts through its partner banks was critical to their program’s success.
  • Edutainment as a strategy seems to be the most relevant entry point for behavior change communication around social norms that impact women’s financial inclusion. By including messaging to change perceptions on women’s entrepreneurship and leadership, edutainment programs can tackle underlying norms about the role of women in the economy and support improved opportunities for women and girls.
  • SBCC has typically been used to create demand for public goods, such as vaccinations, HIV/AIDS prevention, maternal mortality programs, family planning, etc., and as such is generally paid for with public and philanthropic resources. In the context of women’s financial inclusion, behavior change should focus on the gendered economic norms that create barriers for women to access and use finance, and not just on the uptake and usage of specific financial products, which could come at a cost to individuals.
  • There are many ethical issues and questions surrounding norms change within the SBCC field, much of it focusing on who gets to decide which norms to change. It is important that we keep this in mind and stay on top of this discussion as we move forward in this space.

The interest we observed in our session at the Summit highlighted the potential opportunities for the SBCC and financial inclusion communities to collaborate and test out new approaches to address the underlying social norms that limit women’s economic opportunities. The Social Norms Working group will host a webinar in June to discuss some of these opportunities. In the meantime, you can access the presentations from the sessions here: Expanding BCC to New Frontiers: Making the Case in Women’s Economic Empowerment.

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