This year, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship introduced a new women's economic empowerment (WEE) affinity group for women-led social enterprises in our 2019 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. The idea of this affinity group came into existence with our strategic vision to promote women’s economic empowerment for a sustainable, diverse and better future. The goal of the WEE affinity group is to bring more women social entrepreneurs onboard to:

  • refine their business ideas

  • validate their business and financial models

  • provide them with a customized resource library with curated content related to gender lens, women entrepreneurship, and diversity

  • match them with industry-relevant mentors

  • foster peer-to-peer connections with our alumni and experts through webinars

  • offer opportunities for their businesses to flourish

To learn more about our recruitment journey and metrics for the 2019 GSBI cohort, read this blog.

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating some inspiring women entrepreneurs from our WEE affinity group and sharing their entrepreneurship story about, “How they made it happen”.

Fien Fomunung Rosette Forkom, CEO of Kayvey Nutri Foods

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Fien is the founder of Kayvey Nutri Foods, an organization that uses locally grown nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains to create a unique formula at an affordable rate, with the required amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for the proper growth of babies and infants.

Here’s how Fien made it happen!

“I was raised in a Cameroonian village in Africa as part of a family of seven children, by an uneducated mother who relied on subsistence farming to feed us. Undernutrition-related retarded growth, slow mental development, high infant mortality, and poor recovery rate of hospitalized patients are all realities within my community. Cameroon has an HIV incidence rate of 4.7%. The country hosts refugees from the conflict-torn Central African sub-region. An alarming rate of accidents occurs due to the deplorable road infrastructure. By the time I became a young mother, the challenges of keeping my children healthy through healthy nutrition became a personal issue. Many food brands existed in the market but I found that none of these imported generic brands provided a comprehensive solution to the problems faced by millions of mothers in my country. They are often unavailable where they are needed, the prices are usually unaffordable by the poor, and their formulation (milk, supplements, etc.) usually makes them appear more as luxuries than necessities. In 2010, I founded Dovic Relief Cameroon, a non-profit organization dedicated to women economic empowerment. To date, I have worked with 23 rural communities and affected the lives of over 3000 women. My work with Dovic Relief Cameroon gave me a broader perspective of the pressing needs that women and families in Cameroon face. I knew that I needed to create a solution that was innovative, sustainable, affordable, and accessible. Kayvey Nutri Foods company was born to solve the nutritional problems of the vulnerable population while providing me with the capital needed to fund my social work.  

I thus took the challenge to create Kayvey Nutri Foods, a food brand that is formulated using ingredients that are locally available in abundance. The nutritional content of Kayvey Nutri Foods is carefully constituted to provide a one-stop solution to the dietary needs of all the classes of people cited above, and the formulations are actual foods, snacks, and drinks that can be consumed by every member of the family. Whether it is a quick breakfast, or snacks at school or work, or ‘ready to eat’ packs at refugee centers, hospitals, and disaster relief shelters, Kayvey Nutri Foods has everybody in mind.”

Dr. Sasha Kramer, Co-Founder and Executive Director of SOIL

Photo Credit: Bernard Cherelus for SOIL

Photo Credit: Bernard Cherelus for SOIL

Leah Jean and Dr. Sasha Kramer are two powerful women who are also a part of our 2019 GSBI cohort. Dr. Sasha is the co-founder of SOIL, an organization that promotes dignity, health, and sustainable livelihoods through the transformation of wastes into resources. Leah is the business development director who joined the organization when it was only two years old.

How did Dr. Sasha make it this far?

“I was a graduate student in ecology at Stanford University when I read, :The Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization”, by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. The book had a huge impact on me, making me wonder how I might use my ecological training in a way that would also advance human rights. When Aristide was overthrown in a military coup in 2004, I accompanied a group of human rights observers to assess conditions in Haiti. I spent three weeks in northern Haiti attending demonstrations, visiting political prisoners, and falling in love with the country and its people.

I went back another dozen times and realized that the most pervasive human rights abuse in Haiti was—and remains—poverty. And a symptom of that poverty is that there’s very little access to is sanitation. I ended up writing a chapter in my ecology dissertation on “Liberation Ecology, Nitrogen, and Microbes,” arguing that if Haiti could recycle 50% of its human waste, it could increase its production of fertilizer by a factor of 17—making strides towards solving the country’s food crisis and its sanitation crisis at the same time.

From my work as a human rights observer, I had a strong network of community organizers in Haiti. They’d already been thinking about sanitation—for reasons of privacy, security, and disease control—and the potential to produce compost from human waste was another inducement, adding value for Haiti’s farmers. So together with this amazing group of Haitian community organizers and a brilliant engineer from the United States, I co-founded SOIL in 2006.”

Stella Sigana, CEO of Alternative Waste Technologies

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Stella is another inspirational woman entrepreneur participating in the 2019 GSBI cohort. Her organization solves a really unique problem by improving indoor air quality through the manufacture and supply of charcoal briquettes across sub-Saharan Africa.

How did Stella pave her way to entrepreneurship journey?

“The turning point in my life that made me start my enterprise was when an NGO I was working for in the Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, asked me to develop an income generating business model. The NGO was interested to execute it as a way of generating income for the purpose of sustainability. I worked very hard and put together a business project for the production of charcoal briquettes for that NGO. On the other side, an MIT student had already taught the community on how to make briquettes manually. When I presented the proposal to the top management, it was rejected and thrown out; I was disappointed and started working on it as my own business.

My initial support group was from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program that gave me business management skills as well as a seed fund of $5,000 that bought my first machine and raw materials. It got me started in the briquette business till today.”

Conclusion

With stories like these and many more to follow, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is paying tribute to social entrepreneurs who are making an impact within or outside their local communities.

According to a recent discussion paper by UN Women and UNDP, accelerating the pace of advancing gender equality in all spheres of society leads to a more rapid increase in progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Miller Center’s strategic vision of women’s economic empowerment is also deeply rooted in the goal of improving women’s access to resources, education, and employment, and also strengthening overall human, economic, and social capital of the world by achieving gender equality.

Let’s celebrate social entrepreneurship by cheering out loud for these founders and keep reading Miller Center’s blog to learn more about the women in the 2019 GSBI cohort and their journey as leaders and changemakers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.