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Meet Binta: Clean Cookstove Entrepreneur and Inspiring Leader

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Binta (with glasses) at the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training.

Binta Yahaya is a member of the Women of Vision Development Initiative (WVDI), an NGO active in grassroots entrepreneurship, community mobilization and environmental advocacy in Lere Local Government, a rural town in Kaduna State, Nigeria. She was part of a team that successfully led women to advocate for changes to land inheritance laws and campaigned for political inclusion of women in wards and village councils. She also promoted tree planting for erosion control and anti-desertification campaigns, trained women to use organic manure for fertilizing farmlands to mitigate the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers, and advocated for household sanitation and personal hygiene among women in rural areas as a means of controlling the spread of communicable diseases.

Binta primarily used a traditional firewood stove for all her cooking needs but became interested in our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training Program when she began to recognize her cooking fuel must be toxic. She said “on the top part of the stove, there is accumulated soot”, which she imagined was “dangerous to inhale.”  She became aware of the health, environmental, and livelihood problems such as air pollution, illness and disproportionate negative impacts on girls and women in her community stemming from this traditional method of cooking and wanted to bring home a solution.

Upon being selected to participate in our Clean Cookstoves Training, Binta received technical and entrepreneurship skills training, a seed grant, ongoing peer support, and access to a global network of women leaders like herself. After the first week of capacity-building training, Binta was inspired by the life-saving importance of the clean cookstove technology and immediately started selling. She returned to her community with greater knowledge of the health, safety and security risks associated with cooking with firewood and gained credibility in clean energy, clean cookstove options and utilization. By the time Binta returned for the second week of training, she had already sold 70 clean cookstoves to her local community!

Despite losing her father shortly after the second week of training, Binta managed to channel her grief and energy into becoming the first woman entrepreneur in our program to reach our target of 120 clean cookstoves sold within five months. One of Binta’s customers used to spend 200 Naira ($0.55 USD) on firewood every day but, since buying a clean cookstove, she repurposes the 150 Naira she saves every day to buy fabric for her new clothing enterprise. Another customer was frequently treated for eye irritation from prolonged exposure to smoke. Since buying a clean cookstove from Binta, her eyes are no longer irritated and she is able to save the money she previously spent on medicine.

But Binta didn’t stop there! After recognizing the primary market in her community was made up of artisanal farmers, she embarked on a complementary business venture to produce and sell charcoal briquettes made from any unused agricultural waste, which can be used by households as a clean source of fuel for cooking and heating. With the $50-120 profit she earns from selling clean cookstoves each month, she has been able to invest in new machinery for mixing, molding and cutting to help streamline the charcoal briquette making process. For perspective on the success of her business, one of these machines costs roughly $800-1,000 USD. Binta now has her own growing business and has become recognized as a leader and role model for young girls by both women and men in her community. This is especially significant in a society where women rarely hold such accolades.

Binta has also designed her own version of a clean cookstove, modeled after one of the current cookstoves on the market (Nenu cookstove). The dimensions of the stove are a bit smaller and, uniquely, has two compartments instead of one.  This extra, lower compartment gives a woman the added flexibility to bake bread or dry fish in the compartment while she is cooking. She had a prototype made by a local artisan, which she is currently testing with the Nigerian Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (NACC).  She gifted the first prototype to our partner, WISE (Women’s Initiative to Sustainable Environment), as a sign of gratitude. “You have already changed my life but you don’t know it…because If I had to pay for what I learned from you, I don’t think I could afford it. I have no words to say thank you.”

For more information on our WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, visit our project page and to learn more about WISE’s work, please visit their website.

Meet The Interns: Hi, Arianna!

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Wondering who’s helping to keep the magic behind our social media going this summer? Please help us welcome Arianna to our WEA intern team! She a senior at the University of San Francisco, and will be using her passion for writing and social change to support our communications and the women environmental leaders we work with around the world.

Get to know Arianna better below!

Name: Arianna Casabonne

Hometown: Brentwood, California

If you had a super power what would it be (and why)? If I could have one superpower it would be to teleport. Partially because I would love to be able to easily travel the world, but also because it would be so convenient to be able to show up where ever I need to be immediately. I would never have to commute or ride the bus!

Why did you want to intern with WEA? I really wanted to intern with an organization that was doing work that I could identify with on a more personal level, and WEA is just that! The current state of the environment and where we’re heading makes it absolutely urgent that we take care of our planet. Also, for as long as I can remember I’ve always felt passionate about women’s rights and leadership. WEA’s mission is a great fit for what I’m interested in and what I want to work towards.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. My mom, of course! She works extremely hard and handles everything and everyone around her with patience, love, and kindness. I aspire to be a woman like her who is dedicated and hardworking but also kind and empathetic to people and the environment.

Why women and the environment? Women are disproportionately affected by environmental catastrophes. When girls have to give up on their education and future careers to help their families as a result of environmental difficulties, an inequality that already exists is deepened.

What does life outside of WEA look like? I love spending time writing, drawing, listening to music, and working on crafty projects. I attend a lot of music festivals and love trying new things with my friends. I just moved back from a 5 month stay in France so I’m working on growing my plant collection again.

What’s you favorite thing to do in the bay area? There is so many it’s impossible to choose! I live in San Francisco so of course I love Dolores park, Golden Gate park, and Off The Gird. I’m always looking out for artists I love playing at small venues in the city.

What are you currently reading / watching / listening to? The Gorrilaz just came out with a new album so I’ve been listening to that a lot, but I love so much music It’s impossible to name it all. Right now, I’m reading Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Every summer I watch a show called Big Brother with my friends and my mom. Although I don’t love reality TV, we get really into this show and schedule times to watch it together.

Meet the Interns: Hey, Sadie!

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WEA is ecstatic to introduce you to one of our newest interns, Sadie! Her passion and devotion to protecting women and the environment makes her a perfect addition to our Programs + Operations Team. Sadie will be bringing her incredible skill set and warm spirit to our team for the rest of summer, and we’re so honored!

Help us welcome Sadie and read more about her below!

Name: Sadie Gray

Hometown: pacific palisades, CA

If you had a super power what would it be (and why)? I wish I had the ability to teleport because being able to travel anywhere on the planet in an instant would be a dream come true!

Why did you want to intern with WEA? As a Global Studies major with a concentration in Development, I’ve spent time studying how international development can often be more destructive than beneficial. Many development projects go wrong or go nowhere because organizations do not work on local levels, overlooking communication with those they are trying to help. WEA stood out to me because it is different in this sense, WEA’s philosophy embraces empowerment and education of women in local communities where things like climate change and contaminated water are effecting their daily lives. I’ve always been passionate about working to protect the environment, but felt as though there was so little I could actually do to effect change. Once I came across WEA, my view changed because I realized I could be involved in an organization that creates tangible change with all the right people in all the right places.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. I’ve long been inspired by the career of Maria Shriver. She’s been a champion of women from all walks of life. During her time as first lady of California, she created The Women’s Conference which donated millions to women’s charities. Her work covers so many different bases, from investing in female entrepreneurs, to providing health care – she has always has women’s rights and empowerment as the foundation of her career.

Why women and why the environment? women have time and time again proven that they are are resilient and eager to deal with issues facing the  environment, despite being unprivileged in access to resources, education, and information. Women often face the burden of being the sole farmer and water provider for their families, but as climate change challenges normalcy of their daily routine, young girls are dropping out of school to help their mothers. This only perpetuates the inequality gap we see between men and women. That’s why its so important that we make an effort to work for and with the communities of women who are willing to improve the future of the environment.

What does life outside of WEA look like? I am a student at UC Berkeley, but when I am not occupied with schoolwork I love spending time outdoors and being active. Spending time with friends & family, cooking and drawing are my favorite ways to unwind!

What’s your favorite thing to do in the bay area? My favorite thing in the bay is hiking up the Clark Kerr fire trails at sunset, the view from the top is amazing and the hike is short but steep!

What are you currently reading / watching / listening to? I am currently trying to learn Spanish so I am re-watching Grace & Frankie on Netflix, but this time in Spanish! I’m reading Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and loving listening to Leon Bridges and Jacob Banks.

Meet the Interns: Hi, Oriana!

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Summer is almost here, which means we’re welcoming a new cohort of bright and passionate interns to our team! To kick things off, we are so happy to introduce you to Oriana — a talented, dedicated force, and a committed advocate of climate resilience, particularly for displaced communities. She’ll be bringing all of her skills and care to our Programs + Operations team this summer.

Please help us in giving Oriana a very warm welcome!

Name: Oriana Cabrera Piemonte
Hometown: San Jose, CA

If you had a superpower, what would it be (and why)? I wish I knew how to speak every language because being able to communicate with anyone anywhere would give you the ability to connect with so many people and learn so much!

Why did you want to intern with WEA? I feel passionate about working in a field that challenges traditional development methods by learning alternative ways to combat food insecurity, poverty, and environmental destruction through grassroots organizing. This is exactly what WEA is doing by empowering rural communities and women to remain at the center of governance and management of their local resources. This is incredibly important as we face increasing climate change related natural disasters that have the ability to displace mass populations and can be a fueling force in local and international conflict. Coming from an immigrant family, I’ve always felt passionate about immigrant and refugee rights especially as I’ve learned more about the connections between climate change, human migration, and the risks that many immigrants might face when crossing borders. Through WEA’s projects, women, children, and communities as a whole have transitioned to be safer spaces that ensure climate resilience and economic opportunity, and potentially limits the number of people forced to move in search of education, employment, or safety.

Tell us about a woman who inspires you. Princess Nokia is an artist who has been a huge inspiration to me because she radically challenges societal norms surrounding gender and sexuality through her music. She talks a lot about embracing both masculinity and femininity as well as addressing intersectional issues surrounding race, women, the earth. One of the reasons I really appreciate her as a musician is because she aims at making her concerts safe spaces that prioritize women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

Why women and why the environment? As I became more involved studying the many intersections between environmental and social justice, I consistently found my studies leading me back to how women were most affected. I became most passionate about this when learning about illegal mining in South America and studying the impacts this had on indigenous women ranging from health impacts to increasing vulnerabilities to human trafficking and sexual violence; and in learning about the many injustices experienced by refugee women and children. Through my studies in international development I felt passionate about the lack of representation and inclusion of women in decision making for projects involving sustainability, employment, and education. Around the world knowledge has been gathered and passed down for generations by women through experiencing environmental changes and living directly in connection to their environment. This knowledge is incredibly valuable, and it must be heard and included when developing viable solutions to social and environmental issues, especially as women face increasing risks from the impacts of climate change.

What does your life outside WEA look like? I try to spend as much of my time as I can in a day outside. I love to be in the sun, whether I am just sitting outside reading or painting, out on a hike, or just walking around the city with friends. I also spend a lot of time with my family who are very involved with the Venezuelan community in the Bay Area so we spend a lot of time dancing and  cooking.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bay Area? I absolutely love going to the botanical gardens in Golden Gate Park. I love sitting out in the sun for the whole day or walking around and seeing all the beautiful trees, flowers, and the little birds and animals they attract.

What are you currently reading / watching / listening to? I am currently reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and have been watching the shows Atlanta and The Handmaid’s Tale! Some artists I’ve been listening to lately and absolutely love are Kali Uchis, Kaytranada, The Internet, and Anderson Paak.

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.