TechnoServe Fellow Naila Farouk on Women’s Economic Empowerment and Supporting Women in Coffee

Naila Farouk recently completed a TechnoServe fellowship in Burundi, where she created a global marketing survey to collect data on Burundian coffee. In honor of International Women’s Day, Naila shared her fellowship experience, discussed women who have inspired her, and highlighted some of the structural barriers women face.

The TechnoServe Fellows Program is a highly competitive fellowship where business professionals contribute their skills to help change the lives of those living in poverty. Since 1996, TechnoServe has engaged over 1,000 Fellows on three- to 12-month projects throughout Africa, India, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Supporting TechnoServe’s Coffee Work in Burundi

Naila worked for Nestlé Nespresso for over a decade prior to becoming a Fellow and working on TechnoServe’s Burundi Better Coffee Initiative. Naila observed that Burundi’s stakeholders worked from opportunity to opportunity, based on activities and events, rather than having a centralized and data-driven strategy. She sought to collect data that would help inform a marketing strategy and vision for the longer term.

Throughout her fellowship, Naila worked on a global marketing survey to better understand and quantify the level of attractiveness and awareness of Burundian coffee. When it comes to the attractiveness of Burundian coffee, Naila says that it’s about the quality of the coffee first, but it’s also about the quality of the livelihoods of the farmers and the communities.

With feedback from the international community and the coffee sector, the Burundi Better Coffee Initiative will be able to better understand and focus its energy on the different marketing initiatives that need to be set based on a vision, strategy, and data-driven planning. 

Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Coffee Sector

The Burundi Better Coffee Initiative aims to support 60,000 farming households in Burundi. Thirty percent of the program’s clients will be women. The initative will also target youth aged 18 to 35. 

Having already been in the coffee industry for some time, Naila wants to see more women recognized for their work and contributions on coffee farms and across the value chain. She hears a lot of discussion about the need to bring more women into the coffee sector and notes that this highlights how overlooked women are. In many cases, women are already out on the coffee farms but do not receive the recognition they deserve.

Highlights of Naila’s TechnoServe Fellowship 

The energy and startup feel of the Burundi Better Coffee Initiative and being part of such an important moment were the highlights of Naila’s fellowship experience. Having been in the coffee world for a long time, she feels that people need to be passionate about the work in this field, not only for the coffee product but for the people the opportunities. Building the team and working toward events like the initiative’s official launch in November re-energized her, and she wouldn’t rule out coming back as a TechnoServe Fellow in the future. 

Naila Farouk recently completed a TechnoServe fellowship in Burundi, where she created a global marketing survey to collect data on Burundian coffee.
Naila (center) at the Burundi Better Coffee Initiative launch.

Inspiring Women Around the World

Naila notes that women tend to first look to the women around them for inspiration. The values she learned from her mom about being a woman were the first to shape her as she was growing up. 

One of the first women who inspired Naila in her career was Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Former President of Switzerland (Swiss Confederation). Naila grew up in the Swiss Alps and has East and North African heritage. Seeing a woman from Switzerland shining on the international stage and staying true to the country’s values, as well as her own, influenced Naila’s decision to study public relations and sparked her interest in international law. 

Additional women Naila admires are Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Christine Lagarde (President of the European Central Bank and the 11th Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund), Oprah Winfrey, and Naila’s first manager, who inspired her to be a leader that speaks her mind and is kind. 

Structural Limitations Women Face

Women are welcomed in some spaces and not in others. Naila knows what it feels like to enter a space and not be expected to speak up. She acknowledges how much opportunity there is for people to deliberately and willingly shift that. 

People asking women questions such as “Are you strong enough?” or “Are you going to be okay?” when going to do work in the coffee field can make them feel as though they don’t belong in the field and that they are not expected to be in certain places. 

“While I do see the history and why this might have an explanation, I don’t think it’s an excuse because I think we should do better,” Naila explained. “And we have the awareness today to be able to acknowledge these things and to move together. I don’t think that women on their own can shift it. We need the respect, the support,  the love, and the trust. And we need the push from men as well.”

Naila also calls out the lack of understanding and space for menstrual cycles and how this can be a barrier in a work setting. People asking, “Why are you unwell today? You were very fine yesterday,” can be challenging because it is not acceptable to share symptoms while menstruating. Taking time to rest and recover from symptoms is not at all normalized.

Naila Farouk recently completed a TechnoServe fellowship in Burundi, where she created a global marketing survey to collect data on Burundian coffee.
Naila Farouk recently completed a TechnoServe fellowship in Burundi, where she created a global marketing survey to collect data on Burundian coffee.

Why a TechnoServe Fellowship? 

Naila was already familiar with TechnoServe’s impact because Nespresso and TechnoServe work together. When Naila decided to take her sabbatical year, she was doing extremely well and progressing to the top of her career. While her management was surprised by her decision, they also showed her great support in pursuing her personal objectives and goals and manifested their eagerness to have her back.

Naila was at a point in her life where she needed to do things differently. She wanted to give back, and she wanted to have a stronger sense of impact. 

The fellowship also allowed her to return to the continent where she hopes to raise kids someday should she choose to have children.

“I recommend this experience because it has allowed me both personally and professionally to come closer to who I want to be, and it has given me the opportunity to experience what I wanted to see,” said Naila. “It’s a beautiful experience, and it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great human experience.”


Michelle Whiting is a program communications specialist at TechnoServe.