“I raise up my voice,” she said, speaking matter-of-factly into the microphone during her first speech at the United Nations back in 2013, “not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard... We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
She, of course, is Malala. A 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, to be exact.
We all feel lucky and proud to count Malala among our heroes (or she-roes, as Maya Angelou liked to say). Her call for equal opportunity, for inclusion, for girls’ and women’s empowerment, is immensely admirable.
Malala has quickly become a symbol, the epitome of strong young Next Gen women leaders. And my great fortune has been to meet members of her ranks virtually everywhere I go in the agricultural communities we serve. Recently, while in Ghana with Root Capital colleagues and our friends from Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), we spent time with Kate Achaa, a food entrepreneur whose contribution to a more just food system, especially for women and children, would make Malala proud.
In Ghana, nearly a quarter of the country’s children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition, and moms-to-be are often deficient in micronutrients critical for child growth and development. Kate’s business, ANS Milling, is nourishing lives by creating access to affordable, nutritious staple-crop foods, like baby porridge fortified with vitamins and minerals, for low-income consumers in local communities.
Root Capital partnered with Kate by financing her company’s new warehouse and milling equipment, which processes grain purchased from hundreds of smallholder farmers in northern Ghana. Her 15-person team will soon benefit from world-class food processing expertise thanks to PFS, a social enterprise that connects the know-how of global food companies to nascent food businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. ANS Milling will access knowledge from pro bono corporate partners with 750 years (yes, years!) of combined experience and chops in food production.
With her business as her microphone, Kate is raising her voice for some of the most vulnerable and underserved groups in the region: young children, women of child-bearing age, and pregnant women. Hear, hear.
In 2012, as part of launching Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture Initiative, we set a goal of reaching 200,000 women — farmers, agricultural workers and business leaders like Kate — by 2016. In our 2015 Women in Agriculture Initiative Impact Report, released this month on International Women’s Day, we announced that we had hit that milestone a year early. Thanks to many of you, we’ve learned so much, iterating and optimizing together while generating real, lasting impact. We won’t stop here. There are many more Kate Achaas out there, and with your help we can continue to partner with and empower them.
A few years ago, my friend Julie Katzman, a wonderful leader and development financier who left Wall Street for the Inter-American Development Bank, stressed to me how important it is for each development project to be tackled from the perspective of 100 percent of the population we wish to serve. How totally spot-on, I remember thinking. Indeed, nothing can change when half the world is held back.
Amen to that, and to Malala. Here’s to all of us giving voice to the unheard, for unlocking opportunities for women to succeed and for celebrating the women and men who work so relentlessly for equity and inclusion.
Willy Foote, Founder & CEO
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