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Project Demonstrates Multiplier Effect of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Advancing the SDGs at Local Level

Training at the Waipula Rural Ecotourism Professional Cooperative. The Cooperative has begun receiving tourists, generating an income of nearly RMB 300,000 for the locals. A Tourist Training Information Services Center was established serving as the Waipula Yi Traditional Cultural Center.  Photo: Courtesy of Waipula Villagers.

DALLAS, TX (August 25, 2022) – Rural women comprise a quarter of the world’s population and are the backbone of their economies, comprising an estimated 40% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries as farmers, wage earners, and entrepreneurs.[1] Despite their critical contributions to local economies, they continue to face structural barriers to asset ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making forums, and access to resources and markets. Cultural norms also result in women shouldering most of the responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work.[2]

Recognizing that improving the lives of rural women is key to fighting poverty and achieving sustainable development, UNDP China and Mary Kay, in collaboration with the China Women’s Development Foundation, the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges, the Women’s Federation of Yunnan Province and Yongren County Government, launched the SDG Pilot Village Project in Waipula, Yunnan Province, China in 2017.

The joint project, entitled “SDG Pilot Village Project: Women-focused Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development” (2017-2021), addressed the structural barriers to women’s labor market participation, including through the provision of social protection and the creation of green entrepreneurial opportunities through ecotourism, coupled with efforts to enhance women’s leadership in community decision-making forums.

Women from the Yi ethnic group became the drivers of economic growth and poverty reduction through targeted gender-specific interventions that advanced an inclusive local economy and the preservation of their cultural heritage. These activities brought about transformational changes at the local level, advancing gender equality and accelerating sustainable development.

“This project shows how entrepreneurship can be a powerful tool in addressing the income gap between men and women while fighting poverty in rural areas. Yi women have gained the right skills and resources to leverage their cultural heritage, built solid economic foundations for themselves, and become leaders in their communities, paving the way for future generations.”

Beate Trankmann, UNDP Resident Representative in China.

The pilot highlights the potential of multi-stakeholder partnerships, including the private sector, in advancing the SDGs while maximizing the development impact of women’s entrepreneurship. UNDP China, together with Mary Kay China and local public sector partners, worked with women entrepreneurs to ensure they were equipped with the tools and education necessary to become economic actors. The barriers to their participation in community decision-making structures were also addressed so that they could actively contribute to creating an inclusive and sustainable local green economy.

“The SDG Pilot Village Project demonstrates how the private sector can play a critical role in helping achieve the SDGs with a strong focus on women’s economic empowerment and provides a blueprint on how companies can leverage their unique strengths and accelerate development results through public-private partnerships,”

Deborah Gibbins, Chief Operating Officer, Mary Kay Inc.

“The women-focused approach of providing entrepreneurial opportunities to rural women proved to be transformative. When women started participating in economic development and consequently gained status in their communities, the whole village benefited.”

Wendy Wang, President, Mary Kay Asia Pacific Region.

The outcomes of Phase 1 of the project provide compelling evidence of the transformational effect that a gender-responsive approach can make to localizing the SDGs and in the design of policy and programmatic responses for a post-COVID-19 green and inclusive recovery.

The project contributed to the following 12 SDGs:

  • Goal 1. No Poverty
  • Goal 2. Zero Hunger
  • Goal 3. Good Health and Well-Being
  • Goal 4. Quality Education
  • Goal 5. Gender Equality
  • Goal 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Goal 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • Goal 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • Goal 15. Life on Land
  • Goal 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • Goal 17. Partnerships for the Goals

The SDG Pilot Village Project – Key Achievements Phase 1 (2017- 2021)

  • With the project contributing to China’s poverty alleviation campaign, the proportion of villagers living below the national poverty line fell from 28% in 2017 to 0% in 2020 in Waipula;
  • Through training and capacity building, 60 households and 193 individuals living under the poverty line were lifted out of poverty by 2020;
  • 210 seasonal migrant workers and 120 long-term migrant workers, the majority of which comprised women, were able to return home to find a job or start their own business;
  • 607 local women found employment and raised their income with some emerging as community leaders, taking up roles as members of the village committee and managers in local hospitality and the arts, and
  • People’s per capita income grew to be RMB 14,128 in 2021.

To share the story of the SDG Pilot Village Project, Mary Kay and partners have released:

  • An Impact Report on Phase 1 entitled “Piloting SDG Localization at the Village Level – A Women-focused Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development Project in Yunnan Province, China” which highlights the genesis, means of implementation and outcomes of the project advanced through a multi-stakeholder supported development process. Read the Impact Report here: https://marykayglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/SDG-Village-Impact-Report_MKI_UNDP_082322.pdf
  • A video entitled “Daughters of the Moon” featuring three women leaders from Waipula: Yongyan Zhu, Xuefang Xia and Shiqiong Han who speak of the changes they have personally experienced through entrepreneurship. Partner representatives also describe the economic, environmental and social transformations that have taken place in the village. Watch the 11-minute video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2QHcyTwnhs

     UNDP China and project partners will soon move to Phase 2 (2022-2024) which aims to:

  • Accelerate entrepreneurship: enhance the capacity of villagers, especially women, and raise their income;
  • Promote diversity and inclusion: safeguard the local ethnic culture and empower women, and
  • Advance green development: protect the natural environment and promote sustainable villages.

For the second year in a row, the SDG Pilot Village Project has been shortlisted for the Reuters Events Responsible Business Awards under its “SDG Pioneer Award” category. The Awards ceremony will take place on 13th October in London. 

[1] International Labour Organization. (2018). Rural women at work: Bridging the gaps. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/equality-and-discrimination/publications/WCMS_619691/lang–en/index.htm
[2] United Nations. (2021, October 21). International Day of Rural Women. https://www.un.org/en/observances/rural-women-day