March 8, 2020
GROUNDWORK | Stories of Women Leaders in Agriculture

At Wagner Foundation, one of our core beliefs is that investment in women starts a ripple effect of impact. The root causes that allow gender inequality to persist must be directly confronted in order to end them. This outlook is fundamental to the way in which we approach our grantmaking and the beginning of a significant change that has a transformative impact beyond the obvious effects of direct support.

I had the opportunity to travel to East Africa this summer, where we spent time in Kenya and Rwanda with our longtime partner Root Capital. Wagner Foundation has supported and worked closely with Root Capital on their Women in Agriculture Initiative (WAI), which focuses on achieving greater economic opportunity for rural women, since its inception in 2012. Through the WAI, Root Capital provides credit and training to small and growing agricultural businesses that are committed to gender inclusion. The WAI also gives Gender Equity Grants (GEGs), which are disbursements of capital where female employees, producers, managers, and other stakeholders decide which investments should be made to create a more inclusive workplace. Agribusinesses have used these GEGs to create a daycare center that provides more flexibility for the female workers and to build a centralized collection center to ensure the safety of women farmers and their crops. These grants are an opportunity for cooperatives to think beyond traditional business loans and consider additional support to meet the needs of women and ultimately drive businesses forward.

During our trip, it was a privilege to meet many inspirational women entrepreneurs, who were also integral figures in their communities. With each encounter, we noticed a common theme: these women were committed to leveraging their position of influence to create lasting change within their communities. Through this series, we will share stories of these powerful women including Mary and Ann Muhara: Co-Founders of The Village Nut Company in Nyeri County, Kenya; Ruth Kinoti: Founder and CEO of Shalem Investments Ltd. in Meru, Kenya; and Angelique Karekezi: Managing Director of RWASHOSCCO in Kigali, Rwanda and elected Chairperson of International Women Coffee Alliance, Rwanda Chapter.

2020 is a symbolic moment for the women’s movement. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Given this anniversary, with many global leaders turning their attention to issues of gender equity, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, I found the stories of these women especially timely. The rise of women entrepreneurs are more than individual examples of what it means to invest in women and their communities. Each story is a portrait of profound change: personal, social, societal, and global. Progress has been made in the past 25 years but there is still much more to do.

We are also excited to announce the continuation of our investment in the next phase of Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture Initiative with a $3.5 million grant. Building off of the successes and learnings from the last 5 years, the WAI will continue to focus on advancing women’s agency and equity through agricultural enterprises which improve incomes, livelihoods and futures in rural communities. We are honored to have inspiring, committed partners like Root Capital. We share their belief in the power of investing in women entrepreneurs. We look forward to meeting even more amazing women leaders over the next phase of the WAI and learning about the change they are making and living through.

Caroline Easley, Deputy Director
Wagner Foundation