Cotopaxi Foundation
The Cotopaxi llama, featured on backpacks, jackets and beanies, has come to stand for more than just a brand; it is also an ideal. Cotopaxi, named after an Ecuadorian volcano, is a Utah based company that produces gear, whether that is hiking gear or clothing. Cotopaxi equips customers to face their environment. However, Cotopaxi’s impact extends far past gear. Its company regards ethical production, sustainability and humanitarian efforts as pillars of its business model. Cotopaxi sends a message with its products for people to “Do Good” through its products and the Cotopaxi Foundation.

What Sustainability Means to Cotopaxi

Angie Agle is Cotopaxi’s Director of Impact and Community Marketing. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she defined sustainability as “operating in a way that will allow future generations the resources they need to secure happy and complete futures.”

Cotopaxi pushes a conscientious business model that limits its environmental impact. It exclusively uses materials with a design to limit waste, such as its signature llama fleece or recycled fabrics. These recycled fabrics mesh together to make each product unique. The results are backpacks or coats with bright colors that stand out in any crowd.

A rip or tear in a Cotopaxi product does not mark the end of its use. Instead of encouraging customers to replace older products with new purchases, Cotopaxi implements a repairs program. The damaged item is fixed and then either resold or donated. Any profits go to the Cotopaxi Foundation. The repairs program allows materials to stay useful and significantly reduces company carbon emissions.

Sustainability, per Cotopaxi’s definition, is consideration for the future. It is not limited to environmental issues but encompasses any and all efforts to help upcoming generations. Cotopaxi’s humanitarian efforts, for example, demonstrate a second way to be “sustainable.”

The Cotopaxi Foundation

Davis Smith, CEO and co-founder of Cotopaxi, cites his childhood as the inspiration behind his company’s philanthropic purpose. Before moving to Utah, he grew up in South America witnessing firsthand how poverty can affect a community. He told Deseret News, “The people I saw every day were just as smart as me, just as hardworking and just as ambitious, but had no opportunity.” He set out to address global poverty in his own unique way; through gear. Five years after Smith founded Cotopaxi, he created an adjacent foundation called the Cotopaxi Foundation to combine giving with hiking.

Cotopaxi allocates 1% of its funds to the Cotopaxi Foundation, which then distributes those funds among carefully selected grantees, meaning that a portion of every consumer purchase goes toward doing good. Cotopaxi’s grantees cover a wide array of well-deserving causes. These include:

  1. International Rescue Committee: Cotopaxi partners with the IRC to help refugees displaced from their home countries. Due to Cotopaxi’s location, its work with IRC generally focuses on the Salt Lake area, holding educational events and contributing to the Cotopaxi Refugee Scholarship Program. To go even further, Cotopaxi connects with refugees through the IRC to offer them employment. This idea originated with Cotopaxi’s long-held tradition of writing thank you cards to customers. As the company grew, thank you cards became an unmanageable task for the existing employees. Smith turned to refugees in need of employment to fulfill the card writing task and has not looked back. The card-writing program through the IRC now includes resume help, interview training and coding instructions to facilitate further employment opportunities.
  2. Fundación Escuela Nueva: FEN is working to address educational inequities around the world. It firmly believes in the power of education to give confidence and hope to an individual and community, fighting to make sure everyone has access to those benefits. With Cotopaxi’s help, it has successfully provided education to over 45,400 children around the world.
  3. UN Foundation-Nothing but Nets: Nothing but Nets is making a big impact with a simple solution. Bed nets protect people from mosquitos while they sleep and have saved millions of lives from malaria. Cotopaxi works with Nothing but Nets to expand its organization to include more Latin American countries and save more lives.
  4. Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps’ impact extends all over the world. However, Cotopaxi’s work with the Mercy Corp centers in Columbia and Venezuela, again paying homage to Cotopaxi’s Latin American roots and namesake. Its partnerships provide Columbian and Venezuelan refugees with assistance ranging from money to medicine.
  5. Utah Refugee Services: Cotopaxi works with Utah Refugees Services to help acclimate refugees to their new environment. Cotopaxi also takes crucial steps to make refugees feel at home and find work. It regularly employs refugees through its repairs program in order to welcome refugees to the community.

The Cotopaxi Foundation allows Cotopaxi to have a two-part function: gear and good or “gear for good” as it puts it. Its donating process, being revenue-based, is special because it creates customer involvement. In fact, the buying of a hiking backpack initiates the purchaser into the giving process. This involvement does not simply make the customer temporarily satisfied with themselves, but it also sets the example of giving back and inspires further change.

Ismael: A Life Touched by Good

Ismael arrived in Utah after fleeing his home country of Uganda and spending two years in a Kenyan refugee camp. His new home offered a new set of challenges as he adjusted to the newness of everything. However, Cotopaxi met him with support, offering him a position as a thank you card writer while he looked for a more long-term occupation.

Ismeal now works as a supervisor over multiple Paradies Lagardère–owned stores. In regards to the help he received from Cotopaxi and its IRC partners, Ismael said that “They showed love for refugees … I was so amazed. Without them, it would be very hard because you know nothing.”

His story is one of many. Cotopaxi continues in its mission to leave the world better than it found it. It sustainably produces gear that hikers trust and give back to their community through the Cotopaxi Foundation. Every backpack or tent with the Cotopaxi llama emblem is inspiring change and doing good.

Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr

Support the Keeping Girls in School
Congresswoman Jeanne Shaheen first introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act. The bill claims to “support empowerment, economic security, and educational opportunities for adolescent girls around the world.” Specifically, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations will both work and engage in the implementation of providing opportunities for adolescent girls to obtain a secondary education. This is why support for the Keeping Girls in School Act is so crucial.

Assistance Needed

Congress will also need the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in managing and assisting international matters, such as providing global security for adolescent girls in vulnerable countries. Every five years, these federal committees will meet to monitor the progress of the bill and provide input on the upcoming protocols in improving the status of the situation.

As for quantitative costs, to support the Keeping Girls in School Act requires a large financial budget to be most effective in serving those countries at-risk. Cost estimates are about $340 billion, which is a substantial amount in providing lower-income countries access to secondary education, primarily for younger girls. However, with the economic benefits of this bill, it will prove to be a fulfilling investment.

The Problem At Hand

Every year, more than 130 million girls go unenrolled in school. The U.N. predicts that this rate will increase by up to 150 million girls by 2030. For example, in Yemen, 66% of women are illiterate. Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls complete secondary school.

One factor is how many girls enter into child marriages and are not able to obtain an education. In fact, in Ethiopia, 40% of girls are likely to marry under the age of 18. Similarly, in Bangladesh, at least 42% of girls marry younger than age 18 and 22% marry younger than age 15.

Many other external factors contribute to this global crisis. For example, girls with disabilities are less likely to enroll in school and only 1% of girls from the disabled community are literate.

Infections have also proven to hinder access to secondary education for girls under the age of 18. Especially through child marriage, girls are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. More than 380,000 girls, primarily from Africa, contract HIV or develop AIDS every year. In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 80% of HIV victims among adolescents are girls. A Harvard study noted that if an extra year of secondary education was available for adolescent girls, the risk of contracting HIV would decrease by 12%.

The Economic Benefits

Although it is a large investment, the benefits will far outweigh the costs. For example, if every girl attends school for 12 years, free of cost, estimates have determined that it will generate between $15 trillion to $30 trillion globally by 2030. Moreover, each year a girl attends school, the government saves approximately 5% of its educational budget. When girls have an educational background, they are more likely to obtain jobs and careers and thus, stimulate the economy.

What Now?

It is imperative to lobby support from local, congressional leaders to support the Keeping Girls in School Act, as it can help millions of girls obtain an education. Furthermore, the bill will substantially stimulate the economy in the future. A quick method to accumulate support is to email local representatives about endorsing the bill. With this template by The Borgen Project, emailing local congressional leaders will take less than one minute and benefit more than 130 million girls that do not have access to secondary education.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The protection of women’s’ rights and access to opportunities for economic empowerment are vital pieces to the reduction of extreme poverty. Indian women continue to face major challenges in gender equality as inferiority persists between men and women through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system. Although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded today. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence in India.

Impact

In collaboration with several NGOs, Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, and working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Photography Fights Child MarriageTwelve million girls a year—or 23 girls every minute—are married before their 18th birthday. The most common factors that contribute to child marriage are poverty, lack of education and gender norms. Around the world, 21% of young women were married as minors. The prevalence of child marriage is even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, at 37% of young women. Various art forms, including photography and music, have been used to advocate for the eradication of this harmful practice. Photography fights child marriage by raising awareness for this pressing issue and empowering women to take action.

Costs of Child Marriage

When young women and girls are forced to marry, they are less likely to attend school. They are separated from their family and friends, and they are also more likely to experience life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, suffer domestic violence and contract HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, child marriage traps these girls in a cycle of poverty, in which they and their children are less able to access opportunities for education and economic empowerment.

Photography Fights Child Marriage and Empowers Girls

Too Young to Wed, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, uses photography to raise awareness of the prevalence of child marriage. This organization creates media campaigns focusing on child marriage and uses compelling photojournalism to show that the practice is a violation of human rights. The photographs have been seen by billions, and one media campaign that focused on child marriage in Nepal reached more than 9.7 million people. The photographs, alongside firsthand accounts from girls at risk of or impacted by child marriage, “inspire the global advocacy and policy-making communicates to act,” according to Sinclair.

In addition to organizing photo workshops, this organization provides leadership scholarships, vocational training and other support. The Leadership Scholarship program is especially crucial because education is vital to preventing child marriages. In the last eight years, Too Young to Wed has directly helped 600 girls, and much more indirectly, in its fight against child marriage. Sinclair told Global Citizen, “[Girls] can do all kinds of things that they can bring back to their community and then also bring them out of a level of poverty where the most extreme forms of child marriage are definitely happening.” When young women are educated, their children are more likely to be educated as well, which helps take the family out of the cycle of poverty.  Overall, Too Young to Wed uses visual evidence and storytelling to highlight the harmful impacts of child marriage, empower girls and inspire change.

Tehani Photo Workshop

Since 2016, Too Young to Wed has provided a week-long photography workshop that also functions as an immersive art therapy retreat called the Tehani Photo Workshop. Partnered with the Samburu Girls Foundation, Too Young to Wed held the first workshop in Kenya, where about 1 in 4 girls are married before the age of 18. During this workshop, 10 girls who had escaped their marriages learned how to shoot portraits, and they were able to form friendships and reclaim their narratives. To conclude the workshop, the girls presented their photographs and told their stories to more than 100 members of their community.  According to Sinclair, the workshops aim to “help [the girls] better realize their self-worth and the value of their voice.”

Music as a Tool in the Fight Against Child Marriage

In Benin, where more than 25% of girls are married before they are 18 years old, artists collaborated in 2017 to release a song and music video that highlighted this issue. UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors Angélique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib, along with seven other artists, composed the song as part of the national Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage. The song is titled “Say No to Child Marriage” and includes multiple languages so its message resonates with people within Benin and in neighboring countries. “Child marriage is a negation of children’s right to grow up free,” said Kidjo. “Every child has the right to a childhood.”

In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund worked with music producer Moon Boots and vocalist Black Gatsby to produce a music video to speak out against child marriage in Niger, where 76% of girls are married before the age of 18. Also, according to UNICEF, Niger has the world’s highest rate of child marriage. The song, titled “Power,” promotes education as a positive alternative that can empower girls and reduce poverty in their communities. According to a Félicité Tchibindat, a UNICEF representative in Niger, it also fights against the practice of child marriage by raising awareness that “ending child marriage is possible,” even though it is a long-held social norm.

Conclusion

Although the rates of child marriage are gradually declining worldwide, it is estimated that 120 million more girls under the age of 18 will be married by 2030 if current trends continue. The coronavirus pandemic has also put up to 13 million more girls at risk of child marriage because of rising poverty rates, school closures and hindered access to reproductive health services and resources.

Twenty-five million child marriages have been prevented in the last ten years, and UNICEF attributes the decline of the practice in part to “strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes.” While photography fights child marriage, further far-reaching and powerful art initiatives, along with the work of national governments and international organizations, can continue to raise awareness, empower girls and reduce the prevalence of this practice around the world.

– Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

Uplifting Women Through Economic Empowerment in India
India is located in South Asia and has a population of about 1.3 billion people. The country is mostly known for its agricultural work, multiple languages and cultural communities. Also, India has been a part of the U.N. since its creation in 1945. Currently, the country is attempting to grow its economy and reach the technological level of first world countries. Yet, among many issues that India needs to recognize is gender and class inequalities within its workforce. One solution is uplifting women through economic empowerment.

The Legacy of India’s Caste System

In India, caste and ethnic background still play a major role in the workplace — which can lead to people remaining stuck in underprivileged communities. Many believe that women may be educated but should nevertheless, remain housewives after marriage. Recently, many women have married, subsequently left their jobs and then attempted to return to work after many years of absence. Saundarya Rajesh, who holds a doctorate in Women’s Workforce Participation and hails from Chennai, recognized that there were not many women in white-collar jobs and that class differences were preventing women’s acceptance, when restarting their careers. Rajesh herself was a second-career woman in a white-collar job, who felt the pressure to choose between work and family. Her experiences led to her beginning Avtar I-Win in 2005, with the aim of helping women in similar situations to her own.

Avtar I-Win Empowers Women

The first step for Avtar I-Win was connecting women with job opportunities — helping showcase their resumes or launch their careers. Rajesh wanted the corporate workforce to create or allocate jobs for women — many of these jobs only men held. The Avtar I-Win group has completed 15,000 successful placements and the group continues to place women in new careers. The group’s main goal is to uplift women through economic empowerment in India. As the program grew, the organization cultivated a counseling service with a focus on life decisions and career development, called WINSIGHT. The service, run by qualified experts, provides a way for women to gain mentorship themselves and grow into mentors for other Avtar women.

With the growth of the organization, Rajesh and her board have added new aspects to their organization — always seeking to instill career intentionality and independence in girls, from a young age. With this mindset, girls can make their way out of poverty, forced marriages and sexual and domestic abuse — eventually increasing the corporate talent pool of India. Seeing the success and positive impact of Avtar I-Win, Rajesh began Avtar Human Capital Trust (AHCT) in 2008, which is a charitable not-for-profit organization.

Reaching Women in Poverty

Rajesh and her team noticed that even though they helped women restart their careers; education and financial barriers prevented them from reaching all women. Headquartered in Chennai, AHCT addresses gender inequality across the states of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry — providing financial help for women and students in underprivileged communities. By doing so, AHCT allows women to focus on preparing and aspiring for professional careers.

With the support of companies willing to hire more women, AHCT and Avtar I-Win have launched programs such as Project Puthri and FLEXI Careers in India. Project Puthri focuses on helping girls from a young age, so they can graduate with the purpose of attaining corporate jobs. The organization’s current goal is to help 10,000 girls per year across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The board believes that with more women contributing to India’s GDP, the country will become more prosperous and communities will rise out of poverty. FLEXI Careers supports this mission through diversity and inclusion consulting. The organization focuses on an array of services to make the corporate world an inclusive workplace for women from underprivileged communities.

Female Empowerment and the Future

Saundaraya Rajesh founded her organization on helping and believing in women from communities of poverty. Yet, she understood that women needed assistance in obtaining careers for which many (especially family-oriented women in poverty) experienced great barriers to entry. Along with other pioneers in workplace inclusivity, Rajesh is uplifting women through economic empowerment in India — introducing programs on technology, economic empowerment, health and hygiene education for women who need extra support to succeed in the corporate world.

Sumeet Waraich
Photo: Pxhere

Traditional Food and Poverty
While China boasts the world’s second-largest economy and a growing number of billionaires, the country’s impoverished population continues to suffer. Although the national poverty rate fell from 10.2 percent in 2012 to 3.1 percent in 2017, China still estimated that over 16 million rural people were living below the poverty line in 2019.

The Chinese government, under the leader Xi Jinping, has made great strides in poverty reduction. A major goal is to eliminate extreme poverty in China by 2020. Efforts to aid the country’s poor include planning for road and housing construction in rural areas, as well as education. This is mainly because rural areas are home to most of China’s poor population. One practice occurring in the Gansu province of China adopts a less traditional approach. Here, traditional food and poverty link in a way that aims to help the rural poor.

The Gansu Province

The Gansu Province is a rural area in northwestern China and home to about 26 million people. Gansu is predominantly an agricultural area, yet frequent earthquakes, droughts and famines have strained the area’s agricultural output and economy.

Poverty is a significant issue that faces the residents of Gansu, but the Chinese government is taking note. Local authorities have been combating poverty from all angles. They recently adopted a rather unconventional approach to fight economic concerns. The local Gansu province authorities plan to teach residents how to make a traditional Chinese noodle dish from scratch.

Lanzhou Beef Noodles

Lanzhou beef noodles get their name from the province’s capital city and are a traditional and famous meal that people eat widely across China. Making the dish from scratch involves the combination of flour and water to create the chewy noodles. The noodles also include clear broth, beef, cilantro, green onions and chili oil.

Gansu government officials announced in 2019 that they planned to teach as many as 15,000 impoverished people how to make these noodles from scratch in an effort to reduce poverty in rural areas. This practice has two main focuses— teach residents how to cook a cheap, traditional and hearty meal and then use this knowledge to facilitate employment. Employment could be through an established noodle shop in the area or by opening their own shop.

Traditional Food and Poverty

While the noodle initiative in the Gansu Province may seem unorthodox, similar programs have occurred in other parts of China. Noodles, in all different varieties, have long been a vital part of cultures around the world. The names of different noodles often even mark certain historical persons or events. Noodles also serve as a way to commemorate specific events in one’s life, such as a birthday or a new year in other cultures.

Additionally, the link between traditional food and poverty is one that is gaining increasing attention as the world examines the nuances of poverty. One study on the traditional “poverty cuisines” of Arab food in Israel, connects the act of cooking and consuming these meals to empowerment in the face of adversity. This study alleges that food choices can allow autonomy and room for preservation and creation of identity.

In examining the link between traditional food and poverty, opportunities for both economic and ideological growth arise. The noodle-making efforts in the Gansu province and across China are a strong example of how food can influence social change. Speaking about the efforts to teach noodle-making in China, NPR reporter Yuhan Xu updated an old proverb, stating “Give a man a bowl of noodles and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to make noodles and you feed him for a lifetime.” Let this new proverb be one that people consider in the fight against global poverty.

Elizabeth Reece Baker
Photo: Pixabay

Nonprofits That Empower WomenToday, the fight for women’s rights continues to pick up steam. However, many women’s voices around the globe are still not being heard. Fortunately, more organizations are taking up the mantle to ensure that gender equality remains a top priority when it comes to global development. Here are five global nonprofits that empower women.

5 Global Nonprofits That Empower Women

  1. Women for Women International
    Women for Women International, or WfWI, is a nonprofit founded in 1993 working with women from impoverished and war-torn countries. It assisted more than 500,000 women since and is currently situated in Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This nonprofit works to give women an opportunity to build a support network for each other and share their experiences while also teaching them new skills and resources to safeguard their futures. WfWI believes in empowering women in four different ways—economic empowerment, social empowerment, sustaining peace and responding to conflict. Outside of programs that relate directly to helping women, WfWI also focuses on “complementary programs” that center around men’s engagement in women’s rights issues, graduate support and community advocacy.
  2. The Malala Fund
    Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai founded the Malala Fund in 2013 to give girls around the world an opportunity to receive a safe and quality education. The fund mainly focused its attention on countries where girls are least likely to have access to this kind of education, specifically in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. This fund targets three specific areas when it comes to ensuring that girls have an opportunity to receive a quality education. These are (i) advocacy, specifically in holding leaders accountable, (ii) investing in educators and those who are also fighting for girls’ education and (iii) giving girls the opportunity to speak for themselves and allowing their voices to be heard.
  3. Global Fund for Women
    Founded in 1987, the Global Fund for Women strives for gender equality and advocates for the rights of women and girls across the globe. It mainly fights for reproductive rights for women, violence prevention and economic fairness. For the Global Fund, women and girls around the world should always feel “strong, safe, powerful and heard.” This group specifically partners with “women-led groups who are courageously fighting for justice in their own communities” which allows these organizations to tackle issues head on. Since its founding, it has worked in 175 countries and contributed to at least 5,000 organizations that have similar values as the Global Fund for Women.
  4. Pathfinder International
    Founded in 1957, Pathfinder International works to improve the sexual and reproductive health of people around the world. While it participates in all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, its main focus is pregnancies and making sure women are aware of all options available to them. Pathfinder International’s mission is to try to lower the rate of women dying from preventable complications with pregnancies, help those infected with HIV and promote proper sexual and reproductive health. It operates under the values of respect, courage, collaboration, innovation and integrity. Pathfinder International is located in 20 countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt and Mozambique.
  5. Madre
    Madre is a women’s rights organization that specifically works with smaller organizations fighting for women’s rights in war-torn nations. It focuses on three specific issues. These are gender violence, climate justice and “Just Peace,” which is meant to provide women with an opportunity to recover from the experiences they had and work toward a more peaceful world. In order to work with these three specific causes, Madre uses three strategies—grantmaking, capacity building and legal advocacy. These three strategies bring women into the conversation and allow them the opportunity to enact change, support one another and give them an opportunity to take part in policymaking. Some of the countries Madre reaches include Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Kenya.

– Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico
According to a 2016/2017 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Mexico is one of the five countries in the world where the number of women starting their own businesses is equal to or greater than men. This is fantastic news because if men and women participate equally in the economy, Mexico’s GDP could increase by 43 percent or $810 billion. From 2000 to 2010 alone, women’s participation in the workforce decreased extreme poverty by 30 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. With that increase in female entrepreneurship in Mexico, women are able to become more independent, but many women still face powerful barriers in starting their own business.

Many women, especially in subsistence settings, lack access to training, financing and markets, and face physical, sexual and economic violence. The average female-headed household earns $507 a month in urban areas and $273 a month in rural areas while male-led households earn $780 a month in urban areas and $351 a month in rural areas. The burden of domestic tasks also falls mostly on women. A 2009 survey found that men spend an average of 53 hours a week on economic activities and 12 hours on domestic tasks while women spend an average of 40 to 45 hours a week earning money and 20 hours maintaining the family and household.

The Marketplace Literacy Project

Elena Olascoaga, a gender and development consultant and former project manager for the Marketplace Literacy Project in Mexico, is very familiar with the challenge successful female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces. Olascoaga describes the Marketplace Literacy Project as an initiative to help people in subsistence settings become entrepreneurs by acknowledging the skills they already have in the marketplace and giving them the tools to build on and market pre-existing skills.

According to Olascoaga, the founder of this methodology and workshop program, Professor Madhu Viswanathan, tried to bring this program to Mexico for a long time before finding a U.S. State Department grant intended for breaking cycles of violence against women due to economic dependency. He initially designed the program to be gender-neutral so Olascoaga came in because her background in gender consultancy allowed her to effectively factor the unique challenges female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces to the workshops. She added a new program to the methodology that she called autonomy literacy, because, although the program teaches participants to create their own income, it is often difficult for people in abusive situations to start a business, even if they have the know-how.

The Need for Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico

While Mexico has made great strides to improve gender equality, there is often still a cultural emphasis for women to become mothers and housewives, to a point where Olascoaga describes economic dependence as romanticized. Many consider women lucky if they do not have to work because their husband provides food and shelter. However, this kind of love can be a trap. If the husband is the only provider, then the wife is not building her own savings or gaining experience in the workforce. “If something goes wrong in the relationship, then they have nowhere else to go,” she said.

In an interview by Forbes Magazine, hotel owner Gina Lozada said that “…Most parents don’t educate their girls to succeed in business. On the contrary, it is normal that women are raised to believe that their goal should be to marry and take care of the family.” Often, because female entrepreneurship in Mexico does not receive emphasis, women feel that they do not have many options and lack the confidence to start their own company.

Olascoaga observes that, because women in subsistence settings feel that they cannot strike out of their own, they often stay with their abuser. “A common phrase is no se hacer nada which is I don’t know how to do anything,” she says. Autonomy training, when combined with marketplace literacy training, teaches women that they do know how to do something. For example, they might be good cooks or skilled embroiderers. The methodology of the Marketplace Literacy Project is to build on preexisting knowledge and teach women to recognize their skills and to think strategically about their resources.

Autonomy Literacy

“We want women to be aware that they can create their income,” said Olascoaga. In the workshops, the Marketplace Literacy Project works with women in two age groups, women older than 18 and girls 14 to 18 years old. In her experience, almost all the women older than 18 had been in violent relationships where they stayed with their aggressors because they did not have economic independence. Some among the younger group were already mothers and in violent relationships where they had the potential to work and build skills, but their partners would not let them.

As the younger group went through the program, though, many of them began to realize that their mothers, aunts and other relatives were living in similar situations. One struggle that she noted when working with women is that they will not recognize that they are living in an abusive situation, especially to a group of strangers, so they instead speak in hypotheticals. The participants may know someone in this situation, and if they did, they would express how they could help.

The Marketplace Literacy Project, though, has helped give more than 4,500 women tools for economic independence since its start in 2016. Olascoaga said that those who participate have two major takeaways. The first is that autonomy becomes a very important concept and the second is that they do not need money to start a business. Olascoaga was happy to report that women will often come up to her and say that, after the workshop, they started businesses by selling cookies or embroidering. “It might seem small to us,” Olascoaga said, “but for them, it’s a really big deal.”

With female entrepreneurship in Mexico on the rise, more and more women are not only finding empowerment in their lives but changing the world around them by challenging a culture that often devalues their work.

Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

 

Womenkind WorldwideInternational organization Womankind Worldwide is working to unify gender equality campaigns globally.
To achieve its aims, Womankind Worldwide teams up with local organizations to create action plans that will help meet the local needs as well as follow cultural traditions. By partnering with local organizations and movements, it can quickly identify the needs of the community and strategies on how best to interact with the social and political climate.

Womankind Worldwide

Womankind Worldwide has finely tuned its approach over the past three decades based on what is most effective and what will create sustainable change. It currently works in Africa, Latin America and Asia, tailoring its plan of action to each country with the aim of meeting three universal goals.

  1. End violence against women and girls in any and all forms
  2. Increase women’s rights for economic freedom and land ownership
  3. Ensure that woman have an equal voice in politics and policy decisions.

The organization has found that the goals are best achieved through three approaches. First, in collaboration with local partners, it creates a variety of projects and services to support and uplift women. Not only does the organization create shelters for women in need but it also develops workshops to help women uncover new career paths.

Second, it believes supporting and strengthening existing local women’s rights movements is critical to creating sustainable change. It works to support the growth of local organizations through technical support, communications, shared learning, advocacy and funding opportunities. Lastly, Womankind Worldwide works on an international level to create change. As a leading authority on global women’s rights, it uses its influence and expertise to ensure women’s development is at the heart of international advancement work.

Challenging Initiatives

Part of its commitment to creating change on international levels is challenging initiatives that may be approaching the problem incorrectly. Womenkind Worldwide has continually argued that the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, launched in 2017 and managed by the World Bank, ultimately undercuts economic growth for women.

Through the initiative, the World Banks targets so-called “high-growth women,” which Womankind Worldwide argues will most likely not reach the poorest women. It also argues that it undermines women’s access to “decent work” and fails to address the structural issues causing the disparity. It continues to emphasize the importance of expanding the program and digging deeper into the roots of the problem.

Connecting Women

Womenkind Worldwide is currently focusing on strengthening Women’s rights movements across Africa by connecting them. It has partnered up with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the National Association for Women’s Action in Development (NAWAD) and local legal organizations to develop legislation promoting equality and access.

In 2017-18, Womankind Worldwide directly benefited 103, 705 women and indirectly supported more than 12.7 million women. It currently focuses on Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe with smaller programs also in Tanzania Zambia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Ethiopia, Womankind Worldwide has given more than 2,000 women business training, provided more than 3,500 women with legal aid and supported the education of 4,000 girls.

Womankind Worldwide believes that long-term collaboration is the most effective way to create lasting change, but small steps can make significant changes for individuals. For many women, the spaces created by Womankind Worldwide and their partners are the first time women are brought together and asked what difference they want to see. As many organizations look to implement short term solutions or projects for women, Womankind Worldwide is looking to change the way they interact with their world.

Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

asante africa foundationEducation has a massive impact on global poverty rates. According to the Global Partnership for Education, around 171 million people globally would escape poverty if every child left school with the ability to read. However, according to the Brookings Institute, one in four primary school-aged children in East Africa are not receiving an education. Asante Africa Foundation is working to combat this statistic. The non-profit organization aims to provide quality education and job skills to underprivileged children in Kenya and Tanzania through a four-pronged approach.

The Leadership and Entrepreneurial Incubator Program

The sub-Saharan workforce is the least skilled in the world. According to an Inter-University Council of East Africa report from 2014, a mere 49 percent of employers in Kenya believe graduates are prepared to succeed in an entry-level position. Only 39 percent of employers in Tanzania believe graduates are prepared. Asante’s leadership program works with children to build skills that are applicable in the workforce.

The program is a three year curriculum focused on personal development, job readiness and entrepreneurship. Skills like goal setting, financial literacy, leadership development, professional etiquette, industry exploration, project planning, interviewing and resume building are taught to children in the program. The programs five year impact report states that around 60 percent of participants have a leadership position in their communities, more than 70 percent have completed internships and participants have seen a 40 percent increase in salaries as opposed to those not involved in the program.

The Girls’ Advancement Program

According to Human Rights Watch, over 49 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are out of primary and secondary school. Tanzania was found to have policies harmful to girls’ education. Human Rights Watch discovered that school officials conducted pregnancy tests and expelled pregnant students. The Girls’ Advancement Program teaches female students about sexual maturation, reproductive health, children’s rights and also assists schools in providing safe environments for girls.

The program has greatly benefited female students. Financial literacy is at 95 percent, 85 percent of participants feel they can attend school while menstruating and 70 percent know the importance of HIV awareness and prevention. The program also involves male students and helps them learn about male and female health.

Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program

The third of the four ways Asante African Foundation is educating impoverished youth in East Africa is by improving educational resources and classroom environments. The Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program provides intensive teacher training, a learner-centered education model and low cost digital resources to schools. Over 3,000 teachers have been trained to use digital resources in the program. According to Asante, 63 percent of students involved saw increases in English and critical thinking skills.

Scholarship Program

According to UNICEF, direct and indirect costs of schooling are a large barrier to education, especially among girls. Asante provides scholarships for primary, secondary and university level schooling. The primary school scholarship covers food, school materials, uniforms, personal items, boarding and transportation. The secondary and university scholarships cover all the aforementioned items except transportation and are based on academic performance. All of the scholarships cover one year of expenses and are given to rural and poor students of East Africa.

Asante has positively impacted over 500,000 lives through their programs. According to Global Partnership for Education, programs like Asante’s help reduce poverty rates, increase individual earnings, reduce income inequality while promoting economic growth. Asante has received awards from UNESCO, the Jefferson Awards Foundation, the Khan Academy, the African Achievers Awards and the United Nation Girls’ Education Initiative for their effective and beneficial work. The four ways Asante African Foundation is educating impoverished youth in East Africa and strategies like them are essential for the development of that region, and according to the U.N., imperative in ending extreme poverty.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr