MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Business for Good: Women-led Social Enterprises in Africa and the Middle East

Traditional Maasai Beaded Jewelry, Sidai Designs, TanzaniaTraditional Maasai Beaded Jewelry, Sidai Designs, Tanzani
What is a Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is an organization with two primary and interlinked goals: to generate revenue, and to achieve positive social or environmental outcomes. In attempting to balance profit generation with social goals, a social enterprise straddles the private and volunteer sectors.1
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Opportunities for ICT Innovations in Myanmar

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As Myanmar slowly opens its doors to the world, can it also leapfrog some of the biggest failures in development?

One of MEDA’s newest projects to launch in Asia is in Myanmar, also referred to as Burma.  A country in the midst of transition and change is slowly reducing barriers to foreign trade and influence, and opening its once closed borders to global firms. Myanmar now finds itself in the crossroads at the 21st century’s technology boom, with global powerhouse neighbours such as India and China, the country has a unique opportunity to learn and apply lessons learned in the entry to a globalized economy and marketplace. Managing the economic boom that will result with the influx of capital and infrastructure to ensure equitable distribution and equal access to new opportunities is no small challenge. And many international donors, such as the Canadian Government are seeking to provide support by facilitating economic growth in less developed areas, such as the country's ethnic states.

MEDA’s project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, focuses on reaching 25,000 women farmers and entrepreneurs in two of these states – Southern Shan and Kayin. MEDA plans to increase access to these new opportunities in rural areas of the country, targeting women in select value chains with high growth potential. And as the enabling environment gradually improves to foster private sector development, the potential for new economic opportunities for rural women and men also grows rapidly. Activities will focus on achieving women’s economic empowerment with the proven benefits to the larger household and community. As in other countries, women farmers in Myanmar have less access to land ownership but are able to access inputs, seeds, and extension services. However, gender differences in access to land and credit affect the relative ability of female farmers and entrepreneurs to invest, operate to scale, and benefit from growing market opportunities in their respective communities.

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Red Roads Over Green Hills: Contemplating Gender Equality in Ethiopia

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The state of the roads in Ethiopia’s Oromia region (a western region bordering South Sudan) are not for the faint of heart – nor week of spine. Worse yet was the speed with which our driver dodged crater-sized potholes and slip-slided through meters of slick red mud. This drive might have been a teeth-clenching test of endurance had it not been for the verdant green pastoral landscape that stretched out from the road on all sides. Having traveled in numerous countries in western and eastern Africa, I was more accustomed to views of dense, tropical jungles or semi-arid savannah, not to a landscape that more closely resembled Ireland with its greener-than-green fields dotted by grazing animals. The only striking difference being the dirt road that blazed like a red ribbon lain haphazardly over green velvet.

As our ancient Range Rover moved with alacrity through this landscape, my mind drifted back to the conversation I had had with my colleague on the airplane from Addis Ababa to Assosa. She had asked, innocently enough, about my other work at MEDA and I launched into a discussion about my projects and MEDA’s approach to women’s economic empowerment. This somehow took a turn to discussing the state of women in Pakistan (site of a MEDA value chain project focusing on women’s entrepreneurship), and as I discussed honor killings, acid attacks, and the Islamic custom of purdah (limiting women’s mobile outside the home), my colleague’s face became one of astonishment. I was surprised, however, that my colleague used this information as further evidence against Islam and not as a discussion point for women’s equality more broadly. Ethiopia, she informed me, did have this “problem.” While it may be true that Ethiopia doesn’t have the same kind of violence towards women witnessed in some parts of Pakistan, Ethiopia is not a shining example for the equitable treatment of women, despite being predominantly Christian (Muslims make up approximately 33%). While Christianity may not have as overt cultural practices segregating women, are not the subtle messages of submission and subservience on the part of women found throughout Christian teachings indicative of a pervasive, and deeply-rooted prejudice toward women?

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Engaging Women in the Economy in Latin America

I was recently asked to join a panel discussion at the Inter-American Development Bank on better engaging women in the agricultural sector in Latin America. A conversation that needs to be had more often.Having lived in Central America, I know all too well the realities of gender inequality that exists in the region. Typically, in the household, a woman cooks and cleans; doesn't work and therefore, doesn't have any control over the financial or operational decisions within the home. This goes as far as to say that some women were not even privy to the prices of milk or eggs. "Machismo" as they call it, is the mindset that the man is better than the women. I saw many homes where this wasn't the case; however, for the majority of women, living in the shadows is a reality.Recently I performed and managed a short consultancy that worked with 4 agribusinesses in Peru to promote gender equality in the workplace and homes of the farmers working downstream in their supply chains. A "Gender Coordinator" led the efforts at each business and also hosted "Gender Workshops" for both men and women in the community from which they sourced. The Gender Coordinators educated the men and women about gender equality (a phrase some had never heard of before) and conducted activities, such as learning to cook nutritious foods together, as a couple. The consultancy lasted only 8 months. The goal was to determine the financial and operational implications of gender dynamics on the household and business. 8 months was rather short to be measuring these things; however, even within that time, a difference could be seen. Woman began to engage in agriculture, which for these communities, is the primary source of income. Two of the companies even had enough supply that they began to market a new product - coffee specifically grown by women. Maybe it is the next "fair trade"? One company found a niche market in Germany and demand is over the roof.The most prominent change; however, could be seen in the women themselves. The increase in confidence was astonishing and the community had never been stronger.Check out the recording of the panel discussion on the IADB website here. The CEO of Women's World Banking and Project Manager from Cafe Femenino join me and provide interesting takes on their experiences working in the area, as well.Enjoy! And keep the conversation going!
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Fostering Employment Opportunities for Libyan Women

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“I want to provide more employment opportunities for struggling women and unemployed youth” stated forty-nine year old Faiza Al –Shgair who until June last year (2014) was a single mother struggling to raise her daughters in Tripoli.

Faiza is a graduate of the USAID Libya Women Economic Empowerment (LWEE) project and the winner of one of the matching grants awards. She won USD $13,000 to work on getting her catering business, ‘Almawasm’, running.

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Empowering Women – Changing Lives

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MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team knows how money in the hands of a woman can change lives. This blog has been created to share the learnings, ideas and the insights from our projects that excite and energize us in our work.Our team has close to a decade of experience working alongside women producers and entrepreneurs to grow their incomes and businesses. We support them in strengthening their business and leadership skills and help to build social, business and financial networks. To date, we have worked with over 100,000 women and have learned much along the way.We designed and piloted new methodologies for empowering and connecting women entrepreneurs to markets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent years, we have adapted and expanded our women’s economic empowerment programming into Ghana, Libya, Haiti and Burma (Myanmar). New projects will be starting soon in Jordan and Ethiopia that will challenge us to work at different levels in the market system. We continue to work at innovating new information communication technology (ICT) and appropriate technology solutions for women, and on building our private sector and university partnerships.

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MEDA values the learning that we gain from working with others. Beyond helping us to understand gender relations and socio-cultural dynamics in different country contexts, our work with local and private sector organisations helps to build their capacity in value chain analysis and market based approaches. Strong partnerships ensure that our women’s economic empowerment programming is scalable, replicable and sustainable, and that the learning continues even beyond the life of our projects. I invite you to check in for our monthly posts. We look forward to sharing and learning with you.

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