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Empowering Women Farmers: AWE’s New Program Bodes Well

By Fred Schick, Jennifer Lonergan, Kiran Singh.  Includes reporting from Cristina Alvarez and Diego Narváez. 

March 2024

Last year, 10 years since the development of its flagship 5-day intensive Artistri Sud Social Entrepreneurship Training (ASSET) Program, Artistri Sud rebranded as AWE (Action for Women’s Empowerment) Global. 

The shift came in response to a critical need expressed by women and partners in the field for training that would help them leverage their farms and food products for improved revenue. 

In response to this demand and to the growing crisis in food systems and loss of biodiversity, Artistri Sud, now AWE, made the strategic decision to refocus efforts on supporting women sustainable farmers with its successful leadership and entrepreneurship development model. 

Committed to the mission of empowering women, and armed with the results of a needs assessment conducted in the summer of 2023, the team revisited its core programs, redesigning and innovating to meet the needs of a new target market.

This suite of programs (Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Train-the-Trainer) was deployed in November, 2023 in Ecuador; most of the 49 women who participated were farmers, while the rest were producers of transformed food products. 

All were committed to sustainable food production, and had completely eliminated chemical fertilizers and pesticides from their production, except one who had nearly completed the transition to 100% chemical-free farming.

A variety of evaluation measures are employed during and after the program to allow the team to assess whether learning objectives were achieved, and other short-term outcomes; longer term impacts will be evaluated in a year.  

For now, let’s delve into some of the key results of the ASSET program held in Ecuador in November, 2023. 

1. Increase in Confidence

A fundamental goal of the program was to instill confidence in participants, which enables them to grow their businesses and ultimately to become leaders in their communities.

three triumphant ASSET program female participants
Juliana with fellow participants

Through experiential learning, participatory activities and consistent practice, women like Juliana experienced transformative growth. Juliana's journey from shyness to confidence, as evidenced by her willingness to engage with customers and her newfound leadership aspirations, underscores the program's success in nurturing self-assurance.

"I used to avoid talking to people. I let my partner handle customer interactions while I stayed in the background. But after today, I don't want to do that anymore. I want to talk to customers myself. I feel I can fly." - Juliana

Overall, 82% of respondents expressed complete confidence in their ability to make decisions at work and in their households post-training.

2. Increase in Business Knowledge

Equipping women with the necessary business skills is pivotal for their economic empowerment. The ASSET program achieved this by providing participants with practical knowledge and guidance on effective business management. The overwhelmingly positive response from participants regarding the acquisition of new skills underscores the program's success in this aspect.

"The training helped me set objectives and rethink my social media strategy, which has already had a significant impact on my business growth." - Karen

Additionally, a post-program evaluation revealed that 85% of participants felt more confident in their ability to perform tasks at work or improve their performance.

3. Promotion of Biodiversity

Sustainable agriculture practices play a vital role in preserving biodiversity and ensuring ecological balance. Through targeted lessons and action plans, the ASSET program successfully consolidated awareness among participants about the importance of biodiversity in farming, and about their important role as champions of biodiversity. The participants' commitment to implementing sustainable practices, as reflected in their goals and aspirations, suggests it was effective in promoting environmental stewardship.

"I plan to adopt more ecological packaging for my products and expand my plant nursery to contribute positively to biodiversity." - Margarita 

Indeed, participants were already committed in this regard: the ASSET program's baseline assessment revealed that a majority of participants cultivated multiple types of plants, emphasizing their engagement with biodiversity preservation.

4. Building Resilience

In the face of economic and environmental challenges, resilience is key to the survival and success of farming communities. By imparting skills to help the women diversify and innovate, the ASSET program supported participants to adapt and thrive in dynamic market conditions.

"The program training taught me that I could transform damaged produce to make products with added value to generate more income." - Nathy

Moreover, lessons on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets and innovative product transformation strategies further enhanced participants' resilience, equipping them with tools to navigate market fluctuations effectively.

5. Awareness of Systemic Forces

Understanding the systemic barriers and biases that hinder women's progress is essential for advocating for gender equality and human rights and is the foundation for building confidence. The ASSET program's focus on women's rights and gender equality facilitated meaningful discussions and fostered a sense of solidarity among participants.

"We want to be safe, we want peace, we want to live without fear.” “We need education for our children.” - Responses from program participants on what women in their community need to live well and with dignity.

Through interactive sessions and group discussions, participants gained insights into the societal challenges they face, empowering them to advocate for their rights and drive positive change in their communities.  

6. Promotion of Nutrition

Nutrition is a cornerstone of well-being, particularly in rural farming communities where access to diverse and nutritious food may be limited. Through targeted sessions and practical exercises developed and delivered by a local nutritionist,  the ASSET program equipped participants with the knowledge and skills to make informed dietary choices.

"The ASSET program helped me understand the importance of a balanced diet and how to incorporate diverse food groups into my meals." - Testimony from an ASSET program participant

The ASSET program's focus on nutritional diversity was reinforced by a baseline assessment and research conducted by our local partner, which revealed opportunities for improvement in participants' dietary habits.

Despite challenges and tight timelines, the short-term assessment of the new programming indicates it was a success among women farmers who sought to build their revenues, and developed confidence and networks along the way.  In a year, AWE expects to conduct its standard End-of-Program evaluation, which will provide more in-depth insights into what worked and what did not over a longer term. 

This program was made possible thanks to funding from the Unifor Social Justice Fund, and Clear Skies Investment Foundation. 


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