One Other Little Item on Bloomberg's Agenda: Empowering African Women

Bloomberg Philanthropies' global grantmaking can seem a bit boring. But a good kind of boring, because Mike and his team are keen to find solutions to often overlooked but widespread problems that contribute to millions of deaths worldwide—like smoking, traffic accidents and child drowning. To the likes of which Bloomberg has donated a vast fortune. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies Women’s Economic Development program is a project of a different kind. It targets women as a vital part of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic development in rapidly growing industries like agricultural production, tourism and construction. And Bloomberg is part of a growing list of funders who are into empowering women in Africa, including the Gates, Coca-Cola, Ford, Hewlett and Caterpillar foundations.

At a total of $30 million in funding across the entire Women’s Economic Development program funding is comparatively low, at least by Bloomberg standards. Bloomberg has committed over $600 million to anti-tobacco use campaigns and over $259 million to road safety projects in low- and middle-income countries with a high number of road related fatalities since 2007. 

Related: Be Like Mike: Bloomberg’s Road Safety Giving is Saving Lives. Where are Other Funders?

And while the recent announcement of an additional $10 million doesn’t get anywhere near the kind of money Bloomberg has committed to his other causes, it’s a big jump. Plus, to be fair, the Women’s Economic Development program hasn’t been around for nearly as long as the anti-tobacco and traffic safety programs.

The latest $10 million investment, announced at the recent U.S.-Africa Business Forum, will be dedicated to expanding the Women’s Economic Development program in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The grant was awarded to the Relationship Coffee Institute, a “nonprofit dedicated to improving the livelihoods of rural Rwandan women and coffee farmers.” The grant allows the institute to reach an additional estimated 20,000 women farmers who will benefit from its training and market access programs.

Zeroing in on the coffee industry in Rwanda and DRC may seem a bit like niche funding, even for Bloomberg. But coffee is big business in both countries.

In Rwanda, coffee accounts for about 30 percent of the country’s export revenue and some 400,000 people depend on coffee farming for their livelihoods. In the DRC, agriculture accounts for over 40 percent of its GDP and nearly 85 percent of women in the country work in the industry. Coffee, a big cash crop in the DRC, is mainly grown by smallholder farmers.

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, while coffee is a major export in both countries, the state of the current supply chain “struggles to provide 25 million smallholder farmers with a fair and sustainable means to meet their basic needs.” The problem “is especially acute for the estimated 12 million smallholder farmers who are women.” The $10 million grant builds on the work the Relationship Coffee Institute, and its main partner, Sustainable Harvest, were able to achieve with previous Bloomberg funding. This including improving women’s skills related to soil management and field crop production as well as, access to knowledge of global makers and buyer networks.

Related: Is Impact Investing the Next Big Thing for Bloomberg?

Through its partnerships with outfits like Women for Women International, the Relationship Coffee Institute, and Sustainable Harvest, Bloomberg Philanthropies is so far putting a lot of its chips on workforce and basic business training. As well, like other funders we track, it's keen to build broader support networks to provide women the tools, resources, and knowledge necessary for increased economic security.