From the southwest corner of Nigeria, a pioneering social enterprise called Durian is lifting rural women out of poverty to become economically self-sufficient and confident of their value in building a more sustainable world. Training women to turn local waste into sustainable livelihoods is breaking through cultural norms that have historically relegated Nigerian women to powerless second-class citizens. In doing so, Durian is building a vibrant circular economy with measurable results for thousands of women, as well as their families and entire communities.
Economic independence sustains communities
Located in Imafon, a rural community in Ondo state, Nigeria, Durian operates training sites and crop and livestock farms where women produce food, learn how to make crafts and furniture from bamboo and wood, turn fabric waste into fashions, create skin care items from cocoa pod husks, and process food from cassava flakes. Women and their children also participate in development sessions that span adult literacy, leadership, communication and computer skills, finance and banking, and human rights. Participants often assume project lead positions at Durian, expanding the program's reach to approximately 30,000 people across six communities.
Women gain life-changing confidence and skills
Eluu Blessing learned how to produce salable crafts from bamboo waste during her eight-month training and internship at Durian. Following the early death of her father and with only a high school degree, Blessing had lacked the opportunity to further her education. She's now training other women and has become financially independent.
"I was jobless, and had no way to earn money for myself and my family," she said. "Durian changed my life because I have a steady income to pay for my children's school fees, and I am contributing to household expenses like food and clothing to improve my family's wellbeing. I'm respected in my household and no longer totally dependent on my husband. Women can do anything a man can do, and we can do it better."
Priscilla John is another participant who obtained practical skills and achieved personal growth from her training and internship at Durian. After gaining skills to tailor fabric waste into fashions and other textile products like blankets, John became a group leader, keeping financial records and also training other women. Particularly striking is how the program boosted John's self-esteem, forever altering the family dynamic.
"Before Durian, I didn't have the confidence to speak up for myself and my family," said John. "I had always been interested in fashion and had basic knowledge, but Durian gave me the chance to advance my skills so I can earn a living and save money. I can buy what my family needs, make clothing for myself, and sell it to others. I don't have to wait for my husband to decide if he'll give me money, and I've learned how to work in teams, sharing my ideas and helping other women."
From poverty to social entrepreneur
One project at time, Durian is opening people's eyes to the overlooked value of waste like bamboo, discarded fabric, and foodstuffs. I've been providing pro bono consulting to Durian as part of SAP's virtual social entrepreneurship program, Acceleration Collective , and it's opened my eyes too.
"We cannot make dismissive assumptions about poor, marginalized women in rural communities," said Tony Joy, founder and director of Durian. "Growing up, I was constantly told I was good for nothing. But I've found that waste – tangible or abstract – is not useless if you give it the opportunity to become useful. With access to knowledge and training, women in rural communities are cool and creative, able to contribute socially to their families, communities, and economically to the world."
After losing her father at 12 years old, Joy became homeless as a teenager. She struggled with depression and questioned her self-worth. Being admitted to Obafemi Awolowo University in her late teens was her first major turning point. As she worked to put herself through school, Joy realized the relationships she built with colleagues through these jobs was equally educational. She eventually assumed leadership roles in the school's media and public relations departments. Following a stint at an NGO, Joy founded Durian for double impact on two at-risk targets: rural women and the environment.
"When people came to me for help, it made me feel that I had something in me another person needed," she said. "I stopped giving up on life and started tapping into my creative energy. When I graduated, I decided to spend my whole life with people in rural communities who, like me, felt that life was too hard and they'd never amount to anything. If someone else can give me opportunities in my nothingness, I can give similar opportunities to others."
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