TONY JOY (Nigeria) Ashoka Fellow
Ashoka Fellow since 2022   |   Nigeria

Joy Tony

Tony Joy is building rural communities that are creative, eco-sustainable, and self-sufficient. Using a blend of education, agriculture, and vocational training, she is empowering disadvantaged rural…
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This description of Joy Tony's work was prepared when Joy Tony was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2022.


Tony Joy is building rural communities that are creative, eco-sustainable, and self-sufficient. Using a blend of education, agriculture, and vocational training, she is empowering disadvantaged rural women to become agents of change who transform agricultural waste into eco-friendly products that generate sustainable wealth for them, their families, and for the communities at large.

The New Idea

Tony Joy is enabling rural communities to reimagine and realize their economic potential, creative abilities, and their ability to be self-sustainable. Her venture, Durian, is reversing the tide of rural to urban migration by changing the narrative of rural communities through creating attractive opportunities to show that people can thrive as well in the rural communities as they can in urban communities.

Tony Joy works to put women in the driver’s seat of the movement for wealth creation, and the re-use, re-purpose, and recycling of massive amounts of farm waste. She organizes and facilitates their activities as agricultural waste transformation cooperatives that are entirely women-led in all operations. Teams are organized around specific farm products to make maximum use of nature’s provisions. Cooperatives are structured to work through all available seasons and share profits from sales afterwards. These cooperatives have become an avenue for building viable and collaborative wealth for these women and their families and for ensuring that the rural communities are less polluted and are thriving in a sustainable ecosystem. In her model, these women are empowered to lead the change process and to take charge of their livelihoods given the bankable skills they have acquired from training and peer-to-peer learning. These skills range from food processing to soap-making, textile works, dressmaking and customizations, and creative wood works using bamboo. Through strategic education and co-creation, Durian is positioning rural women as champions of bio-diversity who harness natural resources for economic sustainability.

Durian started work in Imafon, a rural community in Ondo State with a population of over 10,000 people. It has since extended its operations to six other rural communities in the state, with a combined population of over 16,000 people. The growing success of the organization's work in Ondo state has led to increased interest in Tony Joy's idea to be replicated in Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Benue, Plateau and Oyo states. The organization is now expanding its activities to Ekiti State, with other states lined up to follow.

Her work continues to achieve impact and scale through the support of partners like World Connect, Kanthari, LB Foundation, The Pollination Project, SAP, Unilever, Moving World and Good Market.

The Problem

Rural poverty is the precursor for a myriad of issues. One of the major fallouts of rural poverty is that low-income rural dwellers tend to not be environmentally conscious. Everything not readily used is wasted, and every waste eventually turns into wasted opportunities that could have been put to productive use. Sadly, the idea of waste being an opportunity is not a priority for the government’s agricultural extension services. As such, the financial incentives for the farmers who would have otherwise gone into harnessing farm waste and creating wealth for rural communities are not factored into the government’s plans. The fallout of this over the years has been the massive wastage and neglect of resources like cocoa pods, banana stumps, bamboo stems, cassava shavings, etc., that could have been put to profitable use.

In light of the above, women farmers in the rural areas who would have been at the forefront of championing the movement for re-use and re-purposing of massive amounts of recyclable farm waste have been relegated to the background, typically winding up at the bottom of the value chain. These women farmers in rural communities unfortunately have the odds stacked against them such as lack of access to finance and credit facilities needed to initiate the critical first steps in agricultural production; limited ownership and control over land and farm as a result of patriarchy; limited access to extension services, training, and education on improved agricultural practices and financial literacy; and overall, a lack of government and community support, and limited decision-making power over family farm business.

Over the years, many intervention projects targeted at rural women have been designed and implemented, however, these projects have assumed the charity model of giving handouts to the women and do little or nothing to lift the beneficiaries out of poverty. At best, it perpetuates the cycle of dependence which sees the same people receive the same handouts year-in-year-out with little or nothing to show for it. What this approach also does is that unconsciously, rural dwellers have come to perceive themselves as unproductive and incapable of generating productivity at a high level.

The major identified causes of the problem are ideological programming, social conditioning, economic dependency, and environmental conditioning. As such, any solution that fails to take these causes into cognizance, with a strategy to tackle them at the root, will not have the desired effect of providing a system-level solution.

The Strategy

Durian deploys a three-pronged strategy of Education, Agriculture, and Vocational training to create a holistic system-based solution to community wealth creation, and sustainability of livelihood that is driven by rural women in rural communities.

Before Durian selects a community, they first map the available resources from waste in that local community to identify what can be used to grow the local economy. Some of these resources mostly come from cocoa, bamboo, banana, and plantain production.

A fundamental element of Tony Joy’s strategy is to empower women in communities to use their own local waste and resources as a means of livelihood. This forms a very important part of how Durian approaches communities and how it approaches environmental sustainability. Having identified the key local resources, rural women choose from a mix of skills to learn at the craft village, ranging from bamboo craft making to producing skincare products from cocoa waste, repurposing plastic waste and agricultural products, dressmaking, and garment branding. At the end of their training, they have several options available to them. They can leave the center to start their own individual ventures, or they can form clusters amongst themselves. The advantage of cooperatives is that Durian links them with fair trade markets and off-takers to buy off the finished products.

At the Durian Craft Village in Imafon community in Ondo State, which serves as the hub of all Durian activities, the women focus on their respective clusters, organized based on the type of produce, namely: cassava, cocoa pods-soap, bamboo craft, fabrics, and the pig farm. Each cluster depends on the waste produced by another cluster. A clear example is the interdependence of the cassava cluster and the pig farm. The cassava cluster supplies the pig farm with nutrient-rich cassava shavings from the tubers, while the pig farm reciprocates with nutrient-rich compost manure which saves the cluster the cost of sourcing fertilizers in the market.

Overall, through this approach, Durian is effectively accomplishing two things: First, equipping rural women with sustainable wealth creation skills for their economic empowerment, and putting them firmly in the driver’s seat of their own and their communities' progress. Durian ensures that the clusters run simultaneously while accommodating a maximum of 50 women in each cluster per farming season/cycle. These clusters swap both finished and by-products between each other at the end of the farming season/cycle and sell the finished products through the help of Durian. This model ensures a guaranteed supply of raw materials, as well as a demand for their finished products, while also improving their livelihoods, earning them between $40 - $50 individually per month.

Second; catalyzing a zero agricultural waste approach in the communities through their repurposing model which saves two tons of cassava shavings, cocoa shells, bamboo, and pieces of cloth materials monthly, that would have been otherwise wasted. The cassava shavings from the cassava cluster are repurposed as nutrient-rich feed for the pig farm, while the skincare cluster uses discarded cocoa shells for skincare products. The pig farm on the other hand supplies the cassava cluster with nutrient-rich compost manure, while the clusters for bamboo and fashion products use their respective by-products to make artifacts, ornaments, and household crafts. To date, over 30 ventures have sprung up from these clusters, with potential for more coming on stream. Through this model, Tony Joy is changing the mindsets of rural communities so that they now see waste products as economically viable.

The remarkable results of Durian's work in Ondo state have led to increased interest for replication in Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Benue, Plateau, and Oyo states. The organization is now expanding its activities to Ekiti State, with other states lined up to follow.

Durian has successfully built partnerships with donor organizations like World Connect, LB Foundation, and The Pollination Project. Other partners like Kanthari, SAP, Unilever, Moving World, Learning Connected, Good Market and Nourishing Africa work with Durian on capacity building and research. While their project implementation support partners include ChandyLoos Foundation, Revelation Spa, McPeters Apparel, Springboard Nigeria, and Flomos Bags. To date, Durian has reached a combined total of over 25,000 beneficiaries, with plans of reaching an additional 100,000 people across the five identified states in Nigeria.

The Person

Tony Joy lost her father as a child. Born the only girl among three brothers, she grew up with a stigma from family members who felt she wasn’t “girly” enough due to her tom-boyish nature. At 16, she left home and struck out on her own due to the pressures she had to deal with. After leaving home, she experienced intense hunger, deprivation, and exploitation. But the only thing that kept her forging ahead was a promise she made to herself that she would not return home a failure. She was forced to learn self-dependency, entrepreneurship, and personal development. With the very little income she was making from teaching extra-mural classes as a student, she paid her tuition through school and still managed to send money home regularly to augment her family’s upkeep. The shift for her came when she noticed that her peers in school typically looked beyond her deprivation to bring leadership challenges to her for solutions. When she realized this, she knew that she had to drop self-pity and move on to making the most of the life and opportunities she had before her.

Tony Joy’s first experience with leading a change initiative was leading efforts for a project targeted at getting young people involved in changemaking. She was appointed to lead the coordinated efforts of volunteers and participants for the event Operation Keep Nigeria Clean held simultaneously in seven states in Nigeria. This awakened something inside her, and she decided to venture fully into the changemaking space. In trying to decide which aspect of society’s problems to tackle, she discovered she has always been fascinated with the idea of creating wealth from places that looked the most unlikely, similar to the durian fruit, which smells horrible but tastes delicious.

In 2016, she won a small grant from the Malala Fund to show the movie Malala in a rural community. As part of the project, she was required to conduct interviews to fully understand the circumstances surrounding women and children in the local community. She discovered that there was a high prevalence of teenage pregnancies, and a high incidence of out-of-school children. This pointed to the high level of inequality within the rural community manifesting in domestic abuse and marginalization of women by the men. Armed with that information, she approached the head of the women in the community and shared her idea around training the rural women in the community on how to re-use and re-purpose waste into viable products. She volunteered to look for product off-takers if the women agreed. Following that, she leased a plot of land to start her venture in that same community.

At the heart of her work lies the deep drive to use a systemic approach to transform ideologies and identities associated with rural communities such that people will not be ashamed to identify with living in rural communities.