Women selling fruit, handicrafts, milk or eggs all have one thing in common: the main problem they have faced up until now is that they have had no way to access markets beyond the one down the road from their farm or home… until now.
By Petra Zlatevska
These women are at the heart of Kenya’s future. Out of a population of 38 million, some 17 million people are living on or below the poverty line, most of them women and children. In the last two decades, several initiatives have been developed in Africa to address this issue through women’s economic empowerment. One such venture is the Uwezo fund in Kenya.
An integral part of the Kenyan government’s Vision 2030, a blueprint charter to enhance economic growth in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Uwezo Fund has been rolled out across Kenya’s 290 constituencies (districts). Aimed at enabling women, youth and persons with disabilities to access finances to promote businesses and enterprises – be it a product or service – grants are disbursed between 15 million KES and 27 million KES via the Ministry for Devolution.
However, Uwezo discovered that access to funding was not the main issue. How to use the funding and what to do with it emerged as the two main barriers to women setting up their own businesses. With this in mind, an eLearning platform was created to enable the fund recipients to devise business plans, manage their grants and learn basic business management skills.
“The Uwezo e-platform was inspired by an e-training programme we devised for Kenyan school teachers as part of a capacity building exercise. There are around 250,000 teachers in Kenya and we have so far successfully conducted training for two cohorts of around 500 teachers on how to teach the national education curriculum using online materials. A key part of this eLearning platform was the exchange between the teachers and their overseas mentors, where they received online mentoring and assistance. We were inspired to take this successful pilot and apply it to women who wanted to run small businesses,” explains Esther Gacicio, Assistant Director and Curriculum Specialist at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.
Kenyan women are matched with international financial and business mentors who, through the platform, provide them with uniform information and training in how to run their business, addressing questions such as: How will they promote their business? How will they make informed business decisions? How will they budget their income and minimise their losses?
The platform works as an online community for people to interact, share experiences and learn from each other, and also as an online marketplace for people to sell their products. Therefore, In addition to business guidance, women are taught online banking skills, “so that they will be able to manage their finances independently, once their business goes online,” Gacicio says.
As computer literacy and its corollary, reliable Internet connectivity and bandwidth are still large problems, Gacicio adds: “The women also receive computer literacy training to enable them to learn simple skills such as writing an email, to enable them to have email coaching session with their mentor.”
Through a partnership with Intel, some 300 women have already been trained in basic computer literacy.
The platform has also been beneficial for monitoring the success and management of the Uwezo Fund – such a large nation-wide project. “This portal is the first of its kind in Africa. Through the portal, the Ministry of Devolution can track progress made in the Uwezo programmes, monitor any hiccups that may arise and give more advise with a click of a button,” Gacicio explains.
This cutting-edge initiative demonstrates the power of home-grown innovation as a way to empower women and youth while also reducing unemployment. You can hear more from Esther Gacicio and the lessons learnt through the Uwezo e-platform at the eLearning Africa Conference, taking place from May 20 – 22, 2015, at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.