Back in 1995, the late Indian-American economist C.K. Prahalad came up with a poverty-fighting strategy that was so unusual that no international development publisher would touch it. Imagine the world’s four billion poorest people as potential consumers, he urged, and described how companies and agencies could engage them profitably.
He wanted companies to learn the realities of the Bottom of the Pyramid consumer by going into their world – and the carrot was the huge opportunity for corporate growth that went along with effectively tackling poverty by co-creating solutions with consumers.
And while the publishers weren’t keen to share his ideas, those ideas spread widely on the internet, and a great many companies began sending out staff to live in BOP communities and learn about BOP consumers.
That was how SC Johnson ended up in Rwanda two decades ago, in fact.
“We started looking at how we could help raise standards of living and provide opportunities for a better quality of life for the 4 billion people at the base of the world’s economic pyramid – what’s known as the “base of the pyramid” or “BOP,” it wrote in 2019.
In the process, they learned that the most effective strategy against malaria may well be to recognize and empower the women in the community who have been caring for others for so long without recognition.
Their first step, between 2007 and 2015, was to support rural Rwandan farmers of pyrethrum, a plant based insecticide extracted from dried chrysanthemum flowers., SC Johnson invested in strengthening local farming cooperatives by creating the Rwanda Pyrethrum Project in 2009.
In partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and The Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, the project took a range of steps to support local farmers. The Py Lifeline Project brought crank-powered radios to remote farming communities, enabling ongoing access to farming news, market trends and wellness information.
The program increased production in Rwanda by 371% and increased the value to farmers to more than $1.5 million in 2015. It assisted more than 5,000 farming families while empowering female farmers.
Maria Nyirambonizanye, a member of a group of 82 female pyrethrum farmers who organized a savings group, said her family’s finances improved significantly. “I do not struggle anymore wondering where school fees are going to come from,” she said.
EKOCENTERS are run by women operators, helping create upward mobility for them and bring valued products and services to the community. SC Johnson
In 2017, SC Johnson launched a new pilot program aimed at helping female entrepreneurs bring educational information, affordable mosquito repellents to support malaria prevention, and other products and services to families with very little access. “Teaming up with The Coca-Cola Company, Solarkiosk and Society for Family Health Rwanda as part of the EKOCENTER program, we’re helping bring safe drinking water, sanitation, solar energy and wireless communication to families.”
Because its team was living in BOP communities, they realized that tens of thousands of local community members, most of them women, were “an unexpected frontline of defense.” But this caregiving work meant that the womens’ own economic growth often suffered. And that realization sparked the creation of a solution.
SC Johnson partnered with the Society for Family Health Rwanda to create a program that would certify their skills and knowledge.
The Certified Care program trains and empowers women to become certified Community Health Workers, so they can earn a living wage for something they’ve spent a lifetime doing for free. By becoming certified Community Health Workers, women who had to miss work to treat community members with malaria for free can be hired for paying healthcare jobs in the region and earn an income.
“Through the extensive time SC Johnson teams have spent in the region, living and working alongside Rwandan caregivers, it was clear to us that the caregivers deserved to be recognized for their service to the community and enabled with more resources,” said Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of SC Johnson.
“These women perform lifesaving work every day, and as we look to expand Certified Care, it’s our hope that this program, developed out of a committed partnership between SC Johnson and Society for Family Health Rwanda, can create an example for other governments and partners to scale and help make a truly lasting impact across the world.” Recently, it celebrated having 10,000 Rwandan women having graduated from the program.
“Working with SC Johnson and its Raid® brand team to create this program highlights an often-overlooked side effect of the malaria epidemic and further provides equity to women who are disproportionally affected,” said Manasseh Gihana Wandera, executive director of Society for Family Health Rwanda. “These Community Health Workers know what needs to be done to help their communities as most have been doing this all their lives. Their contributions deserve to be recognized, and this certification allows for that to happen. They are heroes of their communities.”
In addition to over 10,000 people being certified through Certified Care since 2017, SC Johnson’s partnership with Society for Family Health Rwanda and the Rwanda Ministry of Health has led to the construction of nearly 70 health clinics across Rwanda, which help address malaria along with other public health issues including HIV/AIDS, family planning, nutrition and access to clean water. Currently, Community Health Workers treat 55% of all malaria cases in Rwanda.
“In the past, when one of my family members had malaria, I would have to skip work to tend to them,” said Olive Mukandayisenga, a certified Community Health Worker. “Becoming certified for the work I’ve been doing and earning a livable wage now means I can maintain my family’s farm and keep my family happy and healthy, all while protecting myself and my future.”
Chantal (44), who has been a Community Health Worker for 15 years, believes the program has reduced the number of illiterate women because it helps improve reading and writing skills. The income Chantal has earned as a result of the Certified Care program has allowed her to buy sewing machines, train over 25 women on how to use these machines, and open a women’s clothing store.
Olive (48), who has been treating people in her community for over 23 years, lives in a swampy area where malaria is a consistent occurrence. Her son, now 20, has had malaria several times starting from the age of seven months – sometimes getting malaria as often as three times a month. The rate at which he contracted malaria affected his growth and caused him to become malnourished, and prevented Olive from working on her farm.
Growing up, 54-year-old Thatienne dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then as she got older, she noticed the importance of Community Health Workers and became inspired by them. She has been treating people in her community for six years. After giving birth to her first child, she got malaria but didn’t seek medical attention quickly enough. She had to spend two weeks in the hospital. Recently when her 15 year old son came home feeling sick, she was able to test and diagnose him with malaria, give him the proper medicine and nurse him back to health within four days.
Cover image: Ekocenters, SC Johnson photo