“[AKFED]… invests in countries, sectors and projects, on criteria far different from those of a straightforward commercial investor. Investment decisions are based more on the prospects for better lives for the constituencies of people that will be impacted by the investments and their results rather than on bottom line profitability.
-- His Highness the Aga Khan, Opening of Alltex EPZ Limited, Athi River, December 2003
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) operates more than 90 companies in 18 countries that lack foreign investment. The companies reinvest their profits in other development projects, but chiefly exist to provide employment and training for the benefit of employees, improve the quality of life amongst their communities, provide the services and infrastructure required for further development, and stimulate competition and further investment to benefit the whole country.
Whether providing sports facilities, subsidising efficient cooking stoves or partnering with local banks to ensure that rural employees can register for bank accounts, AKFED project companies are getting creative in meeting their employees’ wider needs. Wellness schemes and support for female employees are considered drivers of economic growth and integrated into their employee-focused policies.
Support for working mothers and their children
Flexible hours and support with childcare enable women to participate in the workforce while giving young children a head start on their education.
In Bouaké, central Côte d’Ivoire, Cajou des Savanes (Casa) employs nearly 500 staff members across its three daily shifts. Over 70 percent of Casa’s staff are women. The shift flexibility offered by the company allows women to work while studying or caring for their family, resulting in more financial security.
“Casa helps me, helps me care for my family. Before we needed to ask (our husbands) for even small things, now we can cover them,” said an employee.
The Kenyan meat processing company Farmer’s Choice has established lactation rooms where working mothers can express and store their milk, enabling babies to continue receiving breast milk. Mary Wanjiku said: “If I was to compare my children’s development, my second born seems to be doing much better compared to the time my first-born was breastfeeding. This is because my second child is on breast milk until I introduce weaning in the sixth month.”
The horticultural processor Frigoken employs 3,000 workers, 90 percent of whom are women. The facility is located in an area surrounded by low-income settlements, where many families cannot afford to have parents stay at home with their young children. In 2002, Frigoken opened a subsidised onsite crèche facility for its employees’ children. Parents pay for 20 percent of the cost for care, encouraging them to bring their children to the crèche consistently and attend parent information and education sessions. The company has observed that the majority of children that “graduate” from its crèche go on to be high achievers in primary school and beyond.
The programme’s success led Frigoken to partner with the Aga Khan Foundation and Daraja on the “Babycares Project”. This builds the capacity of local childcare centres in surrounding settlements to give employees additional childcare options. Read more about the family-friendly workplace policies that enable employees at AKFED project companies to improve their children’s development.
The companies offer information, workshops and screening for conditions ranging from TB and HIV to eye problems, enabling employees to seek treatment at an early stage if needed. Joyce Akinye recalls a camp arranged by Frigoken and Premier Food Industries, where staff received medical check-ups for vision, dental, blood pressure and sugar levels: “This was my first time participating in a medical health camp. I was used to going to government hospitals to get tested but I have never had the opportunity to get various check-ups at a go like I have today. This has been very helpful as I also had the chance to consult the doctors on various issues I had.”
Numerous other health events have included diabetes workshops for staff at Kampala Pharmaceutical Industries, dental and optical checks and disease screening for hundreds of community members run by Bujagali and partners, and medical camps held by Frigoken and partners that included doctor referrals and subsidised medication. Meanwhile Habib Bank has been covering all COVID-19 related medical expenses for employees and their spouses and dependent children.