23.02.2024 Lotta Haavisto

Our expert: Jenna Kettunen 

Reading time: 5 min

Jenna Kettunen, a specialist in sustainable livelihoods and business cooperation at International Solidarity Foundation (ISF), believes that in order to bring about change, people need to be met face to face and their voices need to be heard.

“When a woman learns to read and write, she is able to take care of her own affairs. This affects the woman’s role in the community,” says Jenna Kettunen, an expert at ISF. Her work in the program focuses on livelihoods and the development of entrepreneurs and businesses. 

Jenna has worked in both Latin America and Africa, in areas such as rural development, agricultural research, advocacy for civil and political rights, as well as fundraising and campaigning. She has a background in cultural anthropology and agrology. 

Close collaboration with local partners  

ISF aims to reduce poverty by creating opportunities for work and livelihoods for women in East Africa. Jenna plays a key role in these projects. She plans the projects together with local partners and maintains constant communication with them. Together with the partners, they analyze the impact of factors such as climate change, the value chain (the journey of a commodity from raw material to product), and market on the project, and decide where the biggest gaps are and where they should focus their efforts. 

“ISF has decided to improve the position of women in the world, and based on this, the projects are designed in collaboration with local stakeholders. During the projects, I ensure that everything progresses well and with high quality, and I make sure that the results support our program objectives.” 

When it comes to development projects, the target is a reform that wouldn’t exist without the project. In other words, a solution is developed to address a challenge or problem, which will then be sustained on site. Later, the effectiveness of the work is evaluated. 

“In this work, the most important thing is collaboration, good networks, and thinking in terms of the big picture.” 

A successful project can stand on its own  

There have been many successes, but one project stands out for Jenna, from the time when Solidaarisuus still worked in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is a country without a long tradition of handicrafts, but at the beginning of the project, there was growing tourism, which created a market. 

“We started a brand called Manos Nicas. We started to think about it as a whole, about how we could take the handicraft sector to the next level with our beneficiaries. With the people we work with there.” 

The project involved about 350 artisans and professional designers. Together with them, they created a brand that had its own stores and produced high-quality products. 

According to Jenna, the “real success” was evident when the coronavirus and the political revolution in Nicaragua completely ended tourism. The project initially faced major difficulties but managed to recover within two months through careful planning. New products were introduced that could be sold in a wider market. 

“We were able to build something that would survive major challenges and still work. The experts of Manos Nicas, whom we trained, now work as experts for the Nicaraguan Exporters Association.” 

Livelihood means more to a woman than just money  

For a woman, her own income usually means first and foremost an increase in the family’s income. According to Jenna, it may be the first time when she can afford to pay for all her children’s school fees and, in addition, has money to spend on herself. But beyond this, a woman gains decision-making power, independence, and often improves her position in the community. 

In ISF’s livelihood promotion projects, women are always involved in some form of association where they meet other female entrepreneurs. Leaving the confines of their home and collaborating with different experts can greatly change their perception of their own abilities and possibilities. Successes in business also significantly boost self-esteem. 

“There are many things related to money that influence a woman’s self-esteem and role in these communities. When women act as entrepreneurs and succeed in their work, they are viewed differently in the community.” 


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