IWD V2 2022 - Large

Empowering women entrepreneurs for a sustainable future

International Women’s Day 2022 is dedicated to the women who are leading the charge on climate change adaption and building a sustainable future for us all. On this occasion, we spotlight the women social entrepreneurs IKEA Social Entrepreneurship works with in agriculture.

One in three of the social entrepreneurs IKEA Social Entrepreneurship supports are active in food and agriculture. Many of them are women who lead enterprises that create better jobs and improve daily lives for women in rural communities. They welcome the accelerator programmes co-created with our local partners and in some cases, their business partnerships with IKEA, as powerful ways to strengthen their strategies for positive change.

During the accelerators, the entrepreneurs receive mentoring, coaching and masterclasses. IKEA co-workers from across the globe share their knowledge and experience to support them while they grow their business and impact.

Few opportunities to grow

To make agriculture sustainable, gaps between men and women rural producers have to be closed. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women’s inclusion in agriculture will increase productivity and reduce poverty and hunger. In many countries where our accelerator programmes take place, women make up an important part of the people who work the land, but they face many barriers. They have more difficulties than men to get loans, investments, technical assistance and access to markets.

Land ownership is another challenge women face in many parts of the world. Vava Angwenyi, founder and CEO of Vava Coffee in Kenya says:

In my country, eighty percent of the agricultural work is done by women. They tend the coffee trees, produce the beans and nurture the farms, but they don’t own the land. And since they don’t have their own bank accounts either, men keep controlling the money that comes in.  

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Vava Coffee CEO Vava Angwenyi controlling locally grown coffee bean quality.

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Be more innovative farmers

Dedicated to providing a stable income for coffee growing communities, working from seed to cup in a way that promotes a healthy planet, Vava Coffee puts more power in the hands of smallholder producers, including women. Vava explains:

We ensure that the women farmers can sell their coffee to us for the next five to ten years and we pay them better prices. We also give them training and support to increase their knowledge so they can be more innovative and modern farmers. 

Participating in the East Africa accelerator programme co-created with our partner Acumen was an opportunity to bring in fresh perspectives. Vava shares: 

The meetings with the IKEA coaches enabled us to come up with smart new ideas to market Kenyan quality coffee in a way that respects local communities.

Collaboration over competition

Social entrepreneurs, men and women, start out with a desire to make a positive change beyond profits. To be successful, they have to change traditional patterns of behaviour, cultural norms, and mindsets. Findings from an Ashoka study show that this is something women leaders are especially good at. Overall, they show empathy, promote collaboration and manage crises and conflicts well, while they favour collaboration over competition.  
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Green Pot Enterprises CEO Caroline Kariuki working with the Masai community.

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Resilience is another quality that sets women apart, thinks Caroline Kariuki. She is the co-founder and CEO of Green Pot Enterprises, Kenya’s first fully integrated bamboo company. Their operations range from large-scale eco-friendly nurseries to a bamboo factory and an online platform that sells wooden and green energy products. The social enterprise creates quality employment and business opportunities for thousands of people, particularly women and youth.

My co-founder Kuki Njeru and I had this big vision about creating a new forest in a sustainable way that is unique in Kenya. Since we started, our business kept growing and growing. But it’s not an easy journey. As an entrepreneur, you sacrifice so much and many times the returns come much later. As women, we’re resilient and patient enough to go through the phases of scaling a business even when things don’t always go smoothly. 
Caroline Kariuki, co-founder and CEO of Green Pot Enterprises

Weaving mothers

Caroline appreciates the support from IKEA coaches she received during the East Africa accelerator:

They gave us priceless insights in how to deliver better value to clients and measure our impact. As a company working with sustainability and climate change, we are in a good place to make a difference for our communities and our women. Now we know how to make even more people around our business thrive.

Another way IKEA Social Entrepreneurship supports local entrepreneurs is by working with social businesses as suppliers. Du Anyam is a new, women-led partner in Indonesia. The company empowers women in rural areas by reviving generations-old weaving traditions, using locally sourced natural fibres to keep a low carbon footprint. Sustainable harvesting practices ensure the regeneration of raw materials.

Azalea Ayuningtyas is one of the three high school friends who decided to combine their knowledge in health, social work and business to start Du Anyam. Meaning Weaving Mothers, their business turns the tide on widespread malnutrition and high mortality rates among mothers and children in rural remote Indonesia. Azalea explains:

With Du Anyam we leverage the existing skills and the resources in the community, ensuring that these women have a sustainable income they can use to buy nutritious food, education and health care.

Having a year-round income provides them with the stability that they lacked with their seasonal income from subsistence agriculture.
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Du Anyam co-founders Azalea Ayuningtyas, Hanna Keraf, and Melia Winata showcasing rural women’s hand-woven products.

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Investing in a better quality of life

An extra income is well needed for most smallholder farmers. Money earned by women creates better livelihoods for families and communities. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women are often more willing than men to invest their income in food security, improvements at home and education for their children. Du Anyam co-founder Melia Winata says:

Weaving was a skill that was dying out because it didn’t carry any economic value. This has now changed, and many young women are excited to join our weaving training in order to learn themselves. Today, Du Anyam creates work for 1,400 women. The collaboration with IKEA Social Entrepreneurship will enable us to grow even further. We are very excited about this opportunity to provide a better quality of life for our weavers and their families.

Building networks for change

One of the invisible but important assets men traditionally have as business owners is access to professional networks. These connections open doors to funding, decision-makers and new business partners, and are key to growing their companies.

The women leaders featured in our story agree that meeting like-minded people is also a number one advantage of being part of the IKEA Social Entrepreneurship community. Adriana Luna, CEO of Tierra de Monte says:

There is a lot of value in teaming up with fellow entrepreneurs who are passionate about contributing to sustainability and wellbeing.

This Mexican biotech company creates eco-friendly solutions to increase crop productivity while promoting sustainable agriculture among smallholder farmers. Her social enterprise recently joined the Mexico Accelerator programme co-created with New Ventures.

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Tierra de Monte CEO Adriana Luna.

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In her country, Adriana builds networks with other women in agriculture as a way to start changing the system, Adriana explains:

It’s still difficult for women to access the market with innovative sustainable solutions, where most farmers and distributors are men. Working conditions are not women-friendly. But we are now creating a community as women entrepreneurs, distributors, farmers, researchers. Together we are finding ways to address these challenges.

Continuing our work with women

At IKEA Social Entrepreneurship we are proud to stand by these and all the other women entrepreneurs that work hard to build a healthy planet with happy people. Åsa Skogström Feldt, managing director at IKEA Social Entrepreneurship BV says:

We are committed to being inclusive, so of course, the empowerment of women entrepreneurs is a priority. As social entrepreneurs, they tend to move women from producing just enough to put food on the table to becoming companies that add value and make investments to grow.  

They also bring in new ways of doing business, Åsa adds:

Women-owned and co-owned enterprises go beyond providing jobs and income. They give women a voice and enable them to get access to the places where decisions are made.

Enabling solid and inclusive social enterprises to grow and amplify their impact is an important step to achieve sustainable development for everyone, everywhere. That’s why in all our programmes and partnerships we will keep paying special attention to the needs, capabilities and full participation of women.


NOTE: Hero image presents the Du Anyam weaving women on the island of Flores, Indonesia.


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