Women entrepreneurs benefitting entire communities

Kounkuey Design Initiative, Coachella, USA

SDG 1: No povertySDG 4: Quality educationSDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 16: Peace justice and strong institutions
Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a non-profit design and community development organization that partners with under- resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in their neighbourhoods and cities. KDI has been taking experiences from working in informal settlements, or “slums”, in the global south to other vulnerable areas globally, including to middle and high-income countries where high levels of inequality persist.

The Eastern CoachellaValley of California is a region with rich tourism and agricultural land that at the same time suffers from extreme income disparity and poverty. The lack of affordable housing has resulted in areas of mobile home parks with poor access to sanitation, water, nutritious food, public transportation and electricity. The lack of access to quality water and sanitations systems and an absence of safe and sheltered public spaces for community gatherings and outdoor recreation as well as extreme weather conditions are among the key challenges for this region.

Good practices & solutions

To address the challenges in the Eastern Coachella Valley, KDI applied a participatory“Productive Public Space” model, developed in Kenya. KDI organised a series of workshops in order to identify the most pressing needs of the community of North Shore and understand how a productive public space could be used to address them. In 2017 construction began of the first, resident-designed and culture- driven public space in the community, a 5-acre park that will host an adult fitness circuit, a football field, a sport-court, a family pavilion, a skate plaza, a playground and a bike repair shop. All physical and programmatic project components were envisioned, designed, and implemented by North Shore residents with facilitation and technical inputs from KDI’s team of architects, engineers, artists, and community organizers, and with counsel and direct support from the Desert Recreation District Department.

Outcome & opportunities

One ripple effect of the project has been the empowerment of women. When talking to the residents, KDI, they found that one of the main challenges for the community was the lack
of possibility to start your own business. This led to the launch of a business training program for a group of women. After being trained in entrepreneurship, the women all started small food based businesses and then went on to form a food co-op where they vend traditional healthy street food at events all around their region, including the world famous Coachella music festival. They are now planning a franchise in the community public space. The boost in income allows them to support themselves and their families. By benefitting women in projects, the positive outcomes ripple down and elevates the community at large.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Creating a sustainable and successful community development project is hard and takes a lot of time. It is important to consider both the economic and social aspects of the project, which demands commitment from all involved parties, but is key in creating a positive impact and ripple effects both in and beyond the original community. The project in North Shore is not only an appreciated public space for the community but serves as a model of community-led change for the whole of Eastern Coachella Valley region replicate. Involving the community in the development of productive public spaces, whether temporary or permanent, creates a sense of care and management as well as creating learning and employment opportunities for the community. It is shown here that this kind of context and human based thinking is transferrable, from Kenya to California and beyond, as long it is adapted and grounded in the particular local context. Participation, listening, questioning and close involvement with the group or community you are trying to partner with should be universal. Being embedded in those communities is key when you work with vulnerable populations. It is possible to develop innovative projects, and a rigorous participatory process is the best way to build on the potential of residents and uncover that innovation.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
  • 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium- sized enterprises, including through access to financial services
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision- making at all levels
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of
Further reading

Photo: © KDI

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Project: Urban Girls Movement