Gender Equity Grants: Helping Kenya’s Working Mothers Succeed

A Kenyan farmer and her child.

No woman should have to choose between caring for her children and pursuing a fulfilling career. In this Kenyan village, working mothers found a way to do both.

Two years ago, we conducted a survey with employees of The Village Nut Company, a macadamia nut processor in Nyeri, Kenya, and one of Root Capital’s lending clients. We asked workers—60% of whom are women—what challenges they face in the workplace. The majority expressed concern about childcare, noting that they often had to stop working or take leave in order to care for their children. While many of them had relatives who could sometimes care for their children while they worked, few had a reliable source of childcare. It’s an experience many working parents worldwide can relate to.

Something wasn’t working for The Village Nut Company’s managers either. In their own responses, they expressed that the company struggled to retain new mothers as employees. They shared that training staff to replace new mothers was costly, time-consuming, and inefficient. Both the women employees and management of The Village Nut Company agreed: this system was unsustainable.

A young cowherd sits on the road near The Village Nut Company.

This issue is not unique to Nyeri. Globally, only half of the world’s 679 million children under the age of five have access to preschool or daycare. When childcare is available, low- and middle-income parents often can’t afford it. Those who can afford it often struggle to find a provider who will care for their child for an entire workday. All too often, it’s women who must sacrifice their careers in order to care for their children.

Like many of our client businesses, The Village Nut Company operates on razor-thin margins. The credit that Root Capital provides serves an essential financing need: enabling the company to purchase macadamia nuts from producers at a fair price and to pay them on time. But if The Village Nut Company wanted to address their employees’ need for affordable childcare, they were going to need additional support.

In partnership with the IKEA Foundation, the Wagner Family Foundation, and leading gender research organization Value for Women, we launched the Gender Equity Grants program to maximize the impact of our highest-performing gender-inclusive businesses. These grants of $20,000 don’t replace loans; they complement the credit we offer businesses by funding programs that advance women’s participation, skills, and leadership. The Village Nut Company was one of the first businesses to receive a Gender Equity Grant—and they’re already demonstrating the program’s value.

With their Gender Equity Grant, The Village Nut Company opened a daycare facility on the premises of their processing plant. Open to both their employees’ children and the children of others in their community, this daycare guarantees that young children of its majority-female staff are cared for. Alongside the daycare, the company launched an after-school program for older children so that their mothers wouldn’t have to leave work early.

The new daycare facility at The Village Nut Center.

Mary Muhara, cofounder of The Village Nut Company, says: “Success for me represents more children in the facility, an overall smoothly-run daycare center, and educational and creative activities such as a library, music, and art classes.” Two months ago, our staff visited the daycare, and confirmed that it’s doing well. Brightly colored paintings cover both the inner and outer walls of the facility, and young children scampered and crawled all over the well-lit room (and their teachers). Next, Mary is turning her eyes to Nyeri’s older children: The Village Nut Company has just completed a library, and is now building a play area outside of the daycare facility.

Women in agriculture face unique obstacles—obstacles that require specially tailored solutions. With just a small amount of support, the businesses we work with can create space for women to address the challenges they face. We are currently working with Value for Women to evaluate the outcomes of the pilot Gender Equity Grants, and look forward to sharing those results in 2018.

Our experience working with the women of The Village Nut Company reinforced one of our core beliefs: that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to ask the people that problem effects the most. We worked with our client business to find out what women wanted. We worked with our philanthropic partners to figure out the best way to give these women our support. And when resources and opportunity aligned, the employees of The Village Nut Company wasted no time in designing a solution that worked for them.

A case study on this innovative solution was recently featured in a global report on workplace-based childcare put together by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Root Capital was proud to share the story of The Village Nut Company as an example in rural Kenya that stood alongside corporate case studies from Japan, Turkey, the United States, and more.

Topics: East Africa | Partnerships | Stories of Impact | Women in Agriculture |

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