Gender-Transformative Business Models in Agriculture
How rural businesses are addressing gender gaps and norms in their business models
Agricultural businesses have the power to advance gender equity by shifting harmful gender norms and closing gender gaps – not only in access to resources but also in agency and control over resources. This was the key takeaway of a recent study aimed at understanding whether and how companies serving rural and agricultural customers were adopting gender-transformative business models, defined as business practices that aim to address the gender gaps and norms that constrain rural women's livelihoods.
CGAP and IDH are working to advance gender-transformative business practices among companies active in agriculture and food systems, and recently partnered with Value for Women to identify ways in which companies are adopting gender-transformative business models in agriculture. Together, we analyzed the business practices of five leading agricultural companies Babban Gona, DigiCow, Lersha, Sistema.bio and Warc.
We found that each company has been taking specific steps to address harmful gender norms and reduce gender gaps, and such steps are also proving to be good for business.
Overall, four takeaways emerged across our assessment of these five companies.
1. Gender gaps and norms in value chains are identified and addressed
All companies demonstrated an understanding of key gender gaps and norms facing rural women and took steps to address them across various aspects of their businesses. The most common gender gaps observed by companies included access to land, finance, information and capacity building. In comparison, the gender norms most mentioned included limitations on women’s intra-household decision-making and agency, and on mobility, as well as collectively held expectations around women’s roles and responsibilities (e.g., childcare, household chores, supporting her husband’s business).
The companies recognize that such gaps and norms limit their potential engagement with women customers. To address them, they employed strategies such as hiring women trainers and supervisors who then recruit women into their agricultural supplier program, using women-centric images and language in their marketing materials, and providing women with access to land and farm labor.
2. Gender equity is instilled as a key part of business operations
While some businesses already had a formal gender strategy in place, this was not true for all of the companies we spoke with. However, in each case, management was leading by example and instilling gender equity as a core part of a business’s vision, mission and way of operating. For instance, we learned that some company founders regularly emphasize the importance of gender equity when speaking about the vision and mission, and some managers would deliberately raise gender considerations when making important decisions.
3. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gender-transformative business models
The study revealed that there is no one way of conducting gender-transformative business. Some companies are implementing ambitious initiatives with their customers, while others are focused on internal policies and practices to support women employees.
For example, some companies described efforts to provide all women employees with paid family responsibility leave beyond the nationally required minimum. Others offer technical assistance and digital literacy training to women customers–both virtually and in person–to ensure that they are able to access and use their products and services. However, few businesses apply gender-transformative approaches across all of their product and service offerings, suggesting that even for deliberately transformative companies there is room for improvement.
4. Gender-transformative approaches not only lead to positive outcomes for women - they're also good for business
All companies observed shifts in gender gaps and norms related to their adoption of gender-transformative approaches. Although not all outcomes were rigorously measured (and some were only anecdotally identified), they include an increase in the proportion of women employees and leaders, greater retention of women employees and greater workplace satisfaction among women employees, and the reduction of existing gender gaps in access to opportunities and resources for women.
For example, one company found that efforts to address gender norms and household dynamics led to women stakeholders achieving more ownership and decision-making power over their agricultural activities. In this example, the company worked with women as poultry suppliers, and distributed birds and initial training to get the women started. While the company would usually make use of central distribution points in towns, they soon realized that this would mean the male heads of household would be sent to pick up the birds, resulting in a limited sense of ownership and independence for their targeted women suppliers, who would carry out the farming work at home but not interface directly with the company. This led them to invest in an alternative approach that involved direct delivery to each woman supplier’s house. In doing so, they directly addressed gender norms and household dynamics to achieve their desired outcome: A cohort of independent and increasingly productive women poultry suppliers.
Overall, we were encouraged to see that companies are taking clear steps to address gender gaps and norms in ways that also made clear business sense. But of course, this is not the case for all agricultural businesses, and driving adoption of gender-transformative business practices at scale will require a greater understanding of what companies can do to effectively shift gender gaps and norms, and why these practices are good for business. This is why CGAP and IDH plan to continue working to understand gender-transformative approaches, while working directly with companies to help them make their businesses more gender transformative. If your company or organization is interested in partnering with them to explore how you or your partners can drive positive outcomes for your women customers and your business, we invite you to reach out to us to explore opportunities for collaboration. To join forces, contact CGAP (Jamie Anderson) or IDH (Cesar Maita Azpiri).
This article was originally published on CGAP's Findev Gateway on Apr 6, 2023
The authors wish to acknowledge and thank other team members that contributed significantly to this work, specifically Sophia Davis, Katie Naeve, and Silvia Emili from Value for Women, and Max Mattern from CGAP.
Renée is a Portfolio Lead with Value for Women. She oversees, manages and delivers a global portfolio of innovative gender and business projects, working with impact investors, businesses, and entrepreneurial ecosystem actors. Renée brings to her work a background in financial and digital inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, along with a passion for supporting women’s empowerment. She has previously worked with Cenfri as Project Lead for the i2i Facility in South Africa, as well as with Divitel in the Netherlands.
Jamie Anderson is a financial sector specialist at CGAP. Jamie leads CGAP’s work on rural and agricultural livelihoods, which focuses on women and the critical roles they play in food and financial systems. She previously managed CGAP’s work across with women, youth, and forcibly displaced persons, and demand-side research with smallholder households, which included national surveys in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Bangladesh and financial diaries in three markets in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Pakistan.
Cesar Maita Azpiri is senior manager, gender at IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative. Cesar has over 15 years of experience in private and non-profit organizations and is active in impact investing and sustainable value chains at both HQ and field level. Cesar currently heads the global gender unit at IDH.