Getting Women a Seat at the Table: Q&A with Charles Maina, Financial Advisory Coordinator for East Africa

Charles Maina

Over the last year or so, our Advisory Services team has been experimenting with different ways in which we can continue to increase the participation of women in our various financial management and technical assistance workshops around the world.

Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Charles Maina, our financial advisory coordinator for East Africa, to hear about the innovative approach he and his team have been piloting among our Advisory clients in Uganda and Rwanda.

Root Capital delivers financial training to current and prospective clients around the world. Why are these trainings important to the small and growing agricultural businesses we target?

When people understand business — when they understand the impact of their actions and decisions on the company — they make better decisions and improve the company’s results and strategic position. Employees better understand the financial reasons for changes in policy and become more supportive of senior management, even in difficult times. Through our Advisory Services, we provide targeted financial management training to agricultural businesses so that they have the business acumen to grow and sustain their enterprises.

With men at the helm of so many of these businesses, are there ways in which you encourage women’s participation in these trainings?

Many times, that’s right: men can be the key decision-makers at these businesses. For the group workshops we host in East Africa, Root Capital will invite two people from each business, and more often than not, these invitations will go to straight to male decision makers who elect to send themselves and a male colleague. Women have seldom been given the chance to participate in these workshops, which is especially unfortunate because women are often in accounting or other middle management positions that could benefit the most from these trainings.

For the last few months, in order to correct for that and increase women’s attendance, we’ve slightly altered the way in which we invite participants to our trainings in East Africa. We’re still inviting two people from each business, but now offer an all-expenses-paid third slot to the business if the third person is a woman. We’re not saying men can’t participate of course, but now we’ve built in an incentive for the business to send women.

How has that been working?

We started this incentive in Uganda and had some impressive responses. This has become a formalized part of our invitation process for all of our workshops in East Africa, and we’ve seen it work perfectly well.

For the businesses that don’t have many women or where men are in top leadership roles, there’s now an opportunity to bring new, emerging leaders to the trainings and give them the skills they need to excel. Since we’ve started doing this, we’ve had more or less a one-to-one ratio of men to women at the trainings.

What have you learned since you started doing this? Has your approach evolved at all?

We’ve learned that it’s not as cut and dry as simply sponsoring a woman’s attendance in these workshops. On top of their jobs at these businesses, women also have full-time jobs taking care of their families at home. So, in addition to incentivizing the business to sponsor women to come to trainings, we’ve had to think of creative ways to get women to actually attend.

We recently hosted a several-day workshop in Rwanda, for example, where two of the nominated women participants were reluctant to come because they had young babies at home. Root Capital and their organizations split the cost of extra accommodations so that their children could come with them. It was important to us that they were as comfortable as possible – and it was so exciting to see that their employers recognized the value in their attendance and went out of their way to split the cost with us.


From a recent financial management training in Kigali, Rwanda

This kind of flexibility and creative thinking around incentivizing women isn’t unique to our trainings in East Africa. Many of our Financial Advisory Coordinators have been adapting and tailoring trainings to meet women’s needs in different geographical and cultural contexts around the world.

What about once women are at the trainings? Do they participate as much as you’d hope?

You’d be impressed by their participation. They are eager to learn and they’re hungry for these kinds of trainings. Many of the women at the trainings are accountants or account assistants who didn’t have lots of time to practice accounting after school, and they’re excited to build confidence through our trainings.

What motivates you to continue increasing women’s participation in these trainings?

I know this is just the beginning. We have been testing this approach to see if it could work, and as you can see, the response isn’t bad! I’m excited for what these women can accomplish for themselves and their businesses when given the right opportunities, and I’m glad Root Capital can play a role in making that happen. 

Topics: Advisory Services | East Africa | Staff Profiles | Women in Agriculture |

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