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BUSINESS NEWS - Empowering Women Through Sustainable Businesses

Posted 14th January 2021 • Written by •

Japanese women pioneers working toward a more equitable world

In the era following the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses prioritizing social responsibility – rather than chasing profits – may become the mainstream. In Uganda, NAKAMOTO Chizu, who runs the handbag and accessory company RICCI EVERYDAY, is supporting local women by using African prints to produce handbags sold in Japan. NAKA Kotobuki, founder of the company SANCHAI, set up a factory in a remote area of Nepal to make peanut butter from locally grown heirloom peanuts, stemming the tide of depopulation.

Nakamoto and Naka have established production systems in Uganda and Nepal, creating local jobs and helping solve some of the countries’ social problems. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, both companies have kept their employees on staff and have continued to pay them while on furlough.

Creating jobs that instill pride

NAKAMOTO Chizu was drawn to leadership and discovered the joys of working with others at an early age.

“In high school, I watched a documentary about OGATA Sadako, the first woman to lead the U.N. Refugee Agency. I admired the way she went into the field and drew up policies with people – rather than politics – in mind,” Nakamoto says.

In graduate school, she learned how businesses can create jobs that help people gain confidence and lead better, more fulfilling lives.

Later, she went to work for a non-governmental organization supporting agriculture in Sub-Sahara Africa and was stationed in Uganda in 2014. There, she encountered traditional African prints for the first time at a local market. “I was completely captivated by the flood of richly-patterned fabrics and bright colors that adorned the walls,” she recalls.

The excitement she felt at seeing them gave her the idea to start a business using the vividly colored prints make bags and accessories that could be sold in Japan. Uganda, she reasoned, was a cotton-producing country, and many people sew on a daily basis. By launching a bag-making workshop, she’d be able to create jobs. “Above all, I had a strong desire to involve the women I met through my work at the NGO,” she says.

Apart from a small elite, many women – including single mothers – have difficulties making ends meet, and reluctantly borrow money from others.

She wanted the women to feel more empowered and sought to engage them as collaborators, rather than mere employees. Nakamoto has always respected the local culture and ways of thinking, and she believes that being flexible has been the key to the project’s success. “I’m just here to suggest an alternative way of life. The women have the freedom to make their own choices,” she says.

Instead of payment on a per-piece basis, workers receive fixed salaries, which enables them to send their children to school.

“Stable employment helps them realize that they are needed, which boosts their self-confidence. Now, these working women glow with pride,” she says.

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