MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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

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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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An Easy Sell? Women's Economic Empowerment in Ghana

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Empowering women in rural, northern Ghana—where nearly 80% of women have never attended school, is no small feat. With some smart marketing and production support for farmers, agribusinesses are now buying the idea.

Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) is a six-year project funded by both the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The main goal of the project is to improve food security for families in the Upper West Region of Ghana by assisting women farmers to increase productivity, link to sustainable markets, and improve nutrition practices.

The implementation of the GROW project started in 2013 with a goal of reaching 20,000 women farmers using a value chain approach. Through a mixed methods data gathering approach including interviews and surveys, MEDA recently developed and published a case study that examines the role of market actors and their profitability as they have engaged with the GROW project and female farmers. This blog shares some of the results.

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Financial Inclusion for Young Women – Voices from YouLead Nigeria


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To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the second in our “Be Bold for Change” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

How do you effectively reach a majority of people to discuss financial inclusion in Nigeria? Mark Akpan, Program Manager Financial Inclusion

Radio is the main source of news and information in Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. During my January 2017 visit to the YouLead project, implemented with Cuso International, Mark Akpan and I had the opportunity to visit Hit FM Cross River State to talk about Access to Finance for youth. We shared our understanding and approach towards addressing gender inequalities in this sector.

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16 Days of Activism & the White Ribbon Campaign

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Today marks the beginning of two important global campaigns, 16 Days of Activism (Nov 25-Dec 10) and the White Ribbon Campaign (Nov. 25). Both global campaigns advocate for the eradication of gender-based violence and, broadly, the empowerment of women.

In GROW, our project in Ghana, the team engages with male gender activists to promote equity with respect to caregiving, fatherhood, and division of labor.

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Supporting Women-run Social Enterprises: Helping Entrepreneurs to Help their Communities

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When is a trade fair more than a trade fair?

In September, Trade + Impact held its first Summit in Morocco, bringing together women-run social enterprises, international buyers and potential investors. The Summit featured products from two key sectors: handicrafts and agribusiness for cosmetics. These sectors were chosen because they employ significant numbers of women, and additionally, have huge growth potential. Markets for each of the sectors are estimated at USD 30 billion, and global demand is growing.

Like many sectors, handicrafts and natural cosmetics face significant barriers to profitability and growth. Structural barriers, such as tariffs and taxes on inter-African trade, present challenges. Reliability of shipping and transportation cause delays in deliveries and increased costs. In addition, these sectors are very fragmented, with large numbers of small producers working in relative isolation. Access to materials is an ongoing challenge, particularly sustainable materials. Producers working in handicrafts and cosmetics face challenges in accessing financing, and very few of those attending the Summit had ever accessed a loan, outside of money borrowed from friends or family members.

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Meet the women growing soybeans and progress in northern Ghana

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Agro-entrepreneurs. An intriguing word for those like myself entering the business world and being enthralled by realities of nonstop work-education. So far today, I have been talking to 12 agro-entrepreneurs on the four-hour bus ride through stark Sahel countryside in northern Ghana, and I have come upon a meaning for this word. For these women, today, and everyday, it means: leader remade. Meet the GROW women: 12 Lead-Farmers who represent over 20,000 women agro-entrepreneurs who have chosen to remake their gruelling hours tilling the fields to work to their benefit - and in the process, revolutionize the idea of the women business leader.

I feel bonded to these remarkable business leaders through our collaborations on the GROW project. The acronym stands for Greater Rural Opportunities for Women and today we ride to the city of Tamale for the 2016 Annual Pre-Season Conference: a semi-annual business expo for agro-entrepreneurs, equipment suppliers, soybean processors, and financial backers. As we pass anthills the height of single-storey buildings, my thoughts keep returning to how best to do something I have not yet attempted and which just so happens to be my prime task of the day: marketing for agro-entrepreneurs.

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Can Corporate Partnerships Promote Gender Equality?

With 2015 behind us and a new year on the horizon, what have we learned and where can we focus in 2016? In September 2015, the McKinsey Global institute launched a report that provided hard data to show the scale of the global economic deficit caused by gender inequality. The key finding is now often quoted: if women’s participation in the economy was on par with men’s it would add $28 trillion to the annual global GDP by 2025. This is a clarion call to action but the path is much harder to navigate. To achieve gender parity globally would require huge investments in societal and political will and resources. It would require sweeping attitudinal changes toward a valuation of women’s work (productive and unpaid) and significant leaps in investments by governments in agriculture, industry and service sectors. Serious attention would need to be paid to what the McKinsey Institute calls the enablers of economic opportunity: reproductive rights for women, physical security, legal protection and political voice amongst others.

Reducing barriers is critical but so is creating opportunities for women to participate equitably in the economy alongside men. Fortunately, this appears to be a strategy that is gaining momentum. There is increasing recognition that in the pursuit of gender equality, collaboration between private sector actors, governments and civil society can create wins on all sides. Last year, the United Nations intentionally reinvigorated the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) launched in 2010 to promote gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Under the mantra, Equality Means Business, the WEPs aim to mobilize corporations around the business case for gender equality. The principles are:

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Women as Catalysts for Change: Reflections from a former GROW intern in Ghana

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Why do you focus on women?

Over the last year, living here in Tamale, Ghana, and working with rural women farmers on our Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project- I’ve expanded my understanding of the gender issues in northern Ghana drastically. Here, women and men face many cultural barriers, social expectations and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. In short, gender issues here are complex, messy and deeply rooted in daily routines.

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Keyhole Gardens and Marital Harmony in Northern Ghana

Keyhole GardensHow might vegetables and marital harmony be connected? In the spring of 2014 the staff in MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team may have shrugged and said nothing. By the spring of 2015 they had a different perspective. A study based on a MEDA pilot project in northern Ghana around Key Hole Gardens found that 58% of participants reported increased marital harmony as a result of the gardens. Although surprising at first, the study found that women’s increased access to vegetables allowed them to both cook more diverse food at home, a fact their husbands enjoy, and obtain some financial income which is also viewed positively within the household.

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Should we be working in Myanmar?

Burma Blog AI started working in Myanmar almost two years ago. At that time, in order to have access to a phone I rented a sim card for over 200$; ATMs were non-existent and Yangon was still relatively traffic-free. My first assignment for a large INGO was to study three separate markets in the country’s central dry zone. I looked at goats, groundnuts and plums. The latter, seemingly banal as a crop, turned out to be the more exciting of the three. A plum farmer could channel the components of her plums to five separate markets, from dried fertilizer to juice, to fire fuel and Chinese medicine.
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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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