Powerwoman 4: Joan Simbolei


Agriterra trained 14 strong willed female (future) leaders in the first ever ‘Female Leadership in Agricultural Cooperatives Masterclass’, held in Kenya. The group is composed of Zambian, Ugandese and Kenyan participants, representing organisations that are active in coffee, dairy, sunflower or credit and saving.

Main purpose of the masterclass is to strengthen the leadership skills of these women. These highly motivated cooperative leaders return full of energy and ambitions back to their respective cooperatives, better equipped to take up their leadership roles and make a change contributing to closing the gender gap in agricultural cooperatives.

Powerwoman 4: Joan Simbolei (39) from Kipkelion District Coffee Union (KDCU) in Kenya 

Joan is the vice chairwoman of Kipkelion Women in a coffee organisation (KWICO) and is thirty-nine years old. KWICO is the female branch of the Kipkelion District Coffee Union in Kericho county. Joan is a professional translator for the deaf and fights for the rights of the deaf in her community.  

Joan had a challenging childhood. She was brought up in a polygamous family and her mother left her with her weak and sickly grandmother when she was eight years old. “Girls my age had parents that took decisions for them, also about their future. My upbringing toughened me and taught me I had to be independent and my own leader”, Joan says.

“My upbringing toughened me and taught me I had to be independent and my own leader.” 

Thanks to her courage and resilient attitude, she was appointed to different positions in her community. Joan says that it wasn’t easy for her, being a married woman leader. She faced various challenges, even from her husband, because people wrongly believed that women cannot lead. Nevertheless, she never lost hope.  

Change mindset

Joan worked hard and managed to become the owner of a 1-acre piece of land. She planted 300 coffee trees that have increased to 500 trees. She was elected as chairwoman  of the women group in her coffee society and was able to change the mindset of her husband, who became a co-manager of the farm.

In 2017, Joan was invited together with other women leaders to spearhead the start of a women organisation in coffee: KWICO. She mobilised women to supply 100 kg of coffee as a registration fee. Those who had no coffee trees or land would try to convince their husbands to provide for coffee trees that would yield the 100 kg. Through this mobilisation strategy, they were able to register 800 active women and lobby the Kericho government to give them over 10,000 tree seedlings that could be distributed among the women in KWICO. She concludes by saying: “Women have power and can use this power to influence other women and their community”. 

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