Women’s enterprise efforts for Coexistence

Text by Ursulla Wandili, Kenyan intern

Over the years, conservation work has realized a gradual and amazing shift of how communities surrounding protected areas take part in conservation activities. Gone are the days where emphasis was only on wildlife. Currently, all conservation organizations have placed human wellbeing particularly the indigenous communities and more importantly women and youth at the center of their strategy.

Through the Mlambeni Ndovu Women’s Eco-Enterprise Centre, Save the Elephants are helping support women of Sagalla with enterprise opportunities;  to weave baskets, sew bags and masks, attend workshops and trainings, as well as a shop where they can sell their goods. Through this program, women have been able to empower themselves economically and learn more from each other and the trainings offered.

Esther Serem standing proudly in front of the new Mlambeni Ndovu Women’s Eco-enterprise Center sign. (2021)


During my six weeks internship, I was privileged to directly work with the group of amazing women. The enterprise building constructed offers the women the shelter they need for numerous economic activities, meetings, social events, and trainings. The local women are currently weaving baskets, bags and other associated accessories which find their way to markets in Europe and the United States of America. This not only keeps the women busy but supplements their income during this time of low rainfall and for time of stress when elephants may be causing crop-raids in their farms.

Additionally, the group has been able to actively engage in other sound economic activities including a table banking initiative where members are able to borrow loans from each other and repay at the lowest interest rates. This has been seen as one of the best strategies in helping women open businesses, sustain their households, pay unexpected medical bills, and more importantly educate their children. Through table banking, members do not need to have collateral hence relieving them from pressure from banks and other lenders who have stricter regulations and high interest rates.

The center also helped the group by donating the structure for a Harmony Organic vegetable garden which the women communally manage. They are actively involved in land preparation, bedding seedlings, transplanting the seedlings, irrigating the vegetables, weeding, selling, and managing the funds. To date, these women have an opportunity to purchase organic vegetables at affordable prices and with ease in terms of geographic accessibility. Between January and August 2021, approximately 240 kilograms of vegetables were sold from the Harmony Organic Garden. This is a double win since families get not only nutritious organic vegetables that enhances their health but also the earnings from the sales made go back into the group for profit and re-investment.

Women working on the Smart Organic vegetable garden. Photo below; the garden flourishing.


In terms of leadership, the group adopted a democratic way of electing their leaders. Numerous trainings and talks have been given to these women in the past. Recently, evidence emerged of a stressed working relationship between the group leaders and some members. When chairing a WEC executive meeting to discuss about the challenges and their progress, we all agreed that they need support and training on mental health issues, healing, and forgiveness mechanisms before they could move forward. I am happy that this training was done, and members were ready to forgive each other and change for the betterment of the group. There is no doubt that the members need tailored trainings that respond to their specific needs and challenges but that the group is growing in strength with every challenge overcome.

WEC meeting on going in the ‘Enterprise Hub’ shop.


It was also important that the group came up with a constitution that will be used for governance. Issues to be included in the constitution included how elections for leaders will be done, their tenure, governance structure, criteria for establishing new projects, among others. The implementation of these recommendations will ensure that:

  • The women continue to build the entrepreneurialism, profitability and sustainability of the group; and
  • The group develops a network of women entrepreneurs with leadership and practical skills to actively contribute to shaping the future of their families, communities, and to learn better methods to live in harmony with elephants.

Esther in discussion with the women at the Enterprise Hub shop.


Indeed, when a woman is empowered, the entire community is empowered. The Sagalla women are key to our efforts for addressing human-elephant coexistence the region.


The Mlambeni women listening keenly to a presentation during International Women’s Day 2021.


Photos by Ursulla Wandili and the Elephants and Bees Project 




The views, opinions and position expressed in this article belong solely to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the policy and position of Save the Elephants




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