In this blog post, Aino Försti-Smith, who works for Bayer in Finland, shares how she found her purpose – and how, alongside her work with Bayer and her duties as a member of The Board of UN Women in Finland, she is working to empower women and girls to explore their full potential. Aino wants to enable positive change by helping one person at a time, and to lead by example, inspiring others in the process.
"My present journey started in 2016, when I organized a global press event in Finland relating to innovations in contraception. We hosted journalists from all over the world, including several from Africa who were accompanied by my Kenyan colleague Helen Mwathi. During the event Helen was sharing her thoughts about her work with women in Africa, when she said: “You know, Aino, every morning when I wake up, I am happy because I can make a difference in somebody’s life.” These words stayed with me. I immediately realized that I want to be that person, too. I want to make a difference.
Helen became like a mentor to me. I admired her indomitable spirit. The following year, we agreed that I would bring some Finnish journalists to Kenya to learn about Bayer’s implant access program and the impact of contraception. The visit to Kenya was the first real eye-opener: I suddenly realized that access to contraception, something I have always taken for granted, can make a huge difference to the life of a woman in Africa.
It became clear to me that access to contraception enables not only individual women but also whole communities to get out of poverty. By improving awareness of reproductive health and access to family planning services, we empower women to make decisions about their own bodies, to seek education and employment, and to be in control of the timing and composition of their family life. This freedom of choice is a fundamental basis for greater equality and prosperity for all.
Upon gaining these insights, I quickly realized that I have a skill set to offer in this area. Since then, in both my work and my voluntary activities, I have been actively looking for opportunities to drive initiatives relating to girls’ and women’s health, rights and gender equality.
Following my trip to Kenya, I joined a charity group that raised 100,000 Euros to support the education of girls in Malawi. In addition, my collaboration with Helen continued and, supported by funding from Bayer, we initiated a project relating to menstrual health. On behalf of Bayer’s Nairobi Office, Helen together with colleagues had been distributing sanitary products free of charge to girls at a local school so that they can keep on attending school during their period and focus on their lessons. Our joint approach was to introduce menstrual cups as they are a more sustainable option and can be used for up to 10 years. [Read the full story here.]
I feel lucky to work for a company that shares my mission and has a long-term commitment to women’s health and sustainability. It has been mind-blowing to experience what can be achieved when a big global company like Bayer lifts sustainability into the core of its business strategy and operations.
The COVID-19 pandemic is reminding us that we are all in this together – women, men, people of all gender identities, all beings. We are all needed to drive for a more sustainable future. Companies – our employers – have a big part to play in driving change and we, as individual members of those communities, can support these efforts. Ensuring that our company structures represent the gender and ethnic diversity of the world’s population and promoting inclusion. This way, everyone can win – including businesses.
Of course, there are many challenges and sometimes I feel overwhelmed by their magnitude. Although there have been major achievements in gender equality, not a single country has yet achieved full equality. Finland, my country origin, is known as a pioneer of gender equality, but the journey continues and we can still do better. I have recently been appointed to the Board of UN Women in Finland which has given me even broader perspective of the inequalities and challenges faced by women across the world.
I'm aware I cannot change the whole world. However, what I learned from Helen is that if I have a positive influence on one person, I am making a difference. What happens at the individual level adds up across the world and over time. Everyone can make a difference, however large or small. We just need to take the first step on our own journey.
So my question is how do you #ChooseToChallenge – at work or in your private life?"
About Aino Försti-Smith:
Aino joined Bayer in 2011 and has been working many years in the area of women's health as a Communications and Public Affairs Manager. She is passionate about women’s rights and empowerment and was appointed to the Board of UN Women in Finland this year. As the mother of two teenage sons, she believes in the power of younger generations to build a more equal and sustainable future. In January 2021, Aino started a short-term assignment in South East Africa – currently still working remotely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She feels lucky to have the opportunity to push initiatives that she feels very passionate about, and is grateful for the strong female role models she has had in her life, including her own mother and grandmother.
Our vision “Health for all, hunger for none”
At Bayer, we have the fundamental belief that empowering girls and women, and providing them access to healthcare and family planning, are central for sustainable development and for achieving our vision “Health for all, hunger for none.” By 2030, we are committed to providing 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries with access to modern contraception.
Family planning plays a crucial role in gaining ground on gender equality. More gender equality will also help us address hunger: Women are the primary farmers of the world. They produce 60 to 80 percent of food in lower-income countries, often operating on fewer than five acres. They farm as capably and efficiently as men, but have less access to resources, including credit and capital, training, tools and technology, which means they produce less food on the same amount of land. If we closed those gaps, women smallholders could produce 20 to 30 percent more food from the same field. The implications for hunger, for health, for household income – they’re obvious.