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Cisco: Empowering Women and Transforming Economies Globally Through Inclusive Partnerships

by Charu Adesnik

Cisco: Empowering Women and Transforming Economies Globally Through Inclusive Partnerships

by Charu Adesnik

Published 03-27-24

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

woman in a blue-green dress standing in a green field

The Social Impact Partner Spotlight series highlights various Cisco non-profit organization partners that are helping transform the lives of individuals and communities. This blog features Cisco’s partnership with Living Goods, One Acre Fund, Solar Sister, and Trickle Up, highlighting the amazing work these organizations are doing to advance economic empowerment, especially for women, globally.

International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world on March 8. This year’s theme, Inspire Inclusion, is a bedrock of Cisco’s Social Impact partnerships where we aim to support an inclusive future for all — and recently exceeded our ten-year goal to positively impact one billion people by 2025. As a technology company, we believe in the power of technology to connect the unconnected, and to have impact at scale. We support our non-profit partners to ideate, iterate, and launch tech-enabled solutions. We provide ongoing support to help our partners validate the impact of these solutions, and then take these solutions to scale. Our financial support is complemented with donations of our technology to help our partners securely and efficiently deliver their programs and services. We also tap into our global employee community to provide strategic guidance and technical expertise as needed.

Learn more about four of Cisco’s partners – Living Goods, One Acre Fund, Solar Sister, and Trickle Up – who helped us reach our goal by providing people, especially women, with equitable access to the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to support themselves and their families toward long-term independence, resilience, and economic security.

Living Goods

“When I started… as a community health worker, I saw that women – including teens and underage girls – needed better support to reverse the high maternal and child death rates and to escape generational cycles of dependency and poverty,” says Miriam. “It struck me how enhancing women’s access to information, healthcare, education, and capacity to meaningfully participate in economic activities not only changed their lives but transformed their entire families as well. When women succeed, the whole community thrives.” 
—Miriam Mbithe, Community Health Worker, Living Goods

Over 5 million children die each year due to preventable and treatable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates.

Community health workers (CHWs) are a low-cost and high-impact health solution. Living Goods supports more than 11,400 digitally empowered community health workers in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Uganda to deliver life-saving care to more than 6 million people each year. External studies have validated that they are reducing child mortality by 27% and child stunting by 7% at a cost of around $2 per person per year. In 2023, CHWs also ensured that 95% of pregnant women supported gave birth at a health facility, and that 95% of children under the age of two were fully immunized.

Living Goods ensures CHWs have the digital tools, training, medicine, supervision, and compensation they need to cost-effectively save lives at scale; and they partner with governments to sustainably transform how healthcare is delivered. Investing in CHWs not only improves health outcomes, but also creates opportunities for the primarily female CHWs to contribute to their households, local economies, and the overall development of their communities.

With Cisco’s support over the last several years, Living Goods has enhanced their digital tools to improve the quality and scale of community health. Cisco has provided support for their mobile technology platform, data warehouse creation, predictive algorithms to target interventions to at-risk families, performance management, and interoperability with government systems. Most recently, Cisco is supporting Living Goods to enhance their data infrastructure and tools, transform the current data architecture to an improved self-service data stack, and strengthen their ability to generate insights from data.

Get involved:

One Acre Fund

“If I hadn’t started this program, years from now there would be a difference in how my children would be able to use this land.” —Trina Mwiinga, farmer, Zambia, One Acre Fund

One Acre Fund was founded in 2006 with a simple mission: in everything we do, we place farmers first, and we measure success in our ability to make more farmers more prosperous. While others may see poverty in rural Africa as an enduring, intractable problem, One Acre Fund sees a powerful chance to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty by making one profession radically more productive: farming. They designed an integrated solution that enables smallholder farmers to dramatically increase their productivity within one planting season through training, financing, and delivery of high quality-farming inputs. They have spent the past decade working to scale as quickly as possible; today, supporting more than 4 million farmers.

One Acre Fund and Cisco began our work together in 2021, when Cisco provided the early-stage funding that enabled them to launch their farmer-facing app Tupande Online. This app offers farmers in Kenya a flexible new tech-enabled channel through which they can access the One Acre Fund program. Cisco’s early support helped them to grow this initiative from the concept stage all the way to a scaled product that has now been downloaded over 125 thousand times and won the Vibrant Digital Africa Award for the Best Agri App in Kenya. One Acre Fund has big plans for this app in the coming years: they intend to scale it to even more farmers in Kenya, and to add additional farmer-facing services such as linkages to commercial value chains that will offer farmers even higher prices for their crops.

Today, One Acre Fund is the world’s leading organization serving African smallholders. Crucially, they carefully tailor their core program to ensure services are accessible to women, who make up over two thirds of the farmers with whom they work:

  • For instance, half of all our field staff are women. This staffing choice builds distinctive gender sensitivity into all client interactions and mitigates inherent bias.
  • To overcome cultural norms that may impede women’s employment and role in financial decision-making, they typically deliver loans and trainings to farmer groups rather than individuals, leveraging and reinforcing positive, community-centric relationships.
  • To account for women’s lower average literacy rates across program areas, their trainings center on easy-to-understand hands-on demonstrations and oral and pictorial-based lessons (such approaches are also central to expanding digital training offerings).
  • To accommodate the significant time constraints typically faced by rural women, the primary focus of their program is on improving farm yields and incomes through time and labor-saving tools, farming methods, and crops. As a result, women consistently achieve the same transformative productivity and income gains as male farmers in the program, in stark contrast to widespread disparities across the region.

Get involved:

  • Invest in small-scale farms in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Learn more about One Acre Fund’s partnership with Cisco on the Tupande farmer app in this blog post.

Solar Sister

“On this Women’s International Day, we celebrate the resilience of our Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and the several underserved communities these women transform across Africa. By fostering inclusion and providing opportunities, we unlock the potential of women everywhere to build a brighter future. Solar Sister believes that energy access is a critical catalyst for women’s economic empowerment.” 
—Olasimbo Sojinrin, COO, Solar Sister

The communities where Solar Sister works in sub-Saharan Africa have some of the greatest gender equity disparities in the world. They also have some of the lowest global electrification rates and are also bearing the brunt of a changing climate – 774 million people globally lack access to energy, with 597 million of those individuals living in sub-Saharan Africa.

When women in these last-mile communities are connected to Solar Sister’s unique community-driven model, they become the infrastructure needed to electrify communities left behind by top-down energy investment. Solar Sister provides business coaching, mentorship, a tested product pipeline, warranty support and access to local Solar Sister Sisterhood groups for networking, support, and encouragement.

Solar Sister Entrepreneurs use existing woman-to-woman social networks to build their businesses and provide their communities access to affordable, clean energy. These products mitigate the negative local and global effects of traditional energy sources and climate change. Along the way they elevate their own standing, invest in their families and neighborhoods, and help usher their communities into an electrified future.

To date, Solar Sister has provided more than 4.5 million people with clean energy by training and supporting more than 10,000 women entrepreneurs who have gone on to mitigate 1.4M CO2eemissions. across Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa are 30% less likely to own a smartphone than men in the region. Addressing these gender gaps is important to deliver the significant benefits of digital tools and the internet to women, their families, communities, and the economy.

Solar Sister is committed to empowering women and meeting our entrepreneurs where they are by finding new and innovative ways to support them as the world becomes more and more digitized. With Cisco’s support, Solar Sister launched a new digital literacy curriculum, consisting of multiple modules on topics related to social media marketing and digital business tools. To date, they have delivered this initial training to over 400 entrepreneurs and developed additional modules on customer data collection and other marketing topics which will be rolled out in 2024.

Over the next five years, Solar Sister aims to scale their model across Africa to empower more than 30,000 women to start clean energy businesses and create meaningful impact in their communities and provide more than 30,000,000 people with access to clean energy solutions.

Get involved:

Trickle Up

“Cisco’s support is allowing us to develop a high-quality coaching app that is adapted and responsive to the local environment and ensures access to consistent, low-cost coaching for all Trickle Up’s participants, allowing them to forge sustainable pathways out of poverty.” —Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, President & CEO, Trickle Up

650 million people globally survive on less than $2.15/day and do not have access to the basic services that enable equal progress toward better lives. Trickle Up’s mission is to partner with women in extreme poverty to build economic opportunity and drive inclusion. In Trickle Up’s programs, women and highly vulnerable populations forge resilient pathways out of poverty by starting microenterprises and building livelihoods. Individual and group coaching are core components of success in economic inclusion programming.

Cisco’s support has enabled the creation and testing of Trickle Up’s open-source Echb’enink coaching app with 12 modules, available for anyone to use. The partnership with Cisco to create train-the-trainer resources and videos supports women’s financial inclusion and agency through improved digital and financial literacy.

Using the app in program delivery is an innovative solution to scaling Trickle Up’s work through NGO partners, allowing them to reduce coaching costs, and maintain consistently high-quality coaching. The app reduces barriers to program adoption and delivery while enhancing the effectiveness of coaching to improve participant outcomes and support Trickle Up’s goal to reach 1 million participants by 2030.

Trickle Up’s impact:

  • 82% of Trickle Up’s participants experienced increased agency and decision-making power.
  • 86% of Trickle Up’s participants continue to save for their business, childcare, education, and an improved quality of life.
  • 82% of Trickle Up’s participants attain food security for themselves and their families.

Get involved:

  • Join Trickle Up’s email list and learn more about how to support and follow their work.
  • Give today: Your gift has an outsized impact on people living in extreme poverty. It only takes $250 to provide a woman the critical seed capital she needs to jumpstart her microenterprise.
  • Follow Trickle Up on social media: Join their online community to keep learning more about Trickle Up’s work, hear from the women with whom they work, and follow their journey.

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