Extraordinary women, extraordinary entrepreneurs

At Village Enterprise, we know that when women have opportunities to launch sustainable businesses, save for the future, and take on leadership positions, everyone benefits—children, families, and entire communities. That’s why 83% of the entrepreneurs we serve are women.

This International Women’s Day, we hope you’ll join us as we take a look at four of our extraordinary entrepreneurs across East Africa and celebrate their hard work and determination to build brighter futures for themselves and their families.


Joanne from Mt. Elgon, Kenya

In the mountainous region of western Kenya, Joanne, 52, and her husband take care of five children and four grandchildren. After completing training through Village Enterprise and Days for Girls in 2021, Joanne launched a business making and selling washable menstrual pads—a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution for a region without widespread access to feminine hygiene products.

Joanne was part of a unique project designed to help women from coffee-growing communities in Mt. Elgon break cycles of extreme poverty while also dismantling menstrual health stigmas. Funded by The Starbucks Foundation, Village Enterprise and Days for Girls sought to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors toward menstrual heath as well as worked to ensure women like Joanne could overcome barriers and launch vital businesses needed by the community.

Joanne (right) inside her store with Village Enterprise Field Coordinator Carolyne Wafula.

Along with her two business partners, who are also women, Joanne began selling their menstrual pads to nearby schools in Mt. Elgon. As a result of their efforts—and those of similar businesses started by the project—more girls in their community have been able to stay in school now that they have necessary feminine hygiene products. Women have reported an increase in self-confidence, self-respect, and self-reliance, and this project’s training on menstrual health has also led to a reduction in teen pregnancies. In fact, prior to the program, roughly 300 girls in the area dropped out of school each year because they became pregnant. But after the program, the number dropped significantly in 2022 to 60 girls. In 2023, after the program had formally ended, it continued to drop again—this time to just 28 students. As of 2024, data from the Mt. Elgon Sub-county Ministry of Education shows that enrollment for girls in high school has surpassed that for boys in the area.

Not only did Joanne’s business meet a critical need for female students, it also began slowly sparking conversations among men on menstrual health and the societal stigmas facing women. As fathers in the community witnessed the positive impact of Joanne’s initiative on their daughters’ lives, attitudes toward menstrual health began to change.

While the project between Village Enterprise and Days for Girls concluded after two years, the impact continues. The transformative influence of Joanne’s business has extended to her own life as well. Not only is she no longer living in extreme poverty, but she’s used her profits to renovate her home, purchase livestock, and pay school fees for her children. Her confidence has grown with her business success and she now sees herself as an important voice in the community, earning respect from local leaders.

Joanne standing outside of her home which she’s been able to build using the profits from her business.

As part of The Starbucks Foundation’s goal to positively impact 1 million women and girls in coffee-, tea-, and cocoa-growing communities, The Starbucks Foundation and Village Enterprise are continuing to increase income and savings and build resilience for an additional 500 women in Mt. Elgon’s coffee-growing communities by equipping first-time entrepreneurs with the tools and resources to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams.

To date, The Starbucks Foundation has empowered more than 2,400 female entrepreneurs to launch sustainable businesses through Village Enterprise, transforming the lives of more than 16,000 women, men, and children in Mt. Elgon. On top of this impact, over 8,000 women and girls have been reached in the region with cost-effective and sustainable menstrual health products. The generational impact of this will only continue to grow as more young girls continue to have unburdened access to school.


Sharon from Agago, Uganda

Before joining Village Enterprise, Sharon never imagined that she could be a leader in her community. But now, she’s proud to be one, and she’s helping other women to become leaders, too.

One of the core components of Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation model is business savings groups. Composed of 30 entrepreneurs, these groups meet weekly throughout our entire program to build savings and foster community as members support one another on their journeys to becoming first-time business owners. When the time came to select a chairperson for their business savings group, Sharon was nominated by her friend. As the votes poured in from her fellow members, they all voted in agreement: Sharon would be their first chairperson and leader.

Sharon stands with livestock she’s purchased with the profits from her business.

Although she was nervous of her newfound position and responsibilities, Sharon was able to overcome her nerves through Village Enterprise’s leadership training. Her Village Enterprise business mentor also worked with her, teaching skills on how to lead people, manage group meetings, and navigate public speaking. “Because of how much I have grown through Village Enterprise, I am encouraging other women to start taking leadership positions at any level, not to shy away, but to take courage and practice the leadership skills that Village Enterprise has taught us,” said Sharon. “The training that we received has enabled us to move from nowhere, to somewhere.”

On top of growing into her own as an effective and influential leader in her community, Sharon’s business has been tremendously successful. She’s been able to use her profits to purchase household assets—such as solar panels, a bicycle, utensils, a radio, goats and pigs—and she’s currently saving up with her husband to purchase an ox which they plan to use for starting their own household farming business.


Halima from Dollo Ado, Ethiopia

Due to the prolonged droughts in southeastern Ethiopia, all of Halima’s livestock perished. With no other option but to rebuild her life elsewhere, Halima arrived at the Heleweyn Refugee Settlement as an internally displaced person along with her nine children. Without a way to earn an income, Halima relied on food from humanitarian aid organizations and asking distant relatives for help, but this was often not enough, and she and her family were left to live on less than $1 USD per day. This took a toll on Halima both physically and emotionally, as she was constantly worried about meeting her family’s basic needs.

Halima and her two business partners at their retail store where they sell honey, vegetables, and other groceries.

But near the end of 2023, everything changed as Halima was selected for DREAMS. This award-winning model combines Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation program with Mercy Corps’ expertise in Market Systems Development to better serve refugees and their host communities and help them build sustainable livelihoods. Halima was part of the first cohort of DREAMS entrepreneurs as the model launched in Ethiopia thanks to funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the IKEA Foundation.

Through DREAMS, Halima learned not only how to operate a business, but the leadership, communication, and financial literacy skills to make her business successful. Together with two women, Halima opened a retail store selling honey and was connected with local suppliers to enhance the overall market system. But since the honey supply naturally fluctuated with the season’s availability, they also started a second business of buying and selling goats. Together, their two businesses have been so successful that they were able to expand their original honey business into a store that also sells vegetables and other groceries.

“Today is a different day to celebrate. I remember sitting at home without work, now I am actively running a business,” said Halima, reflecting on how much her life has changed since joining Village Enterprise. “I can send my children to better healthcare services if need be, my family’s living standard and decision making has improved, and my social status has been raised.”

Halima and her business partners have enjoyed setting goals together and sharing responsibilities as their business grows. Having only been in the program for six months, they’ve come so far from where they started and their journey of transformation has only just begun. “I am quite confident of our future,” said Halima. “I want to be among the best entrepreneurs selling honey and goats in the village, and I also want to inspire other women.”


Emerance from Rulindo, Rwanda

Before joining Village Enterprise, Emerance and her two business partners, Lucie and Domithile, were farmers for survival. They grew Irish potatoes, but their harvests often did not yield enough to adequately feed themselves and their families. But now, their business called “Bright Future ” is one of the most successful in their village.

Emerance (right) with her business partners, Lucie (left) and Domithile (center), standing in their retail and tailoring store.

Through Village Enterprise, Emerance learned basic business skills and how to diversify income streams, but the most important thing she learned was the culture of savings and how to invest into her business to help it grow. She started selling shoes because there was demand for a shoe store in her community, but after taking a loan through her business savings group—and later successfully paying it off in full—she expanded her business to sell fabrics, which she can also tailor for customers. Recently, she and her business partners also invested in chickens, which will serve as a third way to bring in income. Emerance and her business partners continue to keep a keen eye on other gaps in the market that their business could fill and are determined to become the most successful entrepreneurs in the area.

Emerance is proud of their business success so far, but even more proud of her ability to better provide for her children. Not only has she been able to send her three children back to school, but she’s even able to afford to send them all to private school. Confident that the quality of private education will better serve her children in the long run and provide more opportunities, Emerance knows the fees are worth it for their futures. Her business partner, Lucie, has also been able to use their business profits to care for her sister’s two children, both of whom have disabilities.

Emerance, Lucie, and Domithile each share a sense of pride when reflecting on where they started from. Where they used to depend entirely on their husbands, now they’re the ones providing for household needs and feeding their children. As they look to the future, Emerance and her team want to pay it forward, too. “We want to teach other young women how to become entrepreneurs,” said Emerance. That’s the power of entrepreneurship—not only does it transform the lives of business owners and their families, but the positive impact continues to ripple outward to neighbors, communities, and generations to come.


Joanne, Sharon, Halima, and Emerance are just four of the 275,000 entrepreneurs who have launched businesses through Village Enterprise, transforming over 1.65 million lives across East Africa. Together with your support, Village Enterprise can invest in empowering millions of more women to break the cycle of extreme poverty and build brighter futures for themselves and their families.

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