Buzz Women is a school on wheels which encourages and assists women to develop their entrepreneurial skills and self-confidence, helping them to finally overcome poverty on their own. Buzz women has already helped almost 200.000 women and is aiming to train 10 million women by 2030. Currently, Buzz women operates in Indian and the Gambia and is going to expand to Georgia in 2020. We have interviewed one of the cofounders of Buzz Women, Dave Jongeneelen, to get to know more about this inspiring initiative.
Hi Dave! Could you please introduce yourself? What is your background? What is your focus at the moment?
My name is Dave Jongeneelen, father of three (Jander 8, Emme 6, Elea 4) and husband of Wieke. After a short career in consultancy, I founded a social enterprise Better Future in 2003. Better Future organizes leadership journeys in which corporate leaders work together with local leaders in developing countries. Last summer I decided to leave the company I founded and fully focus on expanding our school on wheels for women: Buzz Women!
Could you please tell us about Buzz Women? How exactly does it work?
The idea of Buzz Women is very simple. We use mobile classrooms to bring education to the doorstep of low-income women in India and the Gambia. It is, in fact, a mobile school: the buses carry the local trainers, the learning materials and chairs to sit on. Women are trained in groups on financial awareness, entrepreneurial skills and personal development. Each group chooses their own leader and role model: The Anchor Woman. The anchor women are trained extensively by Buzz Women and they, in turn, organize monthly learning meetings in their own village with their Beehive. The result: a permanent grass-roots education system led by the women themselves!
How did you first come up with the idea of it?
I was doing a leadership program in a village in The Gambia. During a break, people from the village came to us and asked us what we were doing. My colleague started to run the program for them during the break! I was so impressed by their eagerness to learn. It made me think: how can we reach those people outside the gate? In particular, the women since they have such a pivotal role in society. I realized that putting up a school wouldn’t be a solution: too far away for the women, too expensive and too big a threshold to enter. Then the idea popped up in my mind: what if we take the school to them rather then them going to a school? The initial idea of a school on wheels was born.
What is your vision with Buzz Women?
To create thriving, self-sufficient and self-reliant communities with confident, financially secure women who are community influencers and decision-makers.
Could you please tell us more about your cofounder Uthara? What is her background? How did you meet each other and start working together?
Uthara is just fantastic. She is a trained accountant by profession and a passionate activist by heart. In 2011 I met Uthara’s husband Arun who was part of a leadership program I guided in India. During a long bus ride after completing the program, I told him about my initial idea on starting a mobile school for women. At first, he didn’t react at all. Then at some point, he said: I am just thinking when and where to start. A few days later he called: I know the person who can pull this off: my wife. We interviewed Uthara and were impressed right away. Uthara told us that it is her life mission to find out how people actually come out of poverty. Back then Uthara started Buzz Women and has been our Chief Changemaker ever since.
Uthara (on the left) during her speech
What is the goal of Buzz Women?
We aim to train 10 million women by 2030. Right now we have trained almost 200.000 women and in 4.500 villages we have anchorwomen leading the monthly learning sessions. By training 10 million women we want to show the world what happens if women become drivers of development. Of course, in the end, we want the underlying system to change and give every girl and woman the chance to fully develop their potential.
How exactly does Buzz Women empower women?
We don’t. They empower themselves. In India we call it “self-shakti”: unleashing their inner power. We create the circumstances in which they can develop themselves. First of all we bring a transformation process within their reach, by taking the school to their doorstep. Then we give them the chance to find out how they can manage the money they have in a better way. They find out quickly that by shifting their spending pattern, starting to save and invest in their small business, they can get rid of their debts and start pursuing their dreams. This, in fact, gives them the confidence and courage to take new initiatives and speak up. The underlying notion is that the women start to appreciate their self-worth and help each other grow. It is extremely fulfilling to witness the sessions and see the shift in energy and sparkle in their eyes.
Buzz Women operates in India in the Gambia. Why did you choose these countries in particular?
They choose us 😉 The fact that we met Uthara in India made us start there. And since the original idea was born in The Gambia I felt we were morally obliged to get it going there. And of course, women in both countries live in a patriarchal system where they lead lives basically focused on serving others. Not getting the opportunity to develop their own talents and pursue their own dreams.
Has Buzz Women really changed the lives of women in those countries? In which way? Do you have any specific most inspiring examples of those changes?
When I was in the Gambia recently I was touched by one of the ladies we trained. She explained in a very fort right manner the transformation she went through. She told me: ‘For the first time in my life I have come to realize that I am not as poor as I always thought since I was a kid. And now I realized I have the power within me to change my personal situation’. The beauty about Buzz Women is that every day we get these beautiful stories on how women changed their lives. Very personal stories about how they have created a sense of ‘choice’ they never felt they had before. And it is not only women telling us their stories! Many men are telling us how they have been influenced by the development of their wives and how this has even changed their relationship. We call it jokingly the ‘happy husband index’. You can watch our mini-documentary
where we have interviewed one of the husbands below:
What are your plans/goals with Buzz Women for the nearest future? And long-term?
The next step that we are working on is integrating climate change education and action in our learning model: Buzz Green. We came to realize that the women we train directly face the effects of climate change in their daily lives as they totally depend on natural resources. Most of them fetch water for their families and work on the land. Less and unpredictable rains, water scarcity, soil erosion, rising temperature levels, crop failures. All of this impacts their lives and their income levels. With Buzz Green we make women aware in terms of what they can do to deal with climate change. Think of climate-smart agriculture, clean water and energy solutions, waste management and tree planting. The key is to make it practical: what can the women do
close to their homes and in their communities?
Is Buzz Women also planning to expand to other countries to empower women there?
In 2020 we are starting in the country of Georgia. This will be our first ‘social franchise’ country. A local partner will invest in the buses and the staff, we will be focusing on transferring our know-how to them and train their trainers.
There are many ways you can get involved with Buzz Women. From spreading the word to
enabling women to be trained. For independent professionals we have launched a great
initiative called High Five. As it costs only €5 to train a woman in India, we thought it would be exciting for professionals to add/include €5 in their fee structures. For €5 per hour or per day (whatever you choose) you can make sure women in India and Africa can be trained. Your virtual High Five makes all the difference!
For more info see www.buzzwomen.nl or contact firstname.lastname@example.org