Danone Ecosystem Fund: the empowerment of women is the fundamental condition for strengthening local ecosystems.

Summary

The Danone Ecosystem Fund, which will celebrate its fifth birthday on 8 and 9 October, has jointly created 60 inclusive economic projects, of which around 30 specifically address the issue of increasing women’s skills and independence, i.e. their socio-professional empowerment. These five years of experience helping women in the field have been captured in a book entitled “Empowering Women for Inclusive Business”. The aim of this compilation is to enable people to share in local experiences as well as in the personal accounts of experts, in order to raise awareness of the importance of the issue for the socio-economic health of local communities, as well as for the development of our societies today and in the future.

08Oct.
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“The empowerment of women” is a complex issue to define

It is hard to provide a single definition for the empowerment of women, as the factors vary depending on the context. For the United Nations Organization, this concept includes five components: self-esteem, the right to make and determine their own choices, the right to gain access to opportunities and resources, the right to be able to control their own life, both inside and outside the home, and the ability to influence social change, in order to create a fairer social and economic order at the national and international level. These criteria are key for clarifying a number of issues relating to women. However, as Naye Bathily explains in the Ecosystem Fund book, it is important to be aware of the fact that talking about the empowerment of women also means talking about development on a more global basis.

“We cannot develop this world if half the population is not sitting at the table”

Recalling a few contextual figures appears necessary in order to answer the question “why specifically address the issue of “the empowerment of women?”. Did you know that 70% of the poor people in the world are women, even though they account for 50% of the world’s population? What is more worrying is the fact that although women perform 67% of the hours worked in the work, they only earn 10% of the world’s income and only own 1% of the world’s property assets, even though they remain key players for sustainable growth and local development.  Three figures behind a simple observation: talking about the empowerment of women means talking about strengthening and developing local communities on a more global basis.

Women perform 67% of the hours worked in the work, they only earn 10% of the world’s income and only own 1% of the world’s property assets

This is specifically the approach that the Danone Ecosystem Fund has taken to this issue. The Fund was set up in 2009, against the backdrop of an economic downturn, in order to boost the local ecosystems around Danone’s subsidiaries.

“Women did not explicitly form part of the Fund’s aims at the start; we were not planning to address empowerment issues in a different manner for men and women. However, we quickly realized that the conditions for the success our projects were closely related to the position of women, and that this issue was key to our initiatives aimed at promoting a more inclusive economy. We therefore added the “empowerment of women” to our aims, and paid particular attention to women when managing our projects. Accordingly, women have actually become the main operators in over 30 of our programs”, Jean-Christophe Laugée, Director of the Ecosystem Fund and of Social Innovation at Danone, explains.

In fact, the Fund has added specific indicators to its reports, in order to assess the real impact of its initiatives on women in the field.

Maria Gracia Porto is one of the many women who have benefited from the initiatives of the Danone Ecosystem Fund.  “I am delighted; this is a dream that I had longed to achieve for a long time. My children are proud of me”, explains this Spanish woman who has become a point-of-sale ambassador thanks to the Social School for Women Empowerment Project. “Before, I worked as a cleaning lady, which was a really different kind of work. My current job is much better: I discuss issues with customers, I inform them about the products, and offer them “human warmth”, which we all need. This is priceless for me”.

Regardless of whether they are point-of-sale ambassadors in Spain like Maria (add a link to the information booklet), livestock breeders in Ukraine like Antonina (add a link to the information booklet) midwives in Indonesia like Restu (add a link to the information booklet), or micro-entrepreneurs like Amal in Egypt (add a link to the information booklet), 13,580 women in total have increased their professional skills and their independence thanks to the initiatives of the Fund and its partners.

We quickly realized that the conditions for the success our projects were closely related to the position of women, and that this issue was key to our initiatives aimed at promoting a more inclusive economy

Five years in the field, and five paradigm-changing initiatives

During the five years when projects in the field have been jointly created by the local Danone teams, the partner NGOs, and the women and men who benefit from the programs, the Ecosystem Fund has been able to learn a certain number of lessons that have been set down in five main stages: “There is no miracle solution or magic potion” warns Sama Taneja at Danone, the Manager of the Danone Ecosystem Fund in Asia, who is in charge of the issue of the empowerment of women for the Fund. To foster the empowerment of women, one of the first stages consists in understanding the roles and lives of women in context, as well as their culture (…). Achieving a genuine understanding of the local situation without projecting our own preconceived ideas is hard to do, but necessary”. The first stage is therefore an in-depth field study. “A preliminary study, which lasts at least six months, is a necessary prerequisite, opines Valéria Budinich, the Chairwoman of Ashoka, an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurs, who will attend the Fund’s fifth anniversary celebrations.  The survey must answer the following questions: what are the roles played by men and women, and what are the day-to-day challenges that they must deal with, individually and as a couple, etc.”

To foster the empowerment of women, one of the first stages consists in understanding the roles and lives of women in context, as well as their culture

The Danone Ecosystem Fund’s assessment also recommends taking four other points into account, including the point about making women the agents of their empowerment. “Solidarity between women is an incredible network, which we cannot see, but must take advantage of, Valéria Budinich underlines. We need to get a commitment from women, present them with business challenges, and encourage them to find solutions. Seeing how they begin to organize themselves and try to find solutions that make sense is incredible. They will develop their own solutions, which will be better than those that we have found for them”. Three final factors are essential for ensuring the success of a project: working with the various local stakeholders, taking all aspects of women’s lives into account, and ensuring sustainable change.

The real aim of the Ecosystem Fund is actually to strengthen local ecosystems on a sustainable basis. However, how can we ensure that our initiative is sustainable if 50% of the local population is left out? Accordingly, although we do not claim to own “the” empowerment methodology, the Fund’s book aims to make a contribution to the collection of texts and works that want to move the gender equality goal posts, in order to help create a more inclusive economy.

This issue will be highlighted during the event on 8 and 9 October, in front of the 300 members of the Ecosystem community who have been invited.  A specific award will be given by Florence Jeantet, VP ELN Chief Science Catalyst, in order to reward the project that has made the greatest effort for the empowerment of women.

 

Photo © : Danone Ecosystem Fund