For nine months, she carries another human being inside of her; for eighteen years, she is a cook, nurse, teacher, janitor, taxi driver, and cheerleader; and for the rest of her life, she is more invested in another person than she is in herself.
Motherhood is, hands down, one of the hardest jobs in the world. A mother’s boss is several decades younger than she is and can be one of the most thankless employers on the planet. Like a doctor, she is on call all night long—every night. Like a politician, her behavior must be exemplary, even when it seems as though no one is watching. Like a farmer, she is responsible for keeping her crop alive and happy in conditions that are largely beyond her control. There’s a little more pressure, though, when your crop is a human being.
Women worldwide can relate. When I asked a few women in our Rumira cooperative about the hardest part of being a mom, the answers were the same as what I’ve heard from my own mom for years: maintaining a clean house, keeping the kids focused on their schoolwork, thinking of something different to cook every night. When I asked what they would do with 1000 soles, each woman immediately answered that she would invest it in her children. (When I asked what they would buy for themselves, one woman giggled and answered, “clothes”—and I think a lot of women, mothers or no, can relate to that.)
Motherhood brings its own unique challenges in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Even in Rumira, one of the least remote of Awamaki’s partnering communities, most of the women with whom I’ve spoken did not make it past primary or secondary school, as many began having children in their late teens. Despite a limited education, some are the primary breadwinners for their families, supporting their husband and several children on the profits from their knit goods. They are expected to tend to the family’s farm daily, often with an infant strapped to their back or a toddler in tow. If the in-laws need anything, their daughter-in-law must be available. To the already endless list of a mother’s titles, add weaver, farmer, and caretaker of the elderly.
For Marleny, a member of our Rumira cooperative, the list goes on. Marleny, who didn’t finish secondary school as a teenager, is now a full-time student at a vocational school in Urubamba studying computation and computer science. When she isn’t knitting to fill Awamaki orders or cooking and cleaning for her family or mother-in-law, she is taking care of her two-year-old son, Samir—and planning for his education. Though Samir is still learning to talk, Marleny is already working to pay for his university tuition, something that is financially out of reach for most families in the rural communities of the Sacred Valley. “I want him to finish his studies and do something in life,” she says.
And for Marleny, that means continuing to wear her many hats, continuing to sacrifice sleep and time to herself to fulfill her endless to-do list, and continuing to invest in her own education to ensure that she will always be able to invest in her son’s. But like most other moms that I’ve met, there isn’t an ounce of hesitation in her voice. When I ask her about the hardest part of being a mother, she just laughs and says, “That’s a hard question. It’s hard to raise a child.” But when I ask about the best part, she answers without hesitation: “When I teach my son something and he learns.” And with all that she does, there is plenty to learn from her. Motherhood may be one of the hardest jobs on the planet, but it sure suits Marleny well.
It's that time of year again. Time to talk about #failforward at Awamaki!
How to measure impact is one of the most difficult questions facing small non-profits. Every funder and most donors want to see you measuring impact, but it is pretty hard to do, and even harder with scarce resources.
For a long time at Awamaki, we measured our impact simply by measuring how much our cooperatives were earning. This is a fairly simple indicator. After all, the positive effects of women’s earnings in poor households are well documented. But as we grew, it was harder for this indicator to stand alone. Funders wanted to know how the women spent the money they earned, and whether those earnings translated into other types of empowerment in their community. Also, we wanted to know how our program affected women’s lives so that we could find ways to improve our work.
So we put a lot of effort into developing a plan to monitor our impact. This plan was based on talking to the women of our cooperatives. We designed and administered a “Well-being survey,” intended to help us understand what effects our program had in the communities. We even intended to administer it every year in order to monitor changes in the community. The survey asked about everything from how many times per week families eat meat to how women participate in household decisions.
We spent hours designing, coding, and administering the survey. Gathering the data was hard. Only 2 of our 6 cooperatives speak fluent Spanish, so we always have a Quechua-speaking staff member along. Only a few of the women in our cooperatives can read and write, so instead of distributing written/paper surveys we usually talk to each woman individually. We conducted these interviews during the cooperative’s regular meetings, where it can be tricky to talk to everyone in the limited amount of time that we’re all gathered. The whole process ended up taking months, and monopolizing the time of our small staff.
We had big plans for this data: we wanted to use it to report to donors, apply to grants, and track our own progress. We thought that next year, we might try to give the survey to women who are not part of an Awamaki cooperative, so that we can see if there is a difference between those who work with us and those who don’t. It isn’t exactly a randomized control group, but it was our best approximation! But it turned out we were getting ahead of ourselves. Our Well-being Survey was not destined to be repeated.
First, administering the survey was awful. It took a huge amount of time, and the women were clearly bored, busy and just trying to get through the questions as quickly as possible. Many of the questions had no clear Quechua translation, or the nuances of the questions were lost in translation. (For example, “Do you speak up in your family?” vs. “Do you speak up in your community?” is tricky when the word for family and community is the same.)
Second, the quality of the information we collected was bad. We had a hunch during the data collection that the answers we were collecting weren’t entirely accurate, but the proof was in the questions about income earned. Awamaki keeps good records about how much each woman and each cooperative earn from our programs. The survey included questions about how much the women’s households earned in total. Many of the women reported a lower total household income than we knew definitively that they were making at Awamaki. When compared to what we had on file for their Awamaki-generated earning, their answers didn’t make sense. In general, our artisans would underreport their income, some even reporting no income at all.
We’re not sure exactly where this discrepancy is coming from, but we have a few ideas. Perhaps the poorly estimated figures are a result of the women having no formal or consistent form of household record-keeping or budgeting within their families, which may be a product of low literacy rates. It could also be that the artisans fear that if they report a high income, Awamaki will give that cooperative fewer orders or reduce assistance in other ways. This of course is not our intention at all, but that trust can be hard to build. It’s also likely that the style of the interview itself is not conducive to accurate answers. Would you like to discuss, through an interpreter, your exact income with a distant colleague? Honestly, it can be a little awkward for everyone involved.
This wasn’t the only problem with our data. There were many issues, and we won’t be administering our lovingly crafted Well-being Survey again. We are trying a new method for next year. To measure economic success, we have started doing observational studies of the women’s homes to gauge wealth. We visit and observing the number of household appliances, the material the floor and roof are made of, whether there is a bathroom, etc.). We have also started running focus groups to approach the answers we sought from the Well-being Survey. We plan to invite a small group of women to the office, serve food, ensure a comfortable environment, and have a general conversation among the women instead of a direct interview with each individual. We think that these issues will be easier to address in a low-key group setting, rather than a rushed interview that puts each individual on the spot.
So wish us luck! We promise that when we have something interesting to report, we will share it with you. If not, we will have another excellent failure story for next year and even more lessons learned.
Earlier this month, a group of seven knitters from the knitting cooperative of Rumira joined Giulia and Natalie of our Monitoring and Evaluation team to talk about the role of women in their community, empowerment, and Awamaki’s mission.
For this empowerment workshop, we started right away with a big question: Why is it that Awamaki only works with women? At first, the answers we got were pretty straightforward. The women responded that there are very few jobs for women, and Awamaki provides them with jobs. While this is correct, we wanted to dig deeper: why do we only work with women?
Empowerment workshops like this one provide Awamaki with crucial insight to how our mission is perceived by the women artisans we serve. These workshops are also a great opportunity to evaluate our impact, and the women’s perception of our work, through their responses to questions and activities.
The idea of empowerment is a foreign concept in our cooperatives’ communities. The women of Rumira had heard of empowerment but none could confidently explain what it is. This was a critical part of the discussion because themes of empowerment are so central to Awamaki’s mission of enabling the women to create change in their communities.
To illustrate the theme of empowerment, we used women’s purchasing power and social change in the community as a starting point.
Knitter Rosa gave the example of a woman making purchasing decisions as a form of empowerment. “Women didn’t make these choices in the past,” she said when discussing changes in her community over the last decade. Now, she told us, women make the majority of household decisions and participate in community meetings. Along with the additional income that they earn with Awamaki, these changes are empowering them to improve their community.
This month’s workshop was also hugely beneficial to our organizational learning as we refine our capacity-building curriculum. We found our basic and interactive approach to this complex topic proved to be very successful. The women of our Rumira Cooperative gained understanding of empowerment in the context of their lives.
However, in the past we have only given this workshop in more rural communities that are further from town, schools and jobs. Rumira, on the other hand, is only minutes from the main town. We found that the Rumira women’s discussion was far more productive, and moved much more quickly, than the discussion had in previous rural communities. In those communities, we had started with a high expectation for women’s understanding of our mission, and found we needed to drill down to basics. Adapting that curriculum to Rumira, we approached the group with basic concepts, and quickly found that they were eager for a more advanced discussion!
This was a great lesson for us as we improve our curriculum so that we can better adapt it to each group’s education level and better carry out our mission of building business and leadership capacity in rural Andean women.