SBN unveils its Youth and Gender Empowerment Strategy

Women and youth are vital to the functioning of food systems, as they participate in various activities, including; food production, processing, marketing, and distribution within the food value chains. Women and youth contribute labour to the food systems and are involved in unpaid and informal activities on family farms. In developing countries, an estimated 43% of women and 57% of youth form part of the workforce in agriculture. 1 Despite their critical roles, women and youth face a myriad of challenges that hinder their involvement and the development of their capacities. These challenges include but are not limited to; lack of access to markets and market information, lack of access to commercial land, limited entrepreneurial knowledge, lack of representation in policy discourse, limited access to technology, and lack of relevant role models and mentors. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic further compounded these challenges and immensely affected businesses led by women and youth who had limited capacity and resources to absorb the pandemic shocks. 2,3  

To support women and youth in overcoming the challenges they face and empowering them to explore opportunities for delivering healthier, safer, and more affordable diets to their communities, SBN is excited to launch its Women and Youth Empowerment Strategy. This strategy is closely aligned with the SBN Global Strategy and aims to guide SBN’s national networks in adapting their support services to meet the specific needs of women and youth.  By doing so, we hope to drive the development of more sustainable and equitable food systems.  

The women and youth empowerment strategy underscores the need to engage youth and women to advance their empowerment by unlocking opportunities offered by the private sector and food systems actors. SBN is committed to encouraging and supporting inclusive business growth, employment, and skills development for women and youth, to enable greater contributions to the urgent actions needed to transform food systems.

Specifically, the strategy aims to increase participation and opportunities for youth and women entrepreneurs who are passionate about investing in nutritious food systems and/or businesses, that believe in the worth of investing in youth and women staff, thereby increasing the participation of youth and women in advocacy and learning from implementing context-specific empowerment approaches for youth and women-led businesses and workers. This will also be instrumental in fulfilling SBN’s Nutrition for Growth Summit pledge, where we committed to recruit and support 3,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by 2024.

Soupah Ltd, a woman-led and owned SME in Nigeria

Through our SBN Women and Youth Empowerment Strategy, we will utilize the resources and expertise of our national and global structures to provide sustainable support to these businesses, with a focus on those owned by women and youth, as well as those that offer employment and skill-building opportunities for these groups. 

Strategy in Action: Youth engagement          

Networks will continue to partner with organisations in the innovation and youth entrepreneurship space, to assist young entrepreneurs in promoting their businesses, gaining access to technical assistance, networking, and mentorship opportunities. Also, there are various platforms where youth and young people can get involved in several discussions around food systems in their countries, creating viable economic opportunities that will attract and keep young people engaged. SBN will focus on empowering entrepreneurs and employees by engaging and partnering with youth empowerment-focused organisations to leverage each other’s networks and focus on helping youth develop relevant skills for industry demands. Where resources allow, this will include developing a plan for connecting with the informal agri-food sector which employs up to 90% of youth, advocating to industry that youth are not “risky” investments if appropriately nurtured, and focusing on the challenges young women face, especially in rural areas. 

Strategy in Action: Women Engagement 

SBN and other business networks are valuable resources for assisting women in enhancing participation, contribution, and developing their capacities in food value chains. Women-owned and -led businesses will receive special consideration under SBN through targeted initiatives outlined in the strategy, which will prioritize the development of peer-to-peer and mentorship support mechanisms. These initiatives will be supported by strategic alliances that combine resources and offer technical assistance to address women business owners’ unique obstacles in the food value chain. 

Call to Action  

Women and youth are essential vehicles for food systems transformation and their contributions should be recognized and supported. As Jolenta Joseph, one of our female entrepreneurs and a member of SBN Tanzania, highlights, ‘we are proud to be working with women to address their nutritional needs and promote dietary diversification while economically empowering them to access a ready market.’ We will proactively seek out opportunities to work with new and existing partners as well as SBN members to implement our strategy. By committing to adapt, learn, and innovate, we will harness the power of our network to support and empower women and youth as we build healthy food systems. 

Access the Strategy here: SBN Youth & Gender Strategy

An implementation guide to support the strategy was also developed to support networks in planning their implementation of this strategy to fit their country’s context.

Access the Implementation Guide here: SBN Youth & Gender Implementation Guide