Zione Makawa was still in school when she designed and worked on technologies that would make entrepreneurship possible for many women in Malawi. Her energy efficient smoking kiln used for smoking fish has enabled Malawian women to start their own profitable climate smart fish businesses. Today, Makawa works as a Project Manager at Kawjo Foundation promoting women-led markets in Malawi and helping lift women, and the families and communities that depend on them, out of poverty.

Women using smoking kiln to smoke fish at a fishery in Malawi

“I do it out of passion,” said Makawa who is an entrepreneur herself and runs her own fish business. “Most of the land in Malawi is owned by men,” said Makawa. “We are promoting aquaculture for women because you only need a small amount of land compared to other types of farming.” Climate-smart fish processing technologies promoted by Kawjo Foundation offer these women a modern, safe, and sustainable way to run their businesses. The traditional method of smoking fish over an open fire is both inefficient and dangerous. “The women were sleeping outside all night so that they could watch over the fire and slowly turn the fish whilst inhaling smoke the whole time,” said Makawa. Now, they can leave fish inside the enclosed solar driers for hours, allowing them to do other tasks at home while also keeping the fish safe from potential contamination by insects or animals. “It’s a simple concept,” said Makawa, “but it’s impact has been huge.”

Zione Makawa with a group of women entrepreneurs at a training session

Financial exclusion remains a major constraint for women, particularly in developing economies. The International Finance Corporation estimates an over $300 billion gap in funding for women-owned small and medium-sized businesses. Closing the gender gap in financing access provides an immense opportunity to financiers and economies at large.

In 2021, Kawjo Foundation was selected to receive funds under ANDE’s Accelerating Women Climate Entrepreneurs Initiative in consortium with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) and World University Service of Canada (WUSC) with funding support from Global Affairs Canada (GAC). As part of this project, the Foundation provides women fish farmers with crucial business training. “Women will do all of the work rearing and processing the fish, but then the financial part is often handed over to men,” said Makawa. By developing their entrepreneurial skills, the Kawjo Foundation empowers women to run their own businesses independently.

Zione Makawa working with a group of women during a training session

Despite the Kawjo Foundation’s success, Makawa knows there is still more work that needs to be done in order to create an ecosystem that supports women in the small and growing business sector. Many of the women entrepreneurs the Kawjo Foundation works with struggle to get traditional financing on their own, so they work together in groups to pool their resources and get access to funding. “There’s a group of women we encouraged to go into fish farming. They started with one pond that we helped them construct. The last time I visited them, they were on pond number ten,” said Makawa. “Women have great potential and investing in them is good business.”

Learn more about the Kawjo Foundation’s efforts to promote climate-smart technology and women-led markets in Malawi:

Visit andeglobal.org/gender-equality to learn more about what ANDE’s doing to help close the gender finance gap in the small and growing business sector.