This article presents three examples of companies experiencing the benefits of addressing gender in their business strategy. It is based on an interview with Stella Ling, my colleague from Fair & Sustainable Consulting, and me. The article is published in the glossy magazine Making Gender Work, cultivating diversity, of AgriProFocus. Read the magazine for more interesting articles!
Instead of focusing on how women benefit from economic development, the question can be turned around: how does business benefit from including women. Experts of Fair & Sustainable Consulting discuss three cases. Three companies, each playing a different role in the value chain, benefit from actively engaging women in their business.
Companies can have different roles in agricultural value chains: buyer, input supplier, or employer. All types of company can benefit from including women in their businesses, in many different ways.
The dairy company Wamco in Lagos, Nigeria, owned by the Dutch multinational FrieslandCampina, mostly imports milk powder. The main reason for this is the poor quality of local milk from cattle owned by Fulani herdsmen. With the programme 2SCALE, the company works on increasing the supply of local, high-quality milk. After a gender analysis, it appeared that women have a key role in this. Although Fulani men own the cattle, women collect the milk. There were, however, problems with hygiene, because there was no safe water for washing the milk churns. As a consequence, the milk had low quality. Women also had to walk long distances to fetch water. FrieslandCampina invested in water points at milk collection centres, and involved women in training courses on milk quality and business.
‘Since women saved a lot of time from collecting water, they were actually able to participate in these courses’, explains Stella Ling, consultant with Fair & Sustainable Consulting. ‘Milk quality improved dramatically, and so did the profits of the company. Women also got the chance to produce their own cheese and yogurt and to sell these products in the local market.’ What’s more, the involvement of women also changed the labour division. Men were ready to engage in cleaning the milk churns, and women were acknowledged for creating a business.
The readiness of FrieslandCampina and 2SCALE to acknowledge the key role of women was partly the result of involving gender coaches from AgriProFocus at an early stage. Ling says that analysis of other cases shows that more companies in the value chain benefit from involving women.
An input supplier can also benefit from involving women. In Mali, women play a key role in growing onions, an important local vegetable. The company Toguna in Ségou, supported by 2SCALE, is supplying smallholder farmers with seeds and fertilisers based on credit. The director of Toguna testified that he prefers to do business with women, as the repayment rate of loans from women farmers, unlike male farmers, is 100 per cent. ‘For men it might be easier to get a loan’, comments Ling. ‘A woman doesn’t get so many opportunities and that might be a reason why she is more careful to repay.’
For an employer, a gender analysis can reveal other opportunities. An example is the company SolTuna on the Solomon Islands, which has a large tuna canning facility with 1,800 workers –two thirds of whom are women. One of the biggest challenges is the absenteeism and turnover of production staff. At the end of each month, many don’t show up for work, which generates high costs for the company. A gender analysis revealed that many of the poor and illiterate women run out of money at the end of the month. To feed their families, they need to go to the market to sell products to secure immediate cash.’ Moreover, women lacked career opportunities and didn’t benefit as much from company housing as men. SolTuna changed that and gave financial literacy workshops to help women understand their payslips and spend more wisely. As a result of these measures, absenteeism and staff turnover decreased, reducing costs by an estimated 160,000 US dollars per year.
Published in: Making Gender Work, cultivating diversity, of AgriProFocus. Read the magazine for more interesting articles.