Mention the word “pumpkin” to many people and it conjures responses such as “Halloween”, “the colour orange”, “an affectionate nickname” and the perennial favourite, “soup”. But for Joyce Kyalema, from Uganda, this robust vegetable takes on an entirely different meaning; in just shy of three years, it has enabled the 33-year-old to help as many as 50 Ugandan women start their own businesses, using pumpkin-derived products.
With a vision to create an “empowered and self-sustaining society”, in 2011, Joyce launched the Rural Women and Youth Development Organisation (RWYDO) in her Ugandan homeland. “I had a passion to help vulnerable youth and women in rural areas find ways of increasing their household income, nutritional values and food security,” says Joyce, who is now the organisation’s Executive Director.
Among RWYDO’s aims is to teach women with little or no formal education – particularly single mothers, and those affected by HIV and AIDS – business management skills, modern farming and production methods, basic bookkeeping, accounting, and branding and packaging techniques. RWYDO also works with local partners and the Ugandan government to support and recognise enterprises run by women.
Having recently been named as one of 10 finalists in Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard’s annual social business competition, Project Inspire, Joyce hopes to empower an additional 50 single mothers in rural Uganda through training in pumpkin farming, business literacy and the sale of pumpkin products such as bread, seeds, and spice tea.
This impressive goal is one that Joyce shares with her three teammates; 32-year-old Shamim Mutesi, Maureen Ntegeka, 35, and Florence Nabugala, 33. “We all agree that when you empower a woman, you have empowered the nation,” says Joyce. “Educating women and girls helps them identify their strengths and address their concerns, with less dependence on others. It’s also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty.”
Vote for Women’s Empowerment in Pumpkin Value Addition in the 2014 People’s Choice Award.
Get to know all of our 2014 Project Inspire finalists.