Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) in Sierra Leone

Markus Goldstein
Niklas Buehren
Fieldwork by:
Districts of Port Loko, Kambia, Moyamba and Pujehun in Sierra Leone
5,700 adolescent girls in 200 villages
2013 - 2016
Target group:
  • Women and girls
  • Youth
Outcome of interest:
  • Enrollment and attendance
  • Empowerment
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Violence
  • Age of marriage
  • Age of childbearing
  • Fertility/pregnancy
Intervention type:
  • Business skills training
  • Financial literacy
  • Preventive health
  • Empowerment training
AEA RCT registration number:


Adolescent girls living in low-income settings may be trapped in a vicious cycle that prevents them from attaining employment and achieving better health outcomes and reproductive autonomy. Researchers will evaluate the impact of a program in Sierra Leone that aims to address this problem by bundling health education, vocational skills training, and micro-credit. Researchers will evaluate the impact of these components, together and individually, on girls’ economic activity, engagement in sexual and risky behaviors, and future goals.


Policy issue

Adolescent girls in low income countries appear to be trapped in a vicious circle where low skills and poor labor market opportunities make girls turn to (often older) men for financial support; this increases the chances of childbearing that, in turn, further reduces the chances of acquiring useful skills and future labor force participation. In previous research in Uganda, researchers found that a combination of health education and vocational skills training can break the vicious circle. This study aims to assess where the causal chain starts, namely, whether it is the lack of health education, skills, or credit that keeps adolescent girls trapped in the vicious cycle of high fertility and low labor force participation.

Context of the evaluation

In Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy and early childbearing are pervasive: of all pregnancies, 34 percent occur amongst teenage girls and 40 percent of maternal deaths occur as a result of teenage pregnancy. In 2013, the Government of Sierra Leone launched a “Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy,” which aims to reduce the adolescent fertility rate by 4 percentage points by 2015. As part of this strategy, the government has partnered with UNICEF and BRAC to implement the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program. BRAC is implementing the ELA program in six countries globally. In Africa, the program has already been implemented and evaluated in South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

woman and girl sitting on bench

Details of the intervention

The program operates from adolescent development centers, or “clubs,” staffed by BRAC trained mentors, who are older adolescent girls from the same communities. Researchers will evaluate the following three program components, together and individually:

  • Health education ("life skills training") which is mostly delivered by trained mentors, covers the following topics: sexual and reproductive health, early pregnancy, menstruation and menstrual disorders, leadership among adolescents, gender, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, family planning, gender-based violence, and adolescent responsibility within the family and community. Group learning is encouraged through participatory classroom trainings. In addition, the girls receive issue-based sexual and reproductive health training from the BRAC Health Program. Girls aged 13-24 can participate in the health education training.

  • Vocational (“livelihood”) training covers the skills required to engage in different income generating activities and financial literacy. Girls can choose to receive training in hairdressing, tailoring, animal husbandry, or agriculture. The training lasts about a month and is delivered by local service providers in Sierra Leone. The financial literacy module covers topics such as budgeting, financial services, financial negotiations, and accounting. Following successful completion of training, trainees receive input supplies to start their chosen business activity. To prevent school dropout, only girls aged 17-24 are eligible for training.

  • Microcredit: Eligible girls who are engaged in a self-employment activity will be offered credit of up to US$100 to finance their business. The loan duration will be one year with an annual interest rate of 25 percent and weekly repayments. Girls aged 17-24 are eligible for credit.

Participants will be randomly assigned to one of the following four groups, each consisting of 50 villages and 1,400 adolescent girls:

  1. Health education

  2. Health education, vocational training

  3. Health education, vocational training, microcredit

  4. Comparison group: No program

This evaluation aims to separate the effects of the programs different components, which will provide important information to partners on how the program should be expanded. Moreover, information drawn from individuals about the relationships they have with others in their village, known as social networks data, will reveal how information and skills acquired by program participants spreads to non-participants.

Results and policy lessons

Project ongoing, results forthcoming.

Bandiera, Oriana, Niklas Buehren, Markus Goldstein, Imran Rasul, and Andrea Smurra. "The Economic Lives of Young Women in the Time of Ebola: Lessons from an Empowerment Program." Working Paper, December 2018.