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Focusing
on a positive impact

Meeting women where they are: my secondment with hand in hand in Kenya

By Claudia Lanz, 2018 J&J Secondee

When you travel around Kenya, you see hard working women everywhere. They work in the fields while taking care of their babies, run their own small businesses, sell their crops along the roadsides, prepare meals for their families and care for their elders.

According to the World Bank’s latest report on improving gender equality in Africa, women make a sizeable contribution to the continent’s economy. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is women farmers who grow most of the food. As our international community comes together to discuss and advance our progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this week at the United Nations 73rdGeneral Assembly, this report underscores the importance of Goal 5 of the SDGs to improve gender equality and the empowerment of goals. It also reminds us that we still have work to do to meaningfully improve access to health care, education, land, credits and women’s overall quality of life worldwide.

To make these goals a reality, programs and policies in Kenya and across sub-Saharan Africa must invest in women throughout their life cycle, from birth to adolescence to adulthood and beyond.

As a Johnson & Johnson Secondee, I have had the opportunity to see the impact and potential of programs like this first-hand. Since April, I have been working in Nairobi, Kenya, as an assigned public health specialist to Hand in HandInternational, a special, six-month assignment that differs from my regular position as Head of Medical Evidence Generation at Janssen Germany.

Hand in Hand is a non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in India, Afghanistan and East Africa. Launched in 2003, its mission is to increase economic and social empowerment opportunities for women, men and youth by supporting the creation of sustainable enterprises and jobs. Hand in Hand creates community groups made up primarily of women who save, learn, and grow together. Members of these community groups are trained to develop small businesses, think like an entrepreneur, and are provided access to microloans. Through the transfer of knowledge and skills, Hand in Hand empowers women not only to create jobs but also to engage in civic roles and leadership. To date Hand in Hand in East Africahas trained a total of 204,875 group members, 80 percent of them women.

 Conducting one of our pilot public health trainings

I have spent the last six months developing and implementing a new public health training module to enhance Hand in Hand’s existing enterprise training offerings. For the women of the community, staying healthy is crucial to maintaining their businesses and taking care of their families. This health-focused module aims to educate women on a variety of health issues and includes a cancer awareness training as well as nutrition and sanitation training.

Over the course of the last several months, I have learned so much through holding pilot trainings for these submodules with Hand in Hand staff and community members. Curiously, I have found that presenting the trainings is a bit like acting on stage. Usually, I present the training content and then the Hand in Hand Field Officers help me translate everything into the respective local language. I’ve learned that it is very important to engage my “audience” by asking questions and inviting them to participate in the activities.

My favorite aspects of each training are the Question and Answer sections, because people raise questions that I never would have expected. During one of our nutrition trainings, one woman asked me whether it would be advisable to eat soil during pregnancy. My first thought was that you should never eat soil at all, but then I learned from my local colleagues that soil is often used as an additional source of minerals such as calcium and iron. This specific instance was one of many humbling experiences, and it reminded me how important it is not only to listen to the people we serve, but also to ensure that they’re heard. I’m grateful to have had an opportunity to play a part in helping them to continue to prosper and thrive. 

About the Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact Secondment Program

Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact invests in people on the front lines of care as they change the trajectory of health for the world’s most vulnerable people, their families, and their communities. We are inspired to help create a world where people, no matter their circumstances, have access to quality health care. The Secondment Program is a long-term collaboration between Johnson & Johnson, our employees, and our NGO partners to invest in and build the skills of people on the front lines of care in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Through full-time field assignments of up to six months, Johnson & Johnson employees transfer their knowledge, expertise, and passion to our partners at the heart of delivering care, uniquely give back to society, and change the trajectory of human health. Learn more here.