In celebration of International Women’s Day this March, we turn the spotlight on three amazing impact enterprises, which we have had the pleasure of working with.
Led by women entrepreneurs, these women-focused enterprises have an invaluable impact on the lives of women across Asia – proving that creating opportunities for women is the key to driving development forward.
1. Natural Hair Extensions: Extending More Power to Women
Janice Wilson moved from New York City to Cambodia in 2008 to work in legal real estate. It was supposed to be a short-term assignment. But she found her true calling in life shortly after arriving, which led her in a very different direction.
Eight years on, Janice’s life and work is now based in Cambodia, where she started an impact-driven enterprise – Arjuni, connecting her powerful desire to be an entrepreneur with a yearning, to empower women in Cambodia.
Arjuni is an online retailer and manufacturer of human hair extensions. The link between hair extensions and empowering women perhaps isn’t an obvious one at first but her business provides a vital livelihood opportunity to young Cambodian women living in rural communities. Social and economic exclusion often forces these women to the parameters of society and with limited options to support themselves and their families they too often fall prey to human traffickers and prostitution.
Even after rescue and recovery many post trafficked victims often relapse into a similar vicious cycle as they continue to face deep economic and social exclusion. The future for these women can look incredibly bleak but Arjuni provides an opportunity for these women by providing employment along with housing and rehabilitation through its Patient Training Program. It doesn’t stop there either – over 43,000 women have increased their income by becoming hair donors.
Arjuni empowers the former victims of trafficking and prostitution to regain their independence and self- worth. These women have significantly improved their lives and those of their families too. Some of Arjuni’s employees are now studying at university and supporting their siblings through high school.
Nary, an Arjuni employee is helping her family in other ways. “Now I can buy land and help my parents repair their house.”
This really is proof that when you invest in a woman, you invest in her family, the community and the next generation.
Arjuni’s mission and impact is exactly what our Shujog ACTS program strives to magnify. With ACTS, Janice received advice to strengthen Arjuni’s business and financial plans, along with a customized study to help her assess and continue to monitor Arjuni’s positive social impact. This enhanced Arjuni’s investment readiness, which led to them raising US$400,000 through IIX’s Impact Partners.
With the new injection of funds, Janice was able to grow the enterprise operations, empower more women with improved livelihoods through training and employment in the business, as well as expand her outreach to more women hair donors in Cambodia.
2. The Making of Wonder Women in Rural Villages
Travelling to the most remote parts of Indonesia, Kopernik invites women in rural villages to join their tech kiosk network through the Wonder Women initiative, which provides critical supplies to those living in the most remote areas of the country. Financial and business management training is provided to these women, along with the use and maintenance of clean energy technologies.
Tech kiosk owners receive technologies on consignment. Once they sell their products, they are able to repay Kopernik and can then order more technologies.
But it doesn’t stop there. Kopernik also works with corporations, savings and loans groups and women’s organizations to engage more women to become Tech Agents, empowering these women by enabling them to become micro-social entrepreneurs.
These Tech Agents are then in a position to sell their technologies within their communities by going door to door and through attending community events.
Kak Bolen is one such Tech Agent living in a rural community in eastern Indonesia. The conditions in which many people live are extremely basic – relying on dim, dirty, dangerous kerosene for lighting, and no alternative but to drink murky, parasite-infested water. On a daily basis many women have little choice but to breathe choking smoke from cooking over wood-fuelled open fires – causing untold damage to their health. Since joining the Wonder Women initiative things for Kak have changed for the better.
Kak Bolen now motivates other women to be more independent. One way they can do this is by following in her footsteps to become a Tech Agent – selling simple, life-changing technologies. The extra income she earns as a Tech Agent allows her to live independently. She has even used some of this money to help her niece graduate from university. Ultimately, she finds the greatest fulfilment in knowing that her community can now live better lives with simple technology.
“What I do is so small but it benefits so many. It opens minds for the community to take care of the environment, save money for daily needs and plan for the future”. – Kak Bolen, Tech Agent in Kopernik’s Wonder Women Initiative
These wonder women really are superheroes in their villages: making life-changing technology available to their friends, relatives and neighbors.
This is yet another great example of how investing in a women can impact whole communities. At a micro level, they save women’s time and money, improve health and safety for the children and open up new economic opportunities for the community. They also inspire others through what they achieve – earning money to support their families, gaining new business skills, and gaining confidence in their ability to succeed as micro-social-entrepreneurs.
At a macro level, they ease the pressure on the environment and accelerate the post-disaster recovery process by equipping the nation to respond to environmental or economic shocks.
Since 2011, Kopernik has worked with more than 330 ‘Wonder Women’, who have sold almost 12,500 clean energy technologies to date. These technologies have reduced C02 emissions by an estimated 6,000 tonnes, energizing Indonesia’s peace and security agenda by addressing the root causes of conflict of resource-scarcity, gender inequity and economic instability.
Kopernik’s outstanding achievement was recognized by the IIX-N-Peace Innovation Challenge – a joint initiative by IIX, N-Peace Network, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the aim of accelerating the peacebuilding agenda by supporting Impact Enterprises working to empower women, engage youth and catalyse innovation and technology. We were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a ground-breaking impact enterprise through this challenge.
(c) Anthill Fabric Gallery
3. Reviving Traditions with the Hip & Young
From a very young age Anya Lim was drawn to the indigenous culture and tribes of the Philippines. She believed that they are the real Filipinos. These indigenous tribes live in extremely remote areas – home to 80% of the most marginalized people in the country. Persistent poverty due to high rates of unemployment plague these communities – with indigenous people in particular being affected.
After working in the field of development for some time, Anya was desperate to find a way to empower the indigenous people and in particular women, that did not involve handouts or diluting their culturally rich traditions. She looked to the dying art of weaving, once a thriving industry, as an opportunity to drive empowerment.
Anya set up ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, a fabric business working to preserve and promote traditional Philippine weaves – while providing a sustainable livelihood among community enterprises. This incredible initiative grows local enterprises among urban, rural and indigenous communities to promote home grown skills and revive traditional materials and culture. The impact ANTHILL is having on women’s lives has been remarkable.
Take Flor for example, a 53 year old woman who learned to weave from her mother when she was in her early teens. Life for her family was tough – her eldest daughter Tina is 21 year old and has two children whom she struggles to support. Flor enrolled on the Master-Apprentice Program of ANTHILL where she was incentivized to pass on the craft and teach Tina to weave.
Now, Tina is also a weaver – contributing to the household income. When approached by illegal domestic work recruiters, Tina now has a choice because of the opportunities weaving provides.
ANTHILL is just one of four impact enterprises selected to join the IIX Impact Accelerator. The tailored mentorship, seed capital and investment support services over a 6-month period gave them the start they needed to grow a successful business.
ANTHILL is collaborating with IIX and Shujog for the next round of capital raise to scale their impact further.
After reading these inspirational stories, I’m sure you’ll agree that then when you invest in a woman, you invest in her family, her community and the next generation. When women invest in other women, there is an added dimension. It builds confidence and understanding. It creates solidarity. The demonstration of women leadership inspires more women to be empowered, and to take lead too.