- UNITAR learner and entrepreneur Maureen Nduta empowers women in her community by involving them in her start-up farming business by the coastal region of Mombasa, Kenya and applying what she learned from the Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership Training for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa.
- Maureen sets an example of breaking barriers and limitations on cultural perceptions and societal expectations of a woman by being hands-on and engaging on her farming business.
- UNITAR Division for Prosperity's partnership with Unilever and Absa Bank targets to provide 5,000 women in Kenya with skills in social entrepreneurship, financial and digital literacy by the end of June 2022.
- Participants learned techniques to create sustainable solutions, identify risks as well as strengthen leadership style and express motivation as part of the entrepreneurial process and business management.
March 2022, Hiroshima Japan - Maureen Nduta was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Having lived in the city all her life, she wanted a fresh experience and moved to Mombasa in the coastal region. Her plans were all set: first get a small restaurant running, then start a small farm to supply produce for the restaurant, and later on enrol for a business degree. Everything seemed to be going to plan. Then COVID-19 happened.
When COVID-19 hit Kenya in March 2020, it led to a complete lockdown for several months. Business slowed and consumers stopped spending. People lost jobs, were forced to take unpaid leave or had their work hours reduced. Many urban Kenyans relocated to their rural homes or moved to where the cost of living was lower. Many explored side hustles to put food on the table or pay bills.
The pandemic hit Mombasa just when Maureen was about to open her restaurant, and she found herself fast-tracked into farming – much faster than she expected. She had no experience in farming as a commercial venture; nor did she have the capital to start a farm.
So Maureen started by joining a community group in Mombasa and learning from the local people about things like when to plant. She learned that most farming in the region was for subsistence only – farming was not practical nor lucrative because of the extremely hot weather and poor rainfall patterns.
Maureen also realized that opportunities for women were limited, especially in the rural areas. As in most rural Kenyan communities, cultural and societal pressures limit women’s opportunities to get paid jobs, venture into business, or pursue their interests. In coastal cities like Mombasa, many men sustain their families through fishing. Women are expected to stay at home and take care of the elderly and the children. They may engage in small-scale subsistence farming or do other things like weaving mats and baskets with palm leaves and beading.
Through a friend’s Instagram post, Maureen learned about the Unilever-ABSA entrepreneurship programme managed by UNITAR. The programme trains women entrepreneurs in Kenya to develop their social or commercial businesses by building entrepreneurship skills and financial and digital literacy. Maureen was not sure if the timing was quite right for her since her business was still young, but she decided to apply anyway. She figured she could still learn some new things that might help her better manage her farming business. She also liked that this training was for women entrepreneurs like her who want to be their own bosses.
Through the programme, Maureen worked on her farm project. She had planted tomatoes and spinach but realized how hard it was to grow anything in the coastal region: the rains were unreliable; fertilizers were expensive. To reduce her production costs, Maureen decided to explore organic farming, including finding a cheaper and more earth-friendly fertilizer. She discovered seaweed, which is freely available in coastal areas. Seaweed is a broad-spectrum fertilizer rich in minerals and hormones that stimulate plant growth. It promotes bacterial activity in soil mediums and improves root nutrient intake. It also improves crops resistance to disease, pests and abiotic stresses. Maureen now hires some local women to work on the farm and produce the organic fertilizer.
Despite a rough start, Maureen is glad that her experience in Mombasa has had a positive effect on her fellow women. The local women support Maureen and teach her about local conditions and in turn, Maureen’s project teaches them about sustainable farming, including how to make the organic fertilizer. Using what she learned from the UNITAR training, Maureen also helps the women with business ideas to draw up simple business plans that are realistic and achievable.
Maureen says many of the women in her community have big dreams. Some have brilliant ideas but lack the basic knowledge to get a business running or secure funding. Others are afraid to take that first step because of cultural perceptions and societal expectations about the role of a woman. Most rural women are illiterate, with no formal education or training, and literate or even semi-literate women cannot craft and present viable business proposals to secure loans from banks or other investors. This leaves many good business ideas untapped and unexplored.
Maureen thinks her own experience motivates the women who saw her move to this city and start a new life from scratch. Despite being a woman and a stranger in a new environment, she has been able to pull through, make new friends and move past her losses, and is now run a farming business while pursuing a business degree. So they think, if Maureen can do all this, why not me, why not us?
I always encourage the women to pursue their passions and interests. I remind them that going after your dreams does not need to compromise your role as a woman, or interfere with your responsibility as a mother, a wife, a sister or a daughter. You just need a clear vision, develop a good and practical plan, and then figure out how to strike a balance between pursuing that vision while being present for your family.
Her best takeaway from the UNITAR-Unilever-ABSA training was the skills to prepare a funding proposal. She had been financing her farming business out of her own pocket, which is costly and unsustainable. With her new knowledge, Maureen is confident she can package her vision and business ideas in a professional manner that will hopefully attract investors.
What we are doing here is contributing to alleviating poverty, empowering women and promoting the SDGs. Women have a lot of potential, we can achieve anything we want. So let’s just get out there and do something.