“We had to digitize the whole value chain to build a data-driven business, enhance accountability for Exotic EPZ’s management as well as trust among our farmers.” Jane Maigua, Managing Director at EPZ says.
Women's economic empowerment has been recognized as a critical driver for sustainable economic growth and development. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) focuses on women's economic empowerment in Kenya and East Africa to overcome a history of economic marginalization. Women face numerous barriers, including limited access to education and training, limited employment opportunities, limited access to credit and finance, chores at the home front that limit the time available for economic advancement opportunities, discriminatory cultural practices that limit their access to capital, and limited access to markets. USAID is stimulating women’s exposure and access to innovation and technology for gender equality in several ways by working with the private sector.
First, USAID supports entrepreneurships that embrace technology with clear benefits to women. An example is Exotic EPZ, a Kenya-based macadamia nut aggregator, processor, and exporter that was started by a trio of women entrepreneurs and employs 85% women in its labor force. With the use of innovations and technologies such as post-harvest loss management through their aggregation and collection centers; chilled storage and vacuum packaging to create efficiency and preserve the quality of products; and training, the company is passing on knowledge and enhancing the skills of its farmers and factory workers. Exotic is also building a database of its farmers which comes in handy for communications and making direct spot payments via digital platforms to the farmers once delivery is confirmed and accepted.
“We had to digitize the whole value chain to build a data-driven business, enhance accountability for Exotic EPZ’s management as well as trust among our farmers.” Jane Maigua, Managing Director at EPZ says. “Initially, we had many challenges, especially at the sourcing level. Processes were tedious, inefficient, and difficult to manage especially when it came to registering farmers, manually sorting the nuts, and issuing change in cash form.” Janes goes on to share how things have changed. “When we register and pay farmers through MPESA, we not only record transactions as a business, but farmers can also use the same information to access credit from financial institutions. Second, when we receive nuts, the Bluetooth connection on the digital scale sends a receipt in real time to the farmers. This approach underscores our professional and transparent business practices. We have also included digitized color sorters and serial number generating machines for our product packaging.” She appreciates technology which she notes allows her, as a mother and entrepreneur, to tend to her children and manage business operations.
Second, Uzuri K&Y, is a footwear production company based in Rwanda that upcycles old vehicle tires into durable, eco-footwear. The company uses many digital tools such as e-commerce and social media platforms to reach new customers and grow its business. Founded by two women entrepreneurs, the company partners with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions to equip youth with practical and soft skills. The company carries out these training sessions from their production facility using education technology. To date, they have trained 1,078 youth, 70% of whom are women, and 10 of them have already started their own small businesses.
Kevine Kagirimpundu, CEO & co-founder of UZURI K&Y, remembers the vision of starting an environmentally friendly community-based business. “We have grown to embrace the full 4R technology- reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle. Digital tools have come in handy, and we are proud to say that our platforms are built from scratch and run by an internal team.” 40 women occupy Uzuri K&Y’s factory floor, and nine women are in management.
Promotion of and access to digital tools and resources helps women overcome traditional barriers to entry in the workforce. With access to online and foreign marketplaces, women can work from home with fair pay, and balance their family responsibilities. Overall, USAID's efforts to promote women's economic development in Kenya and East Africa are helping to empower women to realize their full economic potential, and to create a more prosperous, equitable and tech-savvy future for the region.
The USAID Africa Trade and Investment program is USAID’s flagship contribution to Prosper Africa.