WOMEN – a new social innovation staving off female brain-drain in rural areas

A lack of opportunities for employment in rural areas of central Europe is causing many women to leave their homes in search of more favourable urban labour markets and severely hindering rural development. The WOMEN project is a new social innovation seeking to counter this female brain-drain in the rural regions of central Europe.

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Participants at a WOMEN network meeting Participants at a WOMEN network meeting

WOMEN is a transnational cooperation project between rural regions in five Member States. It has developed a raft of pilot schemes to encourage young women to pursue careers within their local regions. The pilots not only seek to build better career access for women in the regions, but also to inspire women from the regions as to the possibilities available right on their doorstep.

Building better career paths for women

Improving local labour market access for women and providing them with better career development is a crucial first step in encouraging them to stay. To this end, members of WOMEN’s new transnational network of Demography Coaches have developed training to help HR managers to make adjustments in their organisation to counteract demographic imbalances -addressing from this perspective issues such as work-life balance, female entrepreneurship and medical insurance and pension schemes.

Improving the pull of rural areas

As well as a series of image campaigns focusing on the positive aspects of life in the participating regions, WOMEN is also developing local social networks of successful female entrepreneurs, either from scratch or building on existing groups. These networks have the aim of sharing best practice among women in business. In addition, they also strengthen the bonds between women in local communities, thereby increasing the social attachment of young women to the participating regions.

Finally, there is an aspirational element to WOMEN - a competition called “women are future – award” focused on successful female-friendly businesses and female entrepreneurs in the participating regions. There were around 150 submissions for the award across three categories, with local role models being nominated and six international winners receiving video portraits celebrating their achievements. These videos act as an inspiration to others, as well as providing concrete examples of great successes achieved by women and female-friendly businesses in the participating regions.

“We have to act to encourage our well-educated young women to stay, both in order to maintain a dynamic and diverse local society, and also to ensure our continued economic competitiveness. The pilot activities of the WOMEN project are the first steps in building a better and more vibrant future for our regions.”

Wilfried Köhler, Head of Demography and Spatial Observation Unit for the Ministry for Regional Development and Transport of the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt


Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the “WOMEN - Realising a Transnational Strategy against the brain-drain of well-educated young women” project is EUR 2 201 474, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributed EUR 1 756 041.50 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period, under the Operational Programme “CENTRAL EUROPE”.


Draft date

19/05/2014