In March 2020, women leaders and members of Lelchego Dairy Cooperative in Nandi County, Kenya were preparing to host a regional International Women’s Day celebration when the event was abruptly cancelled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya. These women and others on Lelchego’s management team redirected their planning efforts to tackle COVID-19 head-on in their community through education and outreach on health and safety precautions.
Over the past year, after seeing increased strain on women’s household workloads and inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, these women decided further action was needed. In partnership with two other dairy cooperatives in the county—Kabiyet and Lessos—a group of ten women teamed up to establish a women’s membership campaign. The campaign’s goal is to recruit new women members—particularly younger women—and provide leadership and gender equality training to increase women’s participation in the cooperatives as active members and leaders.
The campaign’s goal is to recruit new women members—particularly younger women—and provide leadership and gender equality training to increase women’s participation in the cooperatives as active members and leaders.
NCBA CLUSA’s Creating an Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE) project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Development Program (CDP), has been supporting the campaign by helping to organize meetings and provide training. The first order of business was for the initial group of women to socialize the campaign idea with the cooperatives’ management teams to get their backing. The group explained how milk delivery to the cooperatives would increase if more women were recruited because it’s the women who look after the animals and do the milking.
Given the decline in milk delivery and corresponding revenue reduction caused by the pandemic, the cooperatives’ mangers and board chairs know they need to increase member business. It was therefore not difficult to get their endorsement for the campaign. Additionally, three of the cooperatives’ leaders participated in the exchange visit to India in 2019 to learn from the country’s top dairy cooperative, and they saw firsthand the important contributions of women in the cooperative’s success.
This small group got to work mobilizing other women, but the pandemic restrictions meant progress was slow in the beginning. Once restrictions were loosened, the women were asked to bring two friends to the next meeting. At that meeting, the potential new members were asked to bring two more women to the next meeting. The network continues to grow in this way.
At these campaign meetings, the women discuss the socioeconomic benefits of joining a cooperative business and the importance of being an active member by participating in governance and decision-making activities and running for board positions or joining a committee. The managers and board chairs of the cooperatives also attend to encourage women’s participation and to better understand their situations. Additionally, extension officers from the cooperatives are doing outreach with the women’s families to ensure husbands and other family members understand the importance and benefits of women’s participation and are supportive of the work.
One issue that has been discussed at length is the difficulty women and youth face in joining agricultural cooperatives because bylaws often stipulate that members must own land, or in the case of dairy cooperatives, own at least one dairy cow. The campaign is encouraging prospective women members to join a local savings and credit cooperative (SACCO) and start saving—not just for a cow—but also for increased financial stability.
This International Women’s Day, the dairy cooperative women leaders, longtime members, and new members in Nandi County celebrate the progress they have made with their campaign. To date, a total of 134 women have joined their neighboring dairy cooperative societies, including 57 women at Lelchego, 45 women at Kabiyet, and 32 women at Lessos. Julia Jepngetich, a new member of Lessos, called the pandemic a “blessing in disguise” as it led her to the coop. Lydia Kemboi, a proud member of Lelchego, said, “I can confidently walk into the agro-vet shop and buy inputs for my animals by myself.”
With NCBA CLUSA support through the CECE project, the group is also exploring how women can be supported in starting small businesses and other income-generating activities to increase their incomes and compliment the dairy cooperatives’ activities. CECE will work with the cooperatives to review their bylaws and policies to determine how they can be revised to eliminate barriers to women and youth inclusion and further the mission of the women’s membership campaign.