One of our ongoing sustainable development goals is to empower women and support women-led entrepreneurship. To this end, we partner with Prosperity Catalyst, an organization that works to develop and strengthen women-led businesses in distressed regions. Through their work, we help provide business and technical training, creating opportunities for women to achieve economic and social empowerment.
Sometimes what begins as a single project evolves over time to create an entire network of opportunity for women around the world. That’s exactly what happened in Haiti with the Beekeeping Recovery Program.
The initial project, supported by Week of Compassion, was a candle-making business. The women learned to make and sell candles for profit as a means of supporting their families. Over time, however, it became clear that there was far greater potential for streams of income.
“We take a ‘value chain’ approach to everything,” says Catherine Gibbons of Prosperity Catalyst. That means thinking big picture about what materials might be produced locally; and what other career opportunities might be possible through that local production. In the case of the candle making project, one of the biggest expenses and challenges was the import of wax.
How might wax be produced locally, and more economically? Bees.
Producing the wax locally keeps money in local market, and is also more environmentally sound. Additionally, it fuels a local economy that continues to create opportunity for artisans and entrepreneurs. Over the last two and half years, Prosperity Catalyst has trained over 500 Haitians in beekeekeeping (65% women). As more locals get into the beekeeping business, there is greater need for all the materials and equipment required for that work.
A woman named Myrlande, for instance, is a tailor who graduated two years ago from a Prosperity Catalyst artisan training program. With the growing demand for beekeeping suits, Myrlande has begun producing a local suit and veil; one that can be made and sold at a lower cost than those imported from the U.S. With support from Week of Compassion, Myrlande developed her own business plan, and has been able to employ several other local women to help her with production.
Building on her experience, Prosperity Catalyst is now reaching out to even more women, creating opportunity and changing lives. The next step is to locally source leather, and train women to make the gloves needed for beekeeping. Also in the works: a training program that is teaching 12 local women not only to keep bees, but to build the hives themselves.
Initially, our partners found it challenging to get women involved in these programs. Now, as many women model success in the business, they are receiving more requests from women than men. As one man in the program remarked, it was hard to get men to accept women working in these roles at first. But as he pointed out: “in a beehive, there 50,000 bees; only about 200 of them are males. By nature, beekeeping is a women’s business!” Now women are getting involved in every aspect of production: from farming bees to building hives.
Because of this vital program, Prosperity Catalyst conducted a market research on honey production. The hope is to document local market for Haitian honey that will create an even greater opportunity for those involved at every level of the beekeeping industry.
This is an example of Week of Compassion’s commitment to long-term relationships and ongoing support, visible through the work of our partners. By staying connected with the communities we serve, our partners continue to connect people with opportunities that empower and fuel the local economy.
The success of the value chain approach in Haiti led Prosperity Catalyst to experiment with the same approach in its ongoing work in Iraq, another place where women have launched a successful candle-making enterprise. To the extent possible in Iraq, Prosperity Catalyst wants to promote women’s businesses reliant on locally sourced raw materials, so that our investment has a ripple effect in the local economy.
When women are empowered to create, to lead, and to grow their skills, the “value chain” reaches far beyond a single project. Thanks to your support of the Women’s Empowerment Fund, we are growing strong families and communities; transforming lives; and creating a whole world of opportunity.