Olanike Olugboji on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Olanike Olugboji, the Founder/Director of Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment, and WEA Project Lead for the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstove Project in Nigeria, recently attended the Inclusive Global Summer Institute at the Sié Center in Denver, Colorado. This gathering brings together women-identifying activists from around the world for a three day workshop that creates space for women to grow in their leadership skills for promoting peace, security, and human rights.

Olanike — who is also a WEA Founding Mother — has forged an amazing path for sustainability and economic independence for women in her community and beyond. She has initiated and held capacity building trainings for over 3,000 women to develop entrepreneurial skills to run their own Clean Cookstove businesses. These businesses provide the opportunity for women to have a positive impact on the environment, their health, and their household savings.

You can listen to Olanike speak on gender equality and women’s empowerment in this video from the Inclusive Global Leadership Summer Institute. You can also follow her initiatives on World Pulse.

“We can’t wait for leadership to be handed to us, we have what it takes. And we can move from that place of seeing ourselves as victims or people who are seeking help and change, to people who are creating change, people who are leading change. And that is why women must rise up” Olanike Olugboji.

[In the News] Pulling the Planet Back from the Brink, One Farm at a Time

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Here at WEA, we have spent the last 7 years committed to small scale, regenerative farming practices that restore rather than deplete our lands. Currently, industrial scale agriculture is consuming Earth’s resources in a grossly unsustainable manner and is a primary driver for the destabilization of the worlds ecological balance. A revolution of ecological agriculturalists is necessary to shed light on and bring momentum towards the shift to regenerative farming, a practice that incorporates ecological principles into closed loop farming systems to provide more sustainable means for food production.

This article from The Rockefeller Foundation discusses these issues and the mindset shift that’s needed to make a change.

Photo: Rockefeller Foundation

“As a farmer, I have spent the last few years making transformative changes to my own thinking and agricultural practices… I have studied how other farmers are applying this approach in Australia, Africa, and North and South America. The results, as on our farm, have been remarkable: Healthy landscape function was restored, production increased, biodiversity rebounded, climate change factors were ameliorated, and vastly healthier food was produced.

It is our beliefs that will determine our fate. And there’s reason to believe a new cohort of ecological agriculturalists can alter the course of our civilization with new ideas and practices. They understand that we must embrace a new way of feeding the world, or there won’t be any people left to feed.”

Check out WEA’s support for regenerative farming through our Seeds of Resilience project, and Shakti: Empowering Women Farmers to Lead, an exchange and training project.

A note from WEA’s Founder

This year-end note from WEA’s Founder, Melinda Kramer, is one way we keep our community up to date on the important news impacting our work and world and ways you can get involved!

In this year’s letter, Melinda shares our dream for the kinds of contributions that can best support WEA at year-end:

  1. 20 monthly supporters step forward at the $25, $50, or $125 level. Pooled together, these monthly gifts cover the costs for a woman leader to participate in a year of WEA training;
  2. 5 donors join our Giving Circle, a dynamic group of supporters who pledge $5,000-$50,000 each year for 3 years. This gives us the runway we need to plan our multi-year programming, serving our grassroots partners in a sustained way;
  3. 40 people make a one-time gift of $75 before Dec. 31st so we can meet a $3,000 match made by a generous WEA champion;
  4. 3 people agree to host an event or house party for WEA in 2018, introducing their community to our work;
  5. One person joins the Founders Circle of our Ripple Academy, a group that underwrites the program that will scale our impact across multiple regions.

Read the note in its entirety here, and be sure to sign up on our website to get all our updates in the future.

Who are the trainers of the WISE Clean Cookstoves Training Project?  Meet Regina Poto.

“The women have gathered together to be pioneers of this clean cookstove. I see a lot of passion in them – passion to change lives, passion to go out there and talk to people about the usefulness of the clean cookstove – and I believe with time and with the enthusiasm I see in them, it’s going to go beyond the shores of this nation…clean cookstoves will become a household name.”

Regina Poto has been an invaluable member of our WISE Clean Cookstove Training team!  She is currently serving as Financial Advisor to the 30 women clean cookstove ambassadors and has brought a wealth of knowledge in entrepreneurship, financial management, profitability, marketing, scalability and long-term sustainability.  We are thrilled to have her as a Financial Advisor on this project because of her long tenure in the banking sector — she has been a perfect fit for our WISE team!

In August 2017, Regina led a refresher course on the financial topics and tools covered during our April and May training intensives for the women entrepreneurs. Since then, she has been working with the women to regularly update their business plans based on real order numbers and operating costs they’ve experienced since being in the field.

In the video below, Regina talks about the WISE Clean Cookstoves Training program and the promise of this work:

To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, be sure to visit our project page!

Seeds of Resilience: An update from our Seed Savers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving

“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree

The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!

Photo Credit: Vanastree

From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.


Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management

A core aspect of the trainings  has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master.  A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.  

“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).


Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community

One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated  by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:

“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee

“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee

In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.

One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home.  She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”

Photo Credit: Vanastree

We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens.  We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!

For more on WEA’s work with women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.