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Let’s Keep Leveling the Ground to Break Gender Bias

Annie Wakanyi, Director of Business Development, and Gloria Cheche, Deputy Director of Fundraising at One Acre Fund, are trailblazers in their respective fields. Before landing at One Acre Fund, Annie honed her skills at ChildFund International, Plan International, Oxfam, and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Before her current role, Gloria worked with organizations like WWF and Care International before moving to Msingi East Africa. Between them, they have about 30 years of experience in fundraising and program work in international organizations and creating livelihood impact. They are passionate about gender work and are determined to make a difference in advancing development in Africa. They speak about their careers, what inspires them for the future, and how they are celebrating women everywhere this year.

Rosemary Naliake

Annie: I started my career as a volunteer with the Christian Children's Fund – now known as Child Fund, and ended up as a Grants Manager and stayed with the organization for several years. It is also how I got into fundraising. As a result of my work at Child Fund, I developed a passion for social justice that has carried me and defined my career to this day. After that, I moved to Plan International and then to Oxfam, where I began to think about enabling communities to access basic needs and systemic changes we could champion to actualize social change. I also began to think more broadly about the political rights of women and the barriers women have to go through to get ahead. I then moved to AGRA, where I experienced the power of agriculture in enabling food security, increased household incomes, and broader economic empowerment. When the opportunity came to work with One Acre Fund, I was thinking of a career change into consulting, but it was an easy decision to make as the power of agriculture is yet to be unleashed fully to achieve sustainable impact at scale in the African continent. I am inspired by One Acre Fund’s focus on smallholder farmers, its model and impact proven over the years, and its ability to scale rapidly through partnerships.

What are the biggest issues today facing career women at a similar point in their careers as yourself, and can you relate to those challenges looking back at your journey?

Annie: One is work-life balance. As you get to the point that I’m in my career, the conversation around balancing your work with life starts to feature more prominently. I like that at One Acre Fund, we call it work-life sustainability and that this is given consistent attention through weekly check-ins between staffers and their managers. Without clear principles and tracking, work-life balance can feel like a good-to-have value that doesn’t exist. The second is the gender pay gap - women are still being paid less than men for equal jobs. Most institutions have started to address it but, realistically, it is still an issue. The third is workplace harassment, one of the biggest hindrances to career progression. I'm grateful that One Acre Fund is among institutions with robust policies against workplace harassment and a clear zero-tolerance policy on the subject. The fourth is a limitation in career growth opportunities available to women due to pervasive structural gaps and sometimes cultural norms that reinforce gender inequality and prevent women from growing as fast as men.


IWD - Annie Wakanyi

Annie Wakanyi

What do you think, Gloria? And for you, what does it mean to you to celebrate women?

Gloria: That’s such a concise and relatable list, Annie; thank you.

Society wants women in all the spaces – at home, at work, and in the community. Often, women are expected to put on different personas for each of these spaces - and to present in a specific way. This is not the same for the majority of men. I celebrate women for our similarities but also our uniqueness. I celebrate them for the effort we put into success in each of these spaces. And celebrating ourselves can be as simple as being appreciated. Sometimes all it takes, to be seen, heard, and celebrated; to look around and say, 'we've made it, we're here; how can we keep being here?'

IWD - Gloria Cheche

Gloria Cheche

Annie: How very profound; thanks for sharing, Gloria. 

What is the most important piece of advice you've been given as a woman? Did you follow it?

Annie: My best advice came from my late father. He told me I could be anyone I wanted to be, and any limitations I ever put on myself would be mine. It was liberating advice as I thought through what I wanted to be. Because of my father's words, I tend to always rise within whatever limitation I'm feeling at any given time. 

Gloria: My economics teacher in high school once spoke about patience, and that shifted a gear in my head. If you apply yourself and are patient with the process, you can achieve a lot. My other advice came from a former senior colleague who used to tell me I was good enough whenever I felt challenged. As a woman and young professional, I have kept pushing because I need to be better and go higher. It's important to constantly remind yourself and one another that you are good enough and never give up.

Do you feel like you've met true success?

Gloria: No, I have not. I have a great job and have a great career, but there is still so much to be done. I'm not just doing this work because it's interesting; I am doing it because I want to change lives and leave this world better than how I found it for people and the planet. I know that is a big statement, but I believe I can contribute so much more, and so with so much work still left, I don’t feel like I’ve met true success.

Annie: I, too, haven't achieved true success yet, which means attaining success for the things I care about, like alleviating extreme poverty and supporting communities to address challenges related to climate change. I also consider success to be a process rather than a destination. I see significant improvements already being made even within the sector to build on to get to the next level. 

What do you remember about your childhood, and how did your experiences mold you into the leader you are today?

Annie: I grew up very close to my grandmother. She instilled in me the values I cherish today: honesty and integrity. One day, she had visitors and sent me to buy a loaf of bread as she made tea. On the way back, I started playing with my friends and got hungry, so my friends and I ate half of it. My grandmother disciplined me thoroughly and sent me back for another loaf. Later she explained it was dishonest to eat the loaf when I knew visitors were waiting. She also taught me to share – she offered food to anyone who visited and instilled that sense of community in me.

What's a women's empowerment moment that inspired you?

Gloria: The inauguration of President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania. It was such an impactful moment, and I'm sure every woman felt it. Growing up, we were told that girls could be anything, that we could do any job that men could. But we had never seen it at the helm of the country. However, that day, when I saw a woman being inaugurated as the country's leader, that statement became a reality. Her inauguration was such a powerful moment for me.

Any words of wisdom that significant women in your life shared with you?

Gloria: Take a break when you need it. You don't need to work 16-hour days. Work is important, but you are just as important, and if you can't find time for yourself, nobody can. 

Annie: I think for me, going back to my father's advice, is to follow your dreams.

Who are your favorite cultural heroines? What appeals to you about them?

Annie: My mind quickly thinks of Mekatilili wa Menza, the independence struggle icon from the Giriama community. Being a woman in that era and having the courage to fight as she did is, quite frankly, awe-inspiring. The things she fought for – equality, land rights, child rights, and freedom – are relevant today. 

Gloria: Wangari Maathai, for what she stood for and how passionately she defended her stand. She embodied the idea that the smallest act in the right direction matters. 

On International Women's Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Gloria: You are valuable, and you have a purpose. Take time to figure out what it is, then work for it. 

Annie: Wonderful message, Gloria. I'd echo the advice I got to follow your dreams and speak up when you need to. Voice is a powerful tool, so speak up for yourself and others.

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