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Nicaragua's Cooperative Approach to Empowering Women

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FUTURE WOMAN IN TECH
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A business that rewards the unpaid work of women and girls? Now, that is a cause for celebration this International Women's Day. Globally, women do two thirds of the world's work but earn only 10% of the world's income. This is partly because caring and domestic work is not always paid or recognised but here in Nicaragua, the Cooperativa Juan Francisco Paz Silva recognise "women's work" as part of the value chain of the coffee and sesame oil that they sell to the UK.

As Chair of Raleigh International, I am celebrating International Women's Day with a group of Raleigh volunteers who are working in partnership with this cooperative.

The cooperative sells sesame oil to the Body Shop for body butter. The fair price they negotiated with L'Oreal includes a payment of $5 per 100lb sack to recognise the unpaid work of women. This was worked out based on a typical local family where the women spend the equivalent of 12 days' work per year enabling the farmers to produce the sesame seed. This ranges from cleaning the seed, to washing the clothes of the workers, caring for the children and cooking food and taking it out to the fields.

Nicholas Hoskyns, a British entrepreneur who lives in Nicaragua, helped the cooperative negotiate the deal with L'Oreal and also supported them to apply the same principle to coffee. To improve the quality of coffee the cooperative has reintroduced traditional, more environmentally-friendly drying techniques and now sells their coffee to Equal Exchange, a UK company. In the price is a payment of 10 cents per 1lb for "women's work", which has been validated by a time use survey conducted by Raleigh volunteers.

The cooperative members decided to use these payments to empower all women in the group, irrespective of whether the family was growing sesame, beans or coffee. The cooperative set up women's groups and every member has her savings matched up to $100 and every group has its group savings matched by up to $100 per member and, based on her savings, each woman can borrow up to $300 to set up their own business.

As a result, women in this poverty-afflicted area have been able to set up businesses individually or collectively which so far include small shops, selling handicrafts, baking bread and producing soaps and shampoos.

Through recognising the contribution that women make in producing crops, the cooperative has generated a fund to enable them to get more economic power and stability for their families. Virtuous circles like this appeal to today's Millennial consumers, the 16 to 30 year olds who the World Economic Forum research shows want sustainable products and are most receptive to global issues.

So everyone gains: the environment because this traditional method of growing coffee causes less contamination of natural water systems, poor farming families who get a decent price for their products, women who have access to capital and opportunity for the first time and consumers who can buy coffee and cosmetic products in good conscience. This is why the cooperative will be having a great celebration this Friday with music and dancing in the pine forests of Achuapa.

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