As two female General Partners of a Fund and Founders, we know how hard it is to raise families while building something sustainable to create meaningful shifts in our own lives. Our time is valuable and sometimes scarce. We have to be strategic where we place our energy outside of our Star Strong work to generate meaningful impact. So, when Spring came across The BOMA Project a few years ago, she was excited by the opportunity it represents for Africa and, ultimately, the world.
Each year, during Giving Tuesday, we aim to provide a picture of what we built with BOMA throughout the year. This article is foundational and delves into the transformative journey and history of the project and how we learned about it. We hope you discover how a shared set of values is the catalyst to change millions of lives, learn about their work's impact, and how you can have a hand in building a brighter and more equitable future.
Spring Meets BOMA
A few years ago, Spring boarded a flight to Washington, D.C. The person sitting next to her was reading an intriguing article that prompted a lively conversation about the global macroeconomic impact of educating young women. They discovered a core belief about female education's profound impact on transforming society. The man happened to be the chairman of BOMA, Perry Boyle. Shared values are everywhere if you are willing to look for them.
This meeting was more than an initial connection. Spring invested her time in BOMA and began her journey to understand how educating women can change the world. As she became more involved in BOMA, she was, in her words, "humbled and inspired." She saw the synergy between her business and BOMA. BOMA embodied the very ethos that she used in her investing strategy. Their operational philosophies aligned; they both knew a hands-on approach to investing leads to sustainable financial success. By listening and understanding the lives of their founders, there is a pivotal opportunity to provide holistic financial support to help businesses thrive—a human-centered approach.
There is a broader understanding of the impact of each business decision, recognizing that these choices can affect multiple families and communities. This compassionate yet critical analysis aligns closely with BOMA's investment in people, particularly in empowering them through education and entrepreneurship.
BOMA operates on the principle that investing in people is a charitable act and a strategic move toward sustainable development and economic growth. We love that concept; it is central to Star Strong's work with Founders. This parallel in how we lead with founders and BOMA's unique operating model highlights a shared commitment to creating opportunities and fostering prosperity with dignity. By investing in human potential, Star Strong Capital and BOMA contribute to a more equitable and prosperous future, demonstrating that compassion and respect are integral to successful business and development strategies.
The Genesis of the BOMA Project
The BOMA Project was founded in 2005 by Kathleen Colson after she observed the brutal effects of climate change on poverty in Northern Kenya. That same year, she registered The BOMA Fund – now The BOMA Project – as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. BOMA's founding mission was to support women in Kenya with education to help them economically adapt to climate change by diversifying their livelihoods.
The BOMA Project recognizes women's critical role in sustaining and nurturing safe communities. Although educated women are essential for building a more equitable future, opportunities for advancement are scarce. In many rural Kenyan communities, education is often reserved for firstborn boys. The practice stems from financial constraints and cultural norms prioritizing male education over female education. As a result, girls have limited resources and no access to education. The cost of schooling, school uniforms, and necessary supplies exacerbates the disparity, leaving many young girls undervalued and overlooked.
Traditional gender roles compound with the absence of education, leading to very few economic opportunities for women. Often, men leave their villages to seek work in towns or herd livestock, leaving women without financial means to support themselves and their families. This situation not only places a disproportionate burden on women but also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and dependency.
The lack of education for boys and young men also contributes to suffering communities. For the non-firstborn boys who remain in the village, the lack of opportunities presents a dire situation. With limited prospects, many seek local militias as the only viable path out of destitution. While seen as a means of survival, this choice contributes to the region's political instability. It's a bleak reality that the absence of positive economic choices often leads boys down a path of conflict and violence.
In this context, the education of women and girls becomes not just a matter of gender equality but a pivotal factor in transforming entire communities. By empowering women with knowledge and skills, BOMA aimed to create a ripple effect of positive change. Educated women can better provide for their families, contribute to the local economy, and play a crucial role in breaking the cycle of poverty. Moreover, by extending educational opportunities to boys, BOMA is helping to steer them away from joining militias, thereby fostering a more stable and peaceful environment. BOMA's Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP) exemplifies its mission.
The BOMA Project Invests in Entrepreneurs
REAP is BOMA's innovative approach to sustainably alleviating extreme poverty in rural African communities. It is deeply rooted in community-led development and begins with a meticulous targeting process. Here, BOMA collaborates with local communities to identify those most in need, mainly focusing on women and youth often marginalized by the traditional economic systems. This approach ensures that the aid reaches those who can benefit the most, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment within the community.
Once identified, participants receive a seed capital grant, a critical step in jump-starting their entrepreneurial journey. The initial financial boost is complemented by a second, performance-based cash transfer, reinforcing the importance of accountability and progress. However, BOMA understands that capital alone isn't enough. They provide comprehensive training and mentoring, covering essential business and financial management aspects. This education empowers participants to start businesses and sustain and grow them, leading to long-term economic independence.
The BOMA Project Works for Climate Justice
BOMA also offers the Green Rural Entrepreneurship Project (Green REAP). It is an innovative response to the dual challenges of poverty and environmental degradation. This program integrates indigenous knowledge and environmental considerations, ensuring that economic empowerment goes hand in hand with ecological stewardship. Participants train in sustainable business practices contributing to ecosystem restoration, such as producing forest honey, aloe, gums, resins, and biomass briquettes. These 'green livelihoods' provide a source of income and help maintain and restore local environments.
By focusing on communities most impacted by climate change, Green REAP delivers much-needed support to those who have contributed the least to the global climate crisis yet bear its most tremendous burdens. The program's success in Kenya and Ethiopia is a model for other regions and demonstrates how sustainable practices and economic growth can align for the greater good.
The BOMA Project's Growth across Africa
Both REAP programs achieved remarkable success, evidenced by the transformation of individual lives and their geographical expansion. Initially focused in Kenya, REAP is operational in Ethiopia, Cameroon, South Sudan, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. Green REAP was initially tested in Kenya in 2020 and later rolled out across northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.
The BOMA Project made a significant transition by moving its operational headquarters from Washington D.C. to localizing in Kenya, the principal country of service. This strategic shift underscores BOMA's commitment to local empowerment and sustainable development. By employing a workforce that is 98% African, BOMA ensures that its initiatives are deeply rooted in the local context and driven by those who best understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the region. This regional leadership approach fosters greater community engagement and ensures that the solutions devised are culturally relevant and sustainable.
The success of the BOMA project and the REAP programs is evident in the human stories of those who have risen from the dire circumstances of extreme poverty. Once struggling to meet their basic needs, these individuals are now proud business owners, contributing to their communities and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
Success Stories from the Heart of Africa
The heart of BOMA's impact is in the personal accounts of transformation and resilience. One such story is of a young woman who, against all odds, turned a challenge into an opportunity.
Much of the work teaches agricultural skills like farming, harvesting, and animal production. Most are intuitive, but BOMA does celebrate and support traditional forms of agriculture. What could be more intuitive and critical to the growth of the community is knowledge of sales. The primary support needed is how to sell their products to other communities.
Most of these villages will have a centralized market and might be a ½ a days walk from where they live. They'll take their products to that market for sale, and that transaction value from outside the community is a strategy and central way of creating new monetary substance.
Another area that these new founders lean into is beading. The traditional customs of the African communities are intricately beading in the form of jewelry, coasters, small animals, and objects for the tourist community. These have become known objects of Africa and are exceptionally beautiful.
One success story is of a young woman enrolled in a seamstress education program in her rural village in Kenya. Every day, she learned to make a better life for herself, her siblings, her parents, and her children. She graduated from the program with top marks, first in class, and received a sewing machine as a reward for being at the top of her class. The accolade came with a problem: she could not use the machine. Her skills were not in question; it was the resources she had at home. Her house did not have electricity. She could not use her sewing or elite skills to earn a living. BOMA happened to be operating in her region. She applied to BOMA's REAP program. She was given seed capital, which she used to bring electricity to her home and purchase the necessary materials to start her sewing business. Today, she not only supports her family by selling clothing she makes, but she also plays a vital role in her community, providing school uniforms for children to attend school.
Another inspiring story comes from two young men who saw an opportunity to provide an essential service for their village. There was a growing need for cell phone repairs and charging in their community as supplies and electricity were scarce. With BOMA's guidance and financial support, they connected with vendors, ran electricity, set up their accounting system, and established a thriving business. This venture allowed them to choose a different path besides joining local militias. They became positive role models for other boys, showing how a different choice can lead to profitable entrepreneurship and a better life.
These stories from BOMA's REAP program vividly illustrate the transformative power of targeted support and education. By enabling individuals to harness their skills and entrepreneurial spirit, BOMA is not just changing lives but also reshaping communities, proving that with the right tools and opportunities, resilience and innovation can turn challenges into sustainable success.
The entrepreneurial ventures nurtured by BOMA in rural Africa are not confined to local markets; they hold the potential to reach and impact the global stage. They are exemplified by one of Star Strong Capital's portfolio companies, Paperstack.ai, which invested in Desert Milk, a US-based camel milk brand. The success and recognition of Desert Milk on the international platform underscore the global relevance of products emerging from Africa. This venture is a testament to the fact that, with the proper support and exposure, businesses developed in remote African communities can transcend local boundaries and contribute significantly to the global economy, showcasing the untapped potential and innovation thriving in these regions.
Building a Better Future for Africa and Ultimately The World
The journey of the BOMA Project is a compelling narrative of how good investments can improve the lives of people who need them most. It's a story that invites us to listen deeply to entrepreneurs and founders alike. A human-centered approach to growth can change lives, build safe communities, and shape a more equitable and sustainable future.
BOMA stands at the crossroads of economic development and human understanding. It is transforming Africa with support for rural entrepreneurship by pioneering non-traditional aid with a mission to empower everyone: women, men, youth, and refugees to break out of intergenerational poverty.
BOMA's work does not seek to change or influence culture or customs but rather to offer choices for self-investment that lead to greater prosperity. BOMA is at the forefront of meeting some of Africa's most significant challenges, including extreme poverty caused by climate change.
By supporting BOMA, we can collectively contribute to ending extreme poverty, empowering communities, and building a world where all share prosperity. Join us in this mission of change and hope.
Amplify your impact and reach more needy communities by supporting the BOMA project this Giving Tuesday.
The performance quoted represents past performance. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Not all investments made by Star Strong Capital LLC should be expected to be profitable.
The information and opinions provided herein should not be taken as specific advice on the merits of any investment decision. Investors should make their own decisions based on such investors’ own review of publicly available information and should not rely on the information contained herein.