One of the best things about sharing stories of amazing women doing incredible things is you doing exactly that - learning about their stories. I caught up with Kelly McJannett and we could have talked for hours about the positive change she is helping to create in the world.
Kelly is with an inspiring organisation that is about sustainable, positive change for women who just need a helping hand to reshape their lives and nurture their children. Kelly is a realist, a dreamer, a doer and a woman of action and I am sure, you'll find what she is part of as inspiring as I have. Come meet Kelly McJannett.
You're one of the passionate directors behind Food Ladder, what made you make the move into social enterprise?
It was a real light-bulb moment. After years of working in remote Indigenous communities in Australia I found myself a world away; sitting on a train in India racing past slum after slum. I was shocked by the sheer number of people.
Climate change affects the poorest people the worst - it's destroying livelihoods and access to food, so why not empower the poor to grow their own food using environmentally sustainable technology? I wanted to leverage the huge untapped human resource of the poor to grow food in a way that improves their lives and addresses challenges of the globe.
How does Food Ladder bring food to poor communities?
We do not deliver food to the poor, we empower them to grow it themselves! We provide simple hydroponic greenhouses and irrigation technology in a flat-pack containers and train the poor in how to operate the system.
Each Food Ladder can generate five times more food than traditional farmers because the artificial environment of the greenhouse allows food to be grown year round. In parts of India where winters reach sub zero, the Food Ladder system will still churn out tomatoes and leafy greens.
Another important factor for me was ensuring that each Food Ladder becomes a social enterprise in itself to generate an income stream for the community; so each system grows more food than the community needs to be sold into the local market. The income covers wages of workers and ongoing operating costs.
It's easy to imagine the impact Food Ladders will have when rolled out throughout the most food insecure countries in the world.
What was the trigger for Food Ladder to start working with Mahoboa's Promise?
Mahboba's herself. Mahboba and I were instantly galvanised around a shared vision to empower the most disadvantaged women in the world through a solution which was long-term and practical to the needs of Afghanistan's women.
My approach to achieving scale has always been to work in partnership with other wonderful NGO organisations making big impacts in difficult areas. Mahboba's Promise ticked every box.
Mahboba and I also realised the huge opportunity for our partnership. There are an estimated 1.5 million widows out of an estimated 26.6 million people in Afghanistan and 94% of them cannot read or write. With women in Afghanistan unable to enjoy many basic freedoms, why shouldn't Food Ladder Afghanistan strive to empower them all?
What are the growing conditions like in Afghanistan? What are the different challenges faced in Afghanistan to the communities Food Ladder has worked with before in places like India?
Kabul has a temperature range from 40C to -5C which means that one of the big challenges in ensuring food security is growing food year round. This is where Food Ladder comes into its own - we are able to regulate the temperatures inside the greenhouses so it remains optimum for growing all year.
Its a challenges that changes in every country. In Australia and India where we have other Food Ladder systems there are monsoonal seasons that flood fields and decimate crops, equally drought ravages rural communities and can undo years of hard agricultural work. But with Food Ladder systems, we use closed loop irrigation meaning the smallest amount of water possible is used and nothing is wasted. When cyclone season hits, our crops are out of harms way. These are techniques that commercial growers use, but we are the first to give the same technology to the poor.
Improving the lives of women in Afghanistan is the key focus for Mahboba's Promise, what are the issues the women are facing?
The women in Afghanistan face many challenges, but the plight of widow is much worse. Of the 1.5 million widows in Afghanistan 94% of them are unable to read or write. The average age of a widow in Afghanistan is 35 and 90% of them have children.
Without a man to protect, or earn an income to sustain the family widows are left completely destitute. Widows have no ability to purchase food or access vital medical provisions. That is why Food Ladder is such an appropriate solution. We are able to give these women the skills to grow their own food to eat and sell on to the community to sustain their families. The widows are able to work together which becomes a catharsis and safe place for them to gather.
With the collaboration focused on changing the lives of widowed Afghani women, how will they be able to retain control over successful projects?
This is one of the huge advantages of working with an organisation like Mahboba's Promise; the partner organisation protects the interests of the widows and manages the administration associated with each social enterprise.
The Food Ladder social enterprises become a place where the widows can come to work and earn a living.
How is the project self-sustaining?
Each Food Ladder system is designed to produce more crops than the community needs. The surplus is sold to the market to generate an income to pay wages to the widows and grow the social enterprise.
In this case of our partnership with Mahboba's Promise all produce will be sold to the neighbouring orphanages who are currently forced to purchase sub-standard food for the children. Our social enterprises in Kabul and neighbouring provinces will not only empower destitute women, but deliver high-nutrient produce to starving orphans.
What have been some of the best things about working with Mahboba Rawi?
Mahboba Rawi is one of those people you are fortunate enough to meet only a couple of times in your life. She is a powerful advocate for the widows of Afghanistan and completely unwavering.
Humanitarian aid is a difficult sector. Sometimes dangerous, always under-funded and often misunderstood, to work in this space you have to be absolutely committed to achieving change for the communities you represent.
I want to empower the poorest people in the world to address the food security crisis threatening the world over, and Mahboba is the best person to make that dream a reality in Afghanistan.
What would be your top 5 tips for getting involved and being part of positive change?
My top 5 tips would be:
1. Think pragmatically. Unsustainable and inappropriate solutions to change are dangerous because they set disadvantaged communities even further back and leave people disillusioned.
2. Work together. No one person has a silver bullet solution to hunger, climate change, sex trafficking... but good ideas that leverage collaboration can make huge headway into addressing the bug issues.
3. Grow a thick skin. Changing people's attitudes and behaviours is hard work, and unfortunately the majority of people don't care to see beyond their own backyard. If you want to make meaningful social change, you need to be able to change attitudes first!
4. Listen. Too often ideas are shoved down the throats of people who need help. By listening to those who need social change we can save time and money be developing solutions that speak to their real needs and challenges.
5. Dream Big!
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