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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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!”
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!
On August 15th, the Atan Care Business Enterprise Team (one of the 15 two-person teams participating in WEA and WISE Nigeria’s Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training) hosted a community outreach event to share more about life-saving clean cookstoves with women in their local village.
Countless studies point to the adoption of affordable, effective, and durable clean cooking technologies as a key influencer on our planet. WEA works in Nigeria with women-led NGO, WISE, to train women in clean cookstoves entrepreneurship and to build a replicable training model for other regions. Around 93,000 people die each year of smoke-related illnesses in Nigeria, and globally 3 billion people cook over open fires, producing 2-5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to clean cookstoves reduces emissions while also protecting women’s health.
The training participants (in teams of two) have returned to their communities, equipped with new skills and seed grants to launch clean energy initiatives based on their business plans. They’ve hit the ground running – hosting outreach events to demonstrate the benefits of cookstoves and to motivate community members to purchase this life-saving solution.
Check out photos from an outreach event below, where clean cookstove entrepreneurs Anna Avong and Angelina Boye presented clean cookstoves to their community. Anna and Angelina’s Atan Care Business Enterprise Team chose to demonstrate the benefits of these stoves by cooking Nigerian jollof rice – a local favorite. Not surprisingly, participants immediately lined up to purchase stoves!
It continues to be such an honor to stand alongside these women leaders as they grow their business and advocacy skills, and create demand for clean cookstoves in their communities. It’s even more uplifting to see the collaboration, support and solidarity they offer each other – the key to success in our WEA training model.
To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training, visit our project pagehere.
Each Mother’s Day, we lift up and celebrate the work of mothers and community caregivers around the world. It is no easy task to nurture children, birth movements, or protect our shared future on Earth.
We know that you share our vision that through women’s leadership we can create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world, and we never forget that your partnership is making this vision possible — today and throughout our decade. This Mother’s Day, with your support, WEA’s carefully planted seeds can bloom.
WEA Project Lead Sunita Rao is the Director of Vanastree Collective and Project Lead for our Seeds of Resilience Project in Karnataka, India. Sunita’s work ensures that rural women leaders and small-scale forest home gardeners in one of the most richly biodiverse — and therefore severely threatened — regions of southern India can advocate for their rights, promote indigenous climate-resilient seed saving practices, and support climate adaptation and mitigation.
In her own reflection on what it means to nurture and protect, Sunita shared:
“Women…are able to sense the pulse of things in the natural world, which cannot be explained by words. It seems to happen almost by instinct, by an ancient calling that is written into their genetic code.
[It is] the feeling that happens to each of us as we touch our foreheads to the earth — the prostration is almost by reflex, unthinking, something you are so used to. Yet, each time there is that something that sparks off a connection to the Other, that almost gives you the power to be invincible while bringing that keen awareness that you are but a humble drop.
If you remember, that is — remember where the Source is, where the original loom where your own fabric was woven came from.
We are being bombarded by change that has made social and ecological refugees of many of us. In these dark times, the hope lies in the original memory of who we really are, in the primordial bond that connects us to the earth, in what we as women are capable of and…in keeping the sacred alive.
For it is this that will continue to nurture where all else fails. And this is what we must uphold, celebrate, and bring forth over and over again.”
In honor of our mothers — and all the unstoppable women in our lives — we invite you to make a tax-deductible contribution today. Stand with us and with leaders like Sunita as we remember the connection to our original loom, and preserve this hope for future generations.
From our hearts to yours, we wish you all the happiest of Mother’s Days!
In 2010, Monica Ayomah was one of the eight local women trainers in the West African Women and Water Trainings in Ghana. We were thrilled to hear from Monica this month and learn how her leadership has unfolded over the years. Today she is a WASH trainer in Ghana, touching the lives of countless more women and spreading critical water and sanitation technologies to many.
Here’s a short clip of Monica during the training, reflecting on her role as a woman trainer and how important representation is for women in technology.
“They were thinking it was only men who can do construction, it was only men who can work on water for women to use.”
The West African Women and Water Training, hosted by the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) — an initiative co-founded by WEA, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass — supported women to become entrepreneurial leaders in the WASH sector through workshops on capacity building, business development, and technical training in a range of WASH development projects. The training program also served as a platform from which women trainers could expand their training reach and capacity.
Monica trained the 15 teams on how to set up rainwater harvesting systems. Taking on that kind of leadership role, Monica said, she saw concrete ways her work could have lasting and far-reaching positive impact for other women and their communities.
“It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop,” she said, “that I realized I was empowered as a woman to empower other women to be leaders.” She explained that participating in the trainings connected her with a network of grassroots change-makers. This network helped her see how WASH intervention had the potential to empower more and more women. She saw how she could positively impact communities by providing education around safe water practices.
Monica came away from the 2010 Women and Water Trainings emboldened to carry her knowledge forward and help others gain skills, tools and confidence to realize those goals.
So, Monica started her own civil engineering firm!
Shifting professionally from masonry in private homes, Monica started a civil engineering firm and named it Won-Nyeya, meaning “God has seen” in the Builsa language. The firm works with WaterAid Ghana as a WASH construction partner and has five employees: a project officer, monitoring and evaluation officer, engineer, community development educator and a secretary. In the last few years Won-Nyeya has worked in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana to implement Water Sanitation and Hygiene services to underserved communities, schools and clinics.
Sometimes, Won-Nyeya’s work involves constructing or improving infrastructure like wells, rain harvesting systems and latrines. The firm may also be called upon to train Sanitation Management Teams or conduct WASH trainings at schools and health clubs.
Monica credits the 2010 Women and Water Training for helping her see ways to build Won-Nyeya as a firm with an effective engagement model that puts women at the center of their own community’s progress.
“Before implementing any WASH project we ensure that women are actively involved at the awareness creation and community level planning,” Monica explains, describing strategies Won-Nyeya uses that are clear and concrete while staying flexible enough to use effectively in various communities with different needs. In fact, water and sanitation management teams that are formed have at least three women occupying executive positions, training women as pump mechanics so that they are “actively involved in community decision making.”
And she is just getting started! In the future Monica hopes to develop construction and engineering programs specifically for women and girls in technical and vocational schools, as well as continue to increase access to potable water and sanitation services in underserved communities.