Women, Wisdom & Worms

Women, Wisdom & Worms

Guatemala
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Budget: 
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In Western Guatemala many women who live below the poverty line rely on small farms to subsidize their family income. By utilizing the wonders of science & technology these women can advance economically & socially, while being environmentally conscious. The use of worms to digest organic waste (vermicomposting) produces a nutritious pesticide-free fertilizer that supports healthy crop yield.

About You
Organization:
Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group
Section 1: About You
First Name

Dorit

Last Name

Leavitt

Website
Country

, QZ

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group

Organization Phone
Organization Address
Organization Country

, MA

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, QZ

Innovation
What makes your idea unique?

This project puts the power of science and technology in the hands of Guatemalan women and is an enabling tool that promotes innovation, while being realistic in consideration of the social and economic status that has barricaded women for generations. Vermicomposting is a sustainable, affordable and realistic technology that allows those of us who are not experts in engineering to become hands-on practitioners of technology within our own means, in addition to applying it to our everyday lives in a socially and environmentally conscious manner.

Vermicomposting is a simple composting method that is sped up by the use of worms who feed on organic material. The ingested material mixed with the worm’s digestive enzymes produce worm castings that churn out a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer. Vermicompost has been shown to improve plant growth and microbial activity in soil, providing a continuous nutrient supply. Furthermore, the innate process of worm regeneration gives this project a natural sustainability advantage. With some worms, a box and fruit scrapes a family can be on its way to producing a rich fertilizer while reducing garbage waste.

In reality vermicomposting is not new; its benefits have been proven around the world which adds to the strength in its success. What make this proposal unique are not only the worms or compost; rather it’s the promotion of this technology advocating the technical capability of women. Opening the world of appropriate technology to women demonstrates that beyond the role of the mother lays the wise mind of an innovator.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

In Guatemala approximately 25% of urban women and 5% of rural women are enrolled in secondary school. Due to this, and also to the fact that traditional Guatemalan gender stereotypes define women solely as wives and mothers, few women occupy formal positions in science and technology. This project seeks to address this imbalance from a grassroots perspective, empowering women to consciously engage with technologies that can enrich the lives of their families. Through this process the traditional separation of women, domesticity and technology is challenged.

By applying technology that relates to the daily lives of women in Guatemala, women not only increase their means for economic development, but they establish themselves as role models within the community through the use of such innovative technology. An example of this can be seen in a group of four women who set up a biodigestor system that feeds off of their pig farm in Cantel, Guatemala. After receiving technical training and learning how to maintain their biodigestor using excrement from their pigs, the women can now cook in their shared kitchen space using biogas they helped produce. Within a two week period this collective of families cuts wood cost by $45 while producing nearly 25 pounds of gas; thus demonstrating the possibilities available to this community comprised of individuals living on less than $2 a day.

The success that has been experienced by this collective of women using biodigestor technology can be shared by individual women through the process of vermicomposting. This inexpensive and low-maintenance technology promotes social and economic growth, specifically among rural agricultural communities. By producing a free, effective and organic fertilizer, women are able to increase the efficiency of their agricultural production and supplement household income. In Guatemala a bag of chemical fertilizer costs about $8 and organic fertilizer is nearly double. With vermicomposting, about one pound of composting worms (approx. 1000 worms) can eat ½ pound of food per day! Vermicomposting has the capacity to elevate the economic and social status of women by increasing crops yields and establishing women as technological innovators within their communities.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

Poverty:
In a country where more than half the population lives below the poverty line and 53% rely of agriculture for their livelihoods, the need for affordable technologies that increase productivity and by default, economic growth, is pressing. Vermicomposing directly addresses rural poverty by providing a virtually free agricultural fertilizer. The costs lie mainly in the set up, which at its simplest is under $5, and time investment, which is also low.

Gender Inequality:
Guatemalan women are subject to multiple factors of deprivation which includes low levels of education, high levels of domestic violence, and limited economic opportunity. This project empowers women to engage with science and technology, to educate fellow women to do the same, and to use this technological knowledge to contribute economically to their households.

Environmental degradation:
Standard practices in Guatemala are straining its natural resources. Predominately, waste management (or lack thereof) causes unsanitary living conditions and contamination of water and land. Vermicomposting is a safe disposal method of organic household waste which produces an environmentally sound fertilizer. Therefore the process improves household health, reduces environmental contamination, and avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?

To strengthen the outreach and potential of the program, we are partnering with women's groups and organizations that already have leadership, health, & education programs well established. These groups are experienced in running programs that serve indigenous women of rural & semi-rural communities. Additionally, we will work with each group to organize transportation to our office where composting technologies are demonstrated. This allows for women to learn about not only vermicompost, but other technologies such as biodigestors. The workshop involves two components: 1st) a lecture that highlights the science behind the technologies and 2nd) a hands-on training in how to construct a vermicompost system. Also, each woman will receive an illustrated manual, appropriate to literary levels, in how to build and manage a vermicompost system. To get women started, AIDG will work with partner organizations to distribute worms and boxes to interested women. We will evaluate the workshop using a short survey and then follow-up with each group after two months to review the effect of the training and address any issues with the vermicompost systems that we can assist with.

As worms are living animals naturally they require certain conditions to thrive. Therefore, factors that may prevent the success of vermicomposting includes: not enough nourishment (food scrapes), direct exposure to sun (dehydration), or infestation (scrapes inviting the wrong type of animal friends). In order to prevent these issues from occurring, the workshop will discuss the potential sources for error and ways to avoid them. With the inclusion of this information in the take-home materials and follow-up with each woman and her vermicompost setup, preventative steps are taken to ensure vermicomposting is successful in producing fertilizer.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Year one: We anticipate 30 participants in the composting workshop the first year, wherein 70% (21 women) set up vermicompost in their homes. Averaging 5 members of each household, a total of 105 people are directly impacted by the project. Estimating 1/4 of participants with vermicompost systems in their homes earn income based on selling produce in the market, the potential indirect impact is 7,500 people.

Year two: In the second year, we anticipate 40 new participants in the composting workshop, wherein 70% (28 women) set up vermicompost in their homes. Participants from year one continue vermicomposting and have assisted one other woman to set up a system in her home, increasing use by 21 homes. Direct impact in year two is estimated to be 350 persons and indirect impact increases to 18,000 people.

Year three: After two years 91 women will have received vermicompost training, either by AIDG or other women. In the third year we anticipate to increase that number by 78 resulting in a total of 169 women and directly impacting approximately 845 people through the use of this technology. Indirect impact, by way of market sales, increases to 54,750 people cooking and eating produce grown with pesticide-free fertilizer.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

No

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

No

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation

The key to this project is sustainability, not only in the technology and education methods, but the project as a whole. In order for AIDG to provide educational workshops to women annually, building and maintaining partnerships with other local organizations is important. This allows for greater knowledge sharing, collaboration of resources, and the development of a stronger, greater community that can provide the necessary tools needed to improve lives in a more comprehensive manner.

As an example of AIDG’s collaboration with local businesses, we work closely with small enterprises to develop composting and other ‘green’ technologies in Guatemala and Haiti. Through these partnerships we provide logistical and educational support to women’s groups. In addition to our business partnerships, AIDG works with other local organizations to increase access to green technologies. Most recently, AIDG provided biodigestor technical training to a local Peace Corps branch and the community it serves. After 40 days, this community is now producing biogas.

Our partnership with Primeros Pasos, a clinic operating out of the Palajunoj Valley, will be crucial to establishing successful relationships with rural women for this project. This organization is experienced in working with women and is currently in its third year of a Women’s Health Program that directly serves 75 women and their families across 10 communities.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

AIDG is supported by individual donors and foundations, with continuous fundraising and grant requests in place to ensure our projects do not lose momentum due to lack of funds. Some current funders include Echoing Green, the Lemelson Foundation, and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. Women, Wisdom & Worms is a project within a larger education program in the organization. This project, in conjunction with other technical workshops and trainings, is funded through a budget specifically set aside for education outreach. Currently, a five year plan is in progress to expand the education program at AIDG as well as specific funding streams for these projects.

The initial costs for Women, Wisdom & Worms include: materials printed, transportation of women to the workshops, worms, and boxes. We estimate these costs to total $30 per woman. All overheard costs (staffing, venue, etc) will be covered by AIDG. Based on estimations of women who set up vermicomposting systems in their homes, this project will cost $4620 over 5 years. Additionally, with an extra $380 AIDG will purchase four kilos of worms annually from a local micro-enterprise. This will enable us to replenish our worm supply, increase our vermiculture capabilities and as a result provide worms to individuals or organizations that hear of our work and wish to start their own vermicomposting systems. The sustainability of this project lies within the agreement and follow-up that will be made between AIDG and each participant: each woman who receives start-up materials is required to train and provide vermicomposting worms (attained from the natural regeneration of worms through the vermiculturing process) to another woman. Thus, every dollar spent in assisting one woman has a magnified impact.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

AIDG hosted a composting workshop for Guatemala's young thinkers, a group of students aged 8-11 years old. The students were in awe at the wonder of what was produced by essentially their garbage...chicken feed! Fertilizer! Biogas! Oh my! Here was a simple, practical technology that through the wonders of nature and science produced marvelous materials to improve our lives. After this workshop it was apparent that AIDG could fill this niche in education, and so began our plans to invite women's groups and focus on a technology that could be installed in their homes and have impact on their lives. When I asked some women if this type of workshop interested them all I received was utter excitement. Lupe, a women I know who earns extra income for her family by selling house plants and flowers exclaimed "Oh yes! All we do is stay in the house and take care of the babies. I would love to learn these kinds of things; and it means I won't have to buy fertilizer! Can I bring some friends?"

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

With a background in the social sciences, Dorit Leavitt came to the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group with a focus in education, rather than engineering. Relying on previous experiences in adult education and her work with NGOs in Guatemala since 2006, Dorit found inspiration in the potential of AIDG's technologies to share knowledge that is commonly restricted to university graduates. Taking into context her experience developing a women's health education program that empowers women to take their own initiative to care for the health of their families, Dorit realized the same could be done with appropriate technology. Increasing one’s access to energy, water or sanitation is not always as unattainable as it may seem, but for many who live in disadvantaged communities the opportunities to do so are not commonly presented. Thus, with the technical resources of AIDG and Dorit's passion for education, an idea was born to bring appropriate technology, its use, and its potential to a community that may otherwise not be given an opportunity to work with science and technology.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another source, please provide the information
ICRW
Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Women’s time poverty, Social norms, Economic or institutional constraints, Women’s lack of involvement in the technology development process.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

Women’s time poverty: This project is a low input, low maintenance technological process that can be performed in women’s homes to increase agricultural productivity. After attending a 45 minute workshop and the initial set-up of the system, women need only to check on the worms once a week, add kitchen scraps if necessary, and remove the fertilizer produced by the process. The training of another woman can be done informally and at their leisure.

Social norms: By empowering women to work with technology in their homes, this project challenges the separation of women and technology while being sensitive to the social expectations and restraints placed on women in Guatemala.

Economic or institutional constraints: This project enables women to increase productivity and consequently household income. Additionally, by way of producing a natural fertilizer families are freed from spending money on chemical fertilizers.

Women’s lack of involvement in the technology development process: By training women to understand and use vermicomposting to enrich their lives, women become technological innovators within their communities. They become involved in the technology development process by training others in the methods they have learned. In this manner, women adopt the role of leaders and teachers of technology.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

Technology introduction, Technology training, Technology supply and distribution, Assessment and evaluation.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

Technology introduction: Partnering with organizations that work with women’s groups, the project gives women access to AIDG’s knowledge and experience with appropriate technologies specifically developed for use in Guatemala. Additionally, the provision of transport to the workshop and start-up materials makes the technology more accessible.

Technology training: Holding the workshops on a Saturday, after breakfast and before lunch, for no more than 45 minutes, gives women the opportunity to gain hands-on training in how to produce a vermicomposting system. This time consideration and the low or no cost of materials, allows women to engage in a training of a technology that they recognize can be applied in their homes without the need to compromise their daily commitments.

Tech supply and distribution: Of the materials needed for vermicomposting, a box and food scrapes are easily accessible to women. The requirement for worms can be fulfilled through AIDG or by a participants own vermicompost system by increasing worm production through vermiculturing techniques. At the two month follow-up visit with women, interested women will receive additional training in the methods that can be applied to augment worm populations. This increase in supply also allows women to share worms with other women.

Assessment and evaluation: The impact and outcome of this project will measured in accordance with our partner organizations/women’s groups. The training methods and materials will be evaluated using a short survey, while the use and benefit of the technology to the women will be assessed through follow-up visits with those using vermicompost. The feedback from women in year one, will help to make improvements for year two workshops.

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project developed a focus on women over time..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women., It is led by a woman/women from a developing country., The core project team includes women., The core project team includes women from developing countries..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women, Working with technologies, Working on innovation.