In 2023, Microsoft had 25 employees volunteering to support Maasai women in education on entrepreneurship and human rights.
In the heart of Tanzania, the Maasai community stands as a beacon of cultural resilience, preserving their traditional way of life amidst the relentless tide of Western modernization. Yet even this stalwart community recognizes the need for evolution and adaptation in the face of a rapidly changing world, particularly in response to the pressing challenges of climate change. However, the traditional communities carry outdated views on gender roles making young women seek elsewhere for education.
These young women are often compelled to leave school upon becoming pregnant. The responsibility of motherhood then prevents them from returning to their education, thus limiting their opportunities for personal development and societal contribution. This issue paints a stark picture of the struggles faced by the Maasai community in their journey towards modernization while preserving their rich cultural heritage.
In November 2023, over 25 Microsoft employees embarked on a mission to provide these women with education. The employees joined forces with local partners and the volunteer-based organization Jengo, as part of a larger project.
“Instead of women having to search for their basic right of education, we instead want to bring education accessible to them, while keeping and protecting their strong heritage and culture in the community”
states Lars-Ulrik Nielsen, founder of Jengo.
From Housewives to Entrepreneurs
One issue is that the women have difficulties understanding how the local leaderships work. As an effect of the program, over 1,000 women have received training and mentorship programs on how to debate and design ideas that can support them in local leadership. Additionally, five solar sell stations have been established, providing women with a shared income to sell electricity for mobile charging to support them in more independence and better savings. Many of the women have embarked on new adventures after receiving education and the resources to start their own business. The education has for many women provided knowledge and better capacity to understand climate change and how they can adapt by starting their own business and take on a more active role in their community.
“Before, we used to get up and be housewives. Now, after education and seminars, I have started my own business and earn my own money and I’m thereby able to contribute to my family”
says Stella, one of the women that’s part of the project.
The project, has educated over 1,000 women about their land ownership rights, understanding of their cycle, and access to local management councils. This has resulted in greater diversity in power positions within these traditionally male-dominated societies.
Establishment of Women Groups
The establishment of women groups is a crucial element of the women’s independence as it gives them a lot of value to them individually and as a group. These groups empower women by amplifying their voices, reinforcing their dedication to their work, and boosting their self-confidence. Moreover, they provide an avenue for other women to become part of a community, standing united and articulating their reasons for wanting to join.
“In general, the project has dramatically changed our lives. We have learned so much. The knowledge we gain makes us much more confident in our lives”
says Esta, one of the women that’s part of the project.
These groups have also played a key role in helping women lay the groundwork for transforming their lives. By banding together, they are able to support each other in establishing their own businesses. A concrete example of an area where there women’s groups have had a visible impact is through education in entrepreneurship. The women’s groups have expressed a desire to receive education in entrepreneurship, in order to work with small start-ups and thereby generate income for the community.
Last year, one of the volunteers Siw Melchiorsen, Microsoft Employee educated the women in basic financial management. Here she encountered a women’s group from different villages. They told her that they met every week and that they had created a common pool of money from those who could afford to contribute. This has helped them create a shared capital that can offer small loans to women who need micro loans for their new businesses. The borrowers have been able to repay their loans over time. This strengthens both the economy, women’s self-confidence and equality in society.
In addition, the women have expressed that several men had requested loans from the women, which also establishes the women in a central role in society, contributing to promoting equality.
The Significance of the Projects for the Women and the Volunteers
The 25 Microsoft employees dedicated three volunteer days where they were divided into different groups with working on different initiatives. Some of the groups explained the SWOT-model in relation to the woman’s entrepreneurial work, while others educated in the women cycles and how it works.
“The things we teach seem basic to us, but they make a big difference for them. We can see a difference in what the women knew when we started the project versus what they know now”
says Siw Melchiorsen. Siw had previously taught the women some basic entrepreneurial skills and noticed a significant change in their educational needs. What started with education on basic financial management, turned into a conversation about the fear of hormones from menstrual cycles which lead to Siw and the other planners to plan a seminar on the women cycle. Thereby, the planning of what they are educated in stem from previous conversations with the women and their needs.
The volunteers felt deeply satisfied and joyful by participating in the project. They were happy not only because they shared their knowledge, but also because they saw how their work had an effect on the women’s lives. The volunteers’ stories show how the volunteer days can promote personal development and joy.
New Entrepreneur Adventures to Come
Every Microsoft Employee has three volunteer days that is added to a system called Benevity, where Microsoft adds funding from these days to the selected partner.
The funding that has been raised will go to support partnering grassroot organizations in facilitating and scaling additional trainings for more groups to increase the community awareness and understanding on basic human rights and how to adapt and protect their land and livelihood against climate change.