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To Combat Climate Change and Extreme Poverty, Invest in Women

By Guest Author September 23, 2020

By: Monica Kundu, Head of IT for BOMA Project

Wildfires are ravaging much of the western half of the United States. Hurricanes are hitting the Caribbean in above-average numbers this year. Record-setting temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Siberia in June. And California introduced the world to the terrifying reality of something called fire tornadoes in August. The timely arrival of Climate Week, an annual event promoting awareness and global action, feels more relevant and critical than ever.

And while everyone is prone to extreme weather, this issue, like so many others, undoubtedly hits poor, vulnerable, and underserved populations hardest.

In East Africa, where the land is arid to begin with, the changing climate is already having a devastating impact. The weather in Kenya and Uganda, which is largely dictated by the temperature of the Indian Ocean, has produced extremes on both ends of the spectrum: heavy rains during the dry season that have resulted in flooding, and long-lasting droughts that destroy grazing land.

The arid region of Northern Kenya is already being hit hard by climate change.

The arid region of Northern Kenya is already being hit hard by climate change.
(Photo credit: BOMA Project)

The intense and unpredictable weather patterns mean that men in many communities, primarily those in more sparsely populated regions of East Africa, are forced to travel many miles to find greener pastures for their livestock, leaving women and children alone–often for months at a time.

In patriarchal societies like the pastoral ones in Northern Kenya, men hold the financial, social, and cultural power, leaving women with very little responsibility–even in their own home. So when all the men leave for long periods of time, the women are left to fend for themselves and their kids, with few skills to do so. The struggle for survival is just as much cultural as it is environmental.

Today, 40% of all livestock traders in Northern Kenya are women.

Today, 40% of all livestock traders in Northern Kenya are women, many of whom employ men.
(Photo credit: BOMA Project)

At the BOMA Project, we see women as the key–not only to their families, their communities, and their region, but to solving the global problem of extreme poverty and mitigating climate change. Our root premise is simple: invest in women.

Our model is based on an internationally-certified proof of concept called REAP, or the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project. The program is equal parts barrier mapping and exit strategy, and the results so far have been literally life-saving. Since BOMA Project’s founding in 2009, we’ve reached more than 160,000 women and children.

Primary pillars of the gender-based program include: community entry, conditional cash transfer, financial and life skills training, mentoring, savings and access to credit, and financial inclusion. That first step, community entry, is a big one. Our program mentors identify women most vulnerable and whose families are most in need.

“Before enrolling with BOMA, life was hard. I had to rely on “cash” work. I did things like making fences for cattle, washing clothes for other people, and selling charcoal. The work was tough on me, and the income was unpredictable. What made things worse for me was that my husband was sick at the time. I had so much going on, inside and outside the home, and those were some difficult days.”
– Grace Naker Endnog, BOMA Project graduate

From there, mentors and mentees embark on a comprehensive two-year training program that ranges from basic economic principles like supply and demand, to more advanced concepts like profit and pricing, record keeping, and marketing. The coaching doesn’t stop with business. When there are deeply-rooted social and cultural norms to overcome, the life skills portion of the work our mentors do is even more important than the financial aspect.

Doing the deeper work of mandating training in areas like decision making, the importance of childhood education, family planning, and women’s rights is what makes our work so impactful.

 BOMA Project is focusing on women as a solution to extreme poverty.

BOMA Project is focusing on women as a solution to extreme poverty.
(Photo credit: David duChemin)

Technology is a key component of our work, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic when visiting women in remote areas isn’t a safe option. Utilizing impactful tools, like Salesforce and our proprietary data management platform, helps us to provide actionable insights on how we can provide the mentoring, support, and training that is most helpful to the women we serve. This technology tells us progress on program participants and staff, offers insight into areas where we can do better, and measures how womens’ lives have changed–all in real time.

Without these performance insights powered by Salesforce, we wouldn’t know, for example, that two years after a woman graduates from our program, she sees an average income increase of 147%, a whopping 1400% boost in savings, and a 63% decrease in children going to bed hungry, among other incredible areas of life change. The real-time insights by Salesforce have been invaluable during COVID-19–we were able to monitor the business performance of every woman entrepreneur and take immediate action if we saw revenue, profits or savings being affected. These targeted interventions helped our women entrepreneurs grow sales and revenue after the pandemic– at a time when businesses around the world have closed down.

That success is due, in large part, to the entrepreneurial role that our graduates take on after successfully completing the poverty graduation program. After graduating, the women go on to open businesses ranging from poultry rearing farms to livestock trading to convenience stores. That in its own right is impressive enough. Then consider that, as of today, more than 40% of all livestock traders are women–something that wasn’t even possible just a few years ago when women were strongly discouraged from running businesses.

“My life changed after a BOMA mentor taught me about running a business and saving up for emergencies. I began running a convenience store selling household staples like sugar, flour and oil. After COVID-19 hit, the foot traffic at my convenience store fell. With so many children at home, I started a business baking mandazi donuts. Business has flourished.. Now, I know we’re always going to have money. I’m always going to be able to feed my children and send them to school.”
– Grace Naker Endnog, BOMA Project graduate

Beyond opening and running a business, managing her family’s finances, and breaking cultural barriers, the women are also trained on key environmental issues that will certainly have long-lasting effects in the region. As leaders and key stakeholders in resource management, BOMA graduates learn and share vital environmentally-conscious practices, like pasture improvement, strategic water use and storage, and production of enriched livestock feed.

The holistic approach we’ve taken is having a long-ranging impact, and it’s proving what we know to be true: ending poverty and reversing the devastating effects of climate change start with investing in women.

Learn more about the vital work that BOMA Project is doing and hear directly from Monica in the Accelerate Your Impact with End-to-End Program Insights webinar tomorrow, September 24, at 1:00 p.m. BST (8:00 a.m. EST).

About the Author

Monica Kundu, Head of IT for the BOMA Project

Monica Kundu is the Head of IT for the BOMA Project. Monica’s team builds systems that enable BOMA to get real time insights into business performance and empower women in the drylands of Africa that have been impacted by climate change. Monica graduated from Egerton University with a B.S. in Computer Science.