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WONDER Foundation
Our mission is to empower women, girls and their community through access to quality education so that they can exit poverty for good. We are working, with our women-led local partners, towards a future where women and girls are empowered to make informed life choices and lead the way in their own personal development.
Project overview for completed projects

Course Title:  MSc Global Prosperity

Dissertation Title:  Spaces that Empower Women Learners – The relationship between built environment, empowerment and learning of vulnerable women

Community Partner:  Olivia Darby, The Wonder Foundation

Academic Supervisor:  Hannah Sender

Research Abstract:  With conversations about women’s empowerment becoming more common, it is even more important that we discuss and look at the empowerment of women in social development settings, who are at risk of being most vulnerable to poverty, violence, and harassment. Research has found that the development sector’s empowerment programmes aim to prepare women to respond to their current and future circumstances so that women can achieve things they value and not just maximize income, within which great emphasis has been placed on formal and informal learning. Given its importance for empowerment of women, scholars have investigated various factors that impact learning of women and girls, and one such factor is the built environment of learning spaces.  This research aims to look at the relationship between built environment and empowerment & learning for vulnerable women. The study will explore how vulnerable women who are part of social projects experience the built spaces they are provided to learn in. The research aims to define ‘empowering’ spaces, explore the built environment of empowering learning spaces, how they may differ from the concept of ‘safe spaces’, and what might hinder and organization’s ability to create such a space for their beneficiaries. This was done by using a mixed methods research design, utilizing a systematic literature review, a case study and expert interviews to explore views of various actors involved. Through primary and secondary data, the research was able to answer the research questions, and provide an operational definitions and factors for empowering spaces. The research also highlights recommendations for WONDER Foundation.

Idea for research
Idea for research
When we walk into a space it affects us. A grand building can make us feel insignificant, or privileged. A dirty room can make us feel uncomfortable, distracted, or disrespected. There is literature on safe spaces. Places where women and girls are safe from attack, for example, but there is little on EMPOWERING spaces. There is very little about how vulnerable people experience the spaces that they are given to learn it, which are often of much lower standards of design and upkeep than others would accept. What does this do to these learners in terms of affirming their self-value, or their perception of how others value them. How does it make them feel welcome as learners or members of society, or valued as citizens? How does it affect the shame that those living in poverty often feel for their circumstances? Does this vary in different cultures? How could this be explored further? How does it affect learner retention, their desire to spend time in the space and form connections outside of class, and so on? How does it affect teachers' commitment to their work? There are many unexplored and unanswered questions here that could be looked at through an education, design, geography, architecture, or psychology lens. We appreciate that these questions are masssive and vague! We would not expect you to answer them all, but to help us to work away at them and we can help you to refine your own specific question.
Impact of idea
This is a fundamental question in project design. Often programmes for the poorest people use poor quality learning spaces due to using funds for other things. WONDER's project leaders suggest that this can be detrimental to long-term project success., because our approach to education is one where we boost women's self-esteem and agency. Anything we learnt here would inform our approach and shared with others.

What new data or information would you like to be collected in this project?

Application process
Application criteria
Someone from a relevant discipline (as above)
Curiosity and tenacity - this is a challenging question to answer and will require drawing assumptions in the absence of directly related studies.
Is this project fully accessible to students with the disabilities?
Disabilities information
We believe this would be accessible. We expect it to be a remote role, but our office is accessible.