Tag Archives: Employment

CWEN: Cultivating Women Entrepreneurs

New Grantee: Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Uganda was described as “the pearl of Africa,” by Winston Churchill, referring to the country’s natural beauty, rich landscapes, and good climate. But unfortunately, as The Foundation for Sustainable Development reports, “the country currently ranks as one of the 20 poorest nations in the world and 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.” The majority of the population lacks basic resources and infrastructure from running water to health care and education and now 1 million citizens are infected with HIV/AIDS.


Women in Uganda face even more health risks and employment barriers as they are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS infection, face lower social status than men, and lack economic self-sufficiency. For most women, this reduces their access to education, power to act independently, ability to avoid poverty, and their power to escape reliance upon abusive men.

Facing these discriminations, risks, and barriers to controlling their own livelihood, women in Uganda are in desperate need of new and innovative opportunities. Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN) was created to do just that.

CWEN was founded in 2012 by a group of passionate young women looking for new opportunities for women in their communities. The young women were selected by their own communities in the districts of Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso to run the organization. Now, only a few years later, they have a network of 220 low-income women entrepreneurs. CWEN’s mission is to build the entrepreneurial capacity of women to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. Their programs focus on micro lending and value chain development for women entrepreneurs, plus social research and impact measurement. Their proposed project, Women on the Shelf, aims to help low income, high potential women entrepreneurs gain shelf space in leading local and regional stores and get their products flying off the shelves. Women on the Shelf focuses on cultivating and strengthening the capacity of women food entrepreneurs and other products through branding, packaging, marketing, merchandising and promotions so products will fetch higher prices, doubling incomes for women producers and expanding their markets locally and globally.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • Support for 41 low-income, high potential female entrepreneurs through CWEN’s Women on the Shelf project.
    • This support includes: branding, packaging, marketing, and merchandising their products; project team staffing, transportation, plus monitoring and evaluation costs.
  • CWEN is looking for website and marketing guidance. If you’d like to be the one to provide pro bono support, please contact us.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for CWEN, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. We would also love to hear from you if you are interested in providing pro bono services: email programs@sparksf.org. We are very excited to support this wonderful organization! Visit CWEN’s Website to learn more.

Spark Speaks Out: The Business of Human Rights

By SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

At Spark’s Speaker Series last week, we were honored to hear from three professionals with insight on technology’s impact on women’s rights:

  1. Dunstan Allison Hope: Managing Director at BSR, a nonprofit that advises Fortune 500 companies on human rights and sustainability strategies. Dunstan is also a co-founder of the Global Network Initiative and co-author of Big Business, Big Responsibilities.
  2. Sakina Arsiwala: co-founder of Campfire Labs and the former international charter leader at Youtube.
  3. Rachel Yeager: leader of the HERproject, a BSR initiative focused on improving women’s health needs in global supply chains.

Dunstan opened the discussion by asking the audience about the evening’s topic…do technology and business have a positive or negative impact on human and women’s rights?  While the audience’s reaction was mixed, Rachel volleyed this question by stating that businesses can have a positive impact on communities…particularly on women.

Rachel explained that in some countries women’s rights are lower than general human rights and that benchmark for human rights and women’s rights can differ vastly across national borders. Unlike governments, businesses operate under global standards for both. In countries with comparatively lower standards for women’s rights, global businesses give women opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable. To illustrate this point, Rachel explained that women make up roughly 80% of Bangladesh’s garment industry. 20 years ago these communities were ashamed of working women. Working women were viewed as prostitutes and often forbidden to marry. Now, the situation has shifted- women are encouraged to work and empowered by their incomes. Dowries are less common as women provide for themselves financially. Her example demonstrated how businesses can empower women by giving them vocational opportunities previously unavailable.

Sakina pushed the point further and dove into the discussion on
technology’s impact on society.  While human rights and norms differ widely from country to country, technology can open the discussion of rights in a global context. This resonates with one of the most important byproducts of technology – education and information sharing. With education as a critical component of development and women’s empowerment, technology has the capacity to dramatically improve women’s rights around the globe.

The night concluded with a discussion on the impact of technology on women’s employment both home and abroad. As women continue to enter the global workforce, they become a stronger market for businesses. As a result, businesses are investing in women to better understand this global market. Our panelists hoped that such investments will trickle down to the workforce in the tech sector–where women are vastly underrepresented.

If you missed this lively discussion last week, make sure to check out Spark’s website for some more great upcoming events. Thank you to all who were able to attend- we appreciate all your support!