The Spark for Women, Everywhere
" I turned my back for one second."
Charlot was in a hurry.
She just returned from working a morning shift and was rushing to now get ready for school. So she dropped off her two-year-old daughter at a neighbor’s and threw a pot of water on the fire so she could shower. She didn't notice her daughter waddling back inside. It wasn't until she heard the pot fall that she realized what happened.
"She didn't scream until I looked at her. She was burned on her arms and legs. When I pulled off her trouser, some of her skin came off with it. I thought she was dead. I thought I lost her. That's when I blacked out. And we woke up in the hospital."
Orphaned when she was ten, Charlot was raised by her four older brothers in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, one of the biggest slums in Nairobi. At sixteen she became a mom. She dropped out of school and began selling charcoal to try and make ends meet.
After saving for two years, she was able to enroll in an adult school. She was trying her best to balance motherhood, school, and work when her daughter fell into her fire.
Charlot herself spent three days in the hospital, suffering a breakdown. "I was so sure I lost her," she recounted, teary-eyed. Her daughter spent two weeks in the hospital and fortunately survived.
While the pandemic has hit everyone hard it has hit women in developing countries the hardest. Women are 50% of the population, but comprise the majority of the extreme poor.
From collecting firewood and fetching water, to accessing healthcare, women are forced to hope for the best while being given the least. And it’s only grown more challenging. In 2020, 1 in 20 women globally lost their job.
As a female entrepreneur myself, I have been inspired watching female-founded organizations in Africa achieve phenomenal impact. But I have also seen them struggle to receive the same level of support as their male peers.
Only 1.9% of all donations in the U.S. go to organizations focused on helping women and girls.
It’s time we reimagine who and how we lift people out of poverty. It starts by giving women leaders who run transformative organizations in Africa the tools, funding, and resources to end extreme poverty for good.
Because, when women are positioned to lead, everyone wins.
During school, Charlot learned about the health hazards caused by cooking over fires. It dawned on her why she and her daughter suffered so many respiratory tract infections. Every day, while she prepared meals in their one-room home, next to their mattress on the floor, they were breathing in toxic smoke. This indoor air pollution is one of the leading causes of death of women and children around the world: killing 4 million people every year.
Charlot thought about all the waste discarded around her slum and all the women who longed for work. She thought she could try collecting the metal trash and recycle it into safe, yet affordable clean-burning stoves. She named her business, Mukuru, after the slum where she was raised.
What started as an idea has become a booming business. Charlot now employs 238 people as sales agents and 25 people who work in her production factory. They have sold 42,500 stoves in the last 12 months.
Her goal is to open a second factory in another county in Kenya next year. She intends to triple her production capacity. While on a Zoom call with her last week she told me she is “super-excited and not too afraid to scale.”