How We Work

Project Description

The IMAGE Project is a community-based HIV and GBV prevention programme. Based in rural South Africa, the intervention is combined with a group-based microcredit programme, with a gender and HIV training curriculum delivered monthly to female microcredit clients at their loan repayment meetings.

The purpose of IMAGE is to improve the economic well-being and independence of communities, reduce participants’ vulnerability to both HIV and GBV, and foster robust community mobilisation to address common concerns within participants’ villages. The two components of the intervention are as follows:


The microfinance component of the intervention is delivered in partnership with the Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF). SEF administers loans exclusively to poorest women in rural villages for the development of income-generating activities. The programme targets the poorest households through a process of Participatory Wealth Ranking  – where local community members participate in wealth ranking of the households in their village. Those that fall below the poverty line are invited to participate in the microcredit programme.

Based on the Grameen Bank model, groups of five women serve as guarantors for one another’s loans, with all five having to repay before the group is eligible for more credit. Loans are used to support a range of small businesses (e.g. selling fruit and vegetables or second-hand clothes) and loan centres of approximately 40 women meet fortnightly to repay loans, apply for additional credit, discuss business plans, and receive financial education training. The microfinance component is financially self-sustainable with the interest from loan repayments covering operating costs. Loan repayment rates are typically in excess of 99%. This microfinance component of the intervention facilitates social and economic well-being and provides an entry point and client base for the IMAGE gender and HIV education curriculum known as Sisters for Life.


In addition to the microfinance component described above, the second component of the IMAGE intervention includes a participatory gender and HIV training programme called Sisters for Life, which is fully integrated into routine loan centre meetings and is delivered alongside microfinance services by a separate team of trainers. SFL comprises of two phases delivered over nine months. Phase 1 consists of thirteen 40-minute training sessions and covers topics such as gender roles; cultural beliefs and expectations; power relations and the different types of abuse; sex and the female body; intimate partner violence; and the stigmas surrounding HIV. The participatory method aims to increase the confidence and communication skills of participants whilst encouraging critical thinking about the links between GBV and HIV.

Phase 2 encourages the wider engagement of the villages targeted by the intervention, including youth and men, by helping participants to engage in activism within their communities. During the four sessions of Phase 2, participants are trained on community mobilisation, leadership skills, and how to develop and execute a community mobilisation action plan based on the issue they deem to be most pressing within their villages. CMAPs typically address one of the many challenges discussed within Phase 1 related to HIV or GBV but are not limited to those topics.

The microcredit component is self-sustaining as a result of the interest generated from the loans but additional funding is required to provide the SFL component of the project to participants.

Project Goals and Objectives

Delivery of Curriculum

Participants attend the SFL workshops on topics including GBV, intimate partner violence, gender roles, cultural norms, HIV, and basic sex education in order to reduce their vulnerability to GBV and HIV.

Activities under this objective include the rollout of the SFL curriculum which consists of 13 workshops delivered over seven months, with each session lasting up to 40 minutes. Workshops are facilitated by trained community educators with supervision by a branch supervisor. Training for these facilitators is also an activity under this objective.

Building Community Networks

60 stakeholder partnerships per branch per annum are conducted either in person to establish partnerships with local authorities, institutions, and service providers to ensure referral and collaborative networks are in place for SFL participants. Facilitators are required to make monthly visits to these stakeholders to maintain a strong relationship.

Activities under the objective include desktop research to identify key local stakeholders, reaching out to them via an in-person visit or a phone call, and meeting with them to ensure their agreement to support IMAGE-trained participants in awareness raising and advocacy activities. These partnerships also serve to ensure they are viable referral resources for service delivery when facilitators refer women to them for further assistance.

Psychosocial Support Visits

Each year, 28% of participants are in need of immediate support. They receive psychosocial support visits from an IMAGE facilitator to further reduce their vulnerability to GBV and HIV, and ensure they are referred for further care as needed

Activities under this objective include counselling training for facilitators on how to support and give practical advice to survivors of rape or IPV as well as psychosocial support visits to participants that request support.

Community Awareness Raising And Mobilisation

Each year, participants are trained in leadership and community mobilisation. These participants then conduct community actions to raise awareness about GBV, IPV and HIV in their communities and ensure access to services for survivors.

Activities under this objective include four 40-minute workshops on leadership and community mobilisation including how to develop a community mobilisation action plan. They are supported in developing and implementing a CMAP for their area based on the issue they feel is most pressing for their cluster of villages. They are introduced to the local stakeholders identified under Objective (3) in order to refer survivors to relevant service providers and to collaborate on awareness-raising events.

Scaling Sisters For Life

The IMAGE programme has reached 51 375 participants since inception.

Over the next 5 years, our specific scaling objectives is to reach a scale where we can:
• Train new facilitators and a branch supervisor in 15 branches across 5 provinces to roll out the full curriculum, offer psychosocial support visits, and support the implementation of community mobilisation action plans
• Train 15 branches at a time
• Train 34,512 new participants per annum

Why add a gender/HIV focus to economic development strategies?

Another study of the IMAGE Project looked at the relative benefits of the IMAGE programme as compared to the microfinance programme alone. Researchers found that while participation in a microcredit programme produced economic benefits, it was only the participation in combined
microcredit and IMAGE programme that facilitated wider gains in empowerment – social well-being and health, including the observed reductions in the risk of HIV and violence.

Download the full Sisters for life Curriculum