How 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.
My first visit to the Centre for Social Innovation at Regent Park was uplifting. I’d arrived at the first community Impact Investing Fair, a room brimming with smiling faces and glowing with slight perspiration, thanks to Toronto’s infamous humidity.The evening began with a presentation from the charismatic “Sustainable Economist,” Tim Nash, who dispelled the mysteries behind impact investing. Swiftly cutting through clunky terms like portfolio, market risk and liquidity, Nash boiled down the essence of impact investing. Afterwards, a number of entrepreneurial investment funds pitched their cause and expected returns to the crowd.There were many conversations that night that I would have loved to continue for lengthy coffee breaks. Though from different backgrounds, the people present spoke a common language, one that understood the value of putting their money into something worth investing for. Sure, your own financial security is important – but at what economic benefit are you willing to allocate your funds to blue chips or off to mutual funds? I feel that it is much like the clothes we buy, never once contemplating the supply chains of our jeans and jackets. Where is our money going?Ignorance is bliss, but meaningful investment is better.The term impact investing started to gain traction in 2009, with the establishment of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). Since then, leading publications and groups have jumped in.Dipping my toes in the waterWith all this discourse on the glorious frontier of Impact Investing, I craved a reduction in talk and uptake in action. And this started with myself. Several months ago I finally stumbled upon an impact investment opportunity that met my investment needs. It happened serendipitously through a conversation with the CFO of MEDA (my previous employer) that they had a Risk Capital Fund. With a low minimum investment of $1000, returns of 2 – 4%, and high social-environmental investment standards, I had found my match.Agro Capital Management (ACM), one of MEDA’s investments. ACM sells and finances agricultural equipment to small farmers to help create more profitable operations in the Ukraine.My relationship with impact investing has mostly been rocky, a lot of talk and little action. I’ve learned that I need to be thorough and patient in my search. Impact investments do exist, and there is no shortage of places where money is needed. Investing safely and wisely means due diligence plays a serious role at this stage. Until impact investing becomes a staple in mutual funds, us investors will have to take a more active stance, and spend more time and resources understanding, supporting and promoting the industry. As difficult as my impact investment pursuits are, I’m in it for the long haul. Are you?
Last month my roommate Katy persuaded me to join her on a visit to the most advanced Fistula Hospital in the world. Before meeting Katy, I had never heard of Fistula. Being well informed about maternal health issues, Katy knew this was an important visit, one that we could not pass up.First I had to understand what Fistula was. With a little googling, I discovered that 5% of childbirths result in obstructed labour around the globe. Obstructed labour occurs when the baby gets stuck, and can eventually cause Obstetric Fistula: a tear in the mother’s birth passage where urine and/or feces flow uncontrollably. The tragic result is a woman debilitated by her condition, emitting a repugnant odor. She eventually becomes ostracized from her husband, family and community and remains in a state of isolation. Some die.In many developing nations, pregnant women acquire Obstetric Fistula because of impoverished rural environments and the low status of women. Nine thousand women in Ethiopia develop fistula annually. The statistics are distressing but the reality is that the pioneering Hamlin Fistula Hospital offers hope and renewed futures for affected women. My visit, accompanied by the lovely and knowledgeable Sisay, revealed a calm facility in the heart of cacophonous Addis Ababa. The hospital grounds were decorated with flowers. Patients drifted down forested paths, an aura of tranquility surrounding them. During the tour, I observed the post-op ward, maternity room, craft shop, Oprah Centre, physiology unit, and patient classroom.As we wandered the spacious property, Sisay divulged nuggets of information. I learned how dedicated the hospital was to treating patients holistically. Some examples…95% women return to their previous lives after fistula surgery; however, the remaining 5% are persuaded to undergo a second and much more life-altering surgery. The surgery changes them to excrete externally into a bag that they must carry with them at all times. As women cannot return to their villages, the hospital permanently hires them as nurses. I saw at least seven nurses working industriously, their bags discretely hidden beneath their neat red aprons.Surgery and treatment is entirely free for patients. This improves the likelihood of women traveling from extreme rural locations to Addis AbabaOccupational therapy and group discussions are used to lift the stigma and shame women are burdened with prior to surgery. At the craft shop, I purchased several hand woven baskets that pay directly to the patient who made the itemA midwifery education program is in its fourth year. The program trains rural midwives who will live in far-reaching communities to permanently strengthen maternal healthTo symbolize restored dignity, women that have completed recovery are given a new dress and paid transport home
One woman I saw on our walk hobbled past us with an awkward gait, aggressively swinging her left leg forward every second step. Sisay commented that she had been abandoned in a shed for three years before arriving at Hamlin, suffering severe physiological injuries to her legs and feet. She had occupied Hamlin for the past three years and would eventually move on to their long-term rehabilitation centre. Her story is included in the bestseller Half the Sky (Katy highly recommends it!)I guess one of the strangest and sobering realizations is the knowledge that if Katy or I ever bear a child and have complications, we will never have to suffer from fistula. Fistula can be prevented. Fistula was eradicated from the United States in 1880. It is a condition from history. If I have an obstructed labour, there will be doctors surrounding me and a c-section performed immediately. Fistula is a reality that I will never know. For this reason and the positively radiant tour of Hamlin, I contributed to their deserving hospital.You can learn more at their website hamlinfistula.org. Photos are courtesy of Hamlin website.
In the rural areas of Amhara, rice farmers live a hand-to-mouth existence. Having enough money to afford inputs for farming, school and household expenditures, particularly before harvest time is a significant challenge. Farmers are often forced to sell rice during harvest season when prices are low, which endangers their livelihood and hinders their income potential. As farmers are without savings habits, any surplus income earned following harvest is squandered at the local Saturday market on drinks. This was the previous experience of thirteen rice farmers who, with the assistance of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), formed a group known as Addis Alem Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA).
MEDA's InterventionIn 2011, Gizaw (pictured left), a rice farmer, received MEDA's training on the benefits of saving and how to form a VSLA within his community. The training covered topics on saving, credit, managing risk, and resolving conflict. MEDA also provided Gizaw with the necessary materials to start saving, which included: a savings box with two locks, thirteen passbooks, four plastic plates, and a bookkeeping ledger.
Working with MEDA has been a busy unpredictable but mostly informative first month. I am interning at the main office for the EDGET project, which stands for Ethiopians Driving Growth Entrepreneurship and Trade, also meaning progress in Amharic. EDGET is a pro-poor five-year project, funded by the Canadian government with the objective of raising the incomes of 10,000 weavers and rice farmers. Theoretically speaking, raising income is a strategy to improve food security. We hope rural Ethiopians will become more resilient against famines and less dependent on food aid programs as a result of EDGET interventions.
There are many different facets to such an ambitious project, and I am primarily focused on financial services. Financial services supports EDGET’s objective by employing financial interventions, like the Village Savings and Lending Associations (VSLAs).
The Ethiopian New Year is marked on September 11. Ethiopians follow a calendar that is slightly different so the year is now 2005. Melkam Addis Amet!
I was fortunate enough to arrive at such an opportune time and experienced a few of the special customs they celebrate.
It’s under a day now until my departure to Addis Ababa. My goal had been to “frontload” my packing for fear of any unwanted popups. I believe I’ve done a semi-successful time of planning ahead. I have moved some times before – to London (Ontario) or Vienna – but preparing for Addis Ababa has its own set of challenges. Entering a developing African country typically means bringing everything with you that you would miss. With that being said, you can probably find the majority of actual necessities in-country. The issue only arises once we have to answer the question: what is a necessity?So below you will find an extensive list of what I decided to bring. Perhaps this could be of use to future travelers on work placements in Addis Ababa, or a similar developing city with a high-altitude climate. Here it goes!Important Documents- Travel Immunization Record- Extra different sized passport photos (6)- Proof of graduation (work permit purposes)- Photo copies of passport, atm/visa cards, birth certificate, sin card, provincial health card, student card, vaccination record- Bank, health insurance & emergency contact information- Reminder cards. Since I have not earned the habit of eating safely in a developing country, I created reminder cards to store in my purse summarizing some key statements.- Flight tickets- Passport- Select photos of family and friends- US$Technology- Camera, memory card reader, extra memory card- Computer- Video camera, DV tapes (5) + cleaning tape- External Hard drives (3)- Wristwatch with alarm- Chargers- Adapters (Europlug 2-prong + India/Asia 3-prong) this was a bit of a headache- Surge Protector- eReader- Ethernet Cord- Mp3 player & headphonesGear- Mosquito Net (permethrin soaked nets, advised as extremely effective, are not available in Canada)- Bed sheet- Towel- Microfiber towel- Umbrella- Hand sanitizer (2)- Water purification drops- Emergency blanket- Mosquito Repellent 30% DEET- Flashlight- Moist wipes- First Aid Kit (assorted bandaids, blister bandaids, tweezers, alcohol pads, polysporin, waterproof matches, clotrimazole topical cream, surgical gloves, adhesive tape, scissors)- Diarrhea Kit (chicken & beef bouillon, immodium, pepto bismol, gastrolyte, gravol, cipro)- Laundry Kit (Woolite detergent travel packs, clothes line, sink plug – I’d recommend Austin House, tide to go, laundry bag)- Kleenex- Swimsuit- Sunglasses- Sunscreen- Scissors- Pencil Case- Double sided tape- Bandana (for lengthy dusty travel)- Paperback books (I brought…Richard Dowden’s Africa, Amharic Phrasebook, a book borrowed from a friend – Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, and a title I sourced in a Veinnese bookshop History of Ethiopia, Paul Henze. And of course, the much-loved Bradt guide on Ethiopia, Philip Briggs)- Map of Ethiopia- Blank small notepads- One checked bag, one 45L carry-on backpack (I love MEC)Personal Hygiene- Facial wipes, eye makeup remover pads- Hairdryer- Personal medications (advil, caltrate, vitamin D)- Contacts, solution, eye drops- Lip balm- Razors- Toothpaste- Preventative blister balm- Favourite shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner- Face cream, cleanser- Sanitary napkinsFood- Parmesan cheese: I’m not sure if this one is allowed but I’m going to claim it and see.- Peanut butter (750g of Skippy is a true necessity for me!)- Favourite Teas & Hot chocolate- Lindt chocolate bars: I read a blog that the chocolate wasn’t very good so just in case I get that craving- Spices (cumin, mustard, cinnamon, basil, thyme, oregano, salt&pepper)- Sriracha hot sauce – only my staple ingredient in every dinner- Soy sauce- Protein bars (Cliff & Luna brand are great)- Baking powder- Almonds- Travel mug: required for my coffee before work every morningClothingConsidering that most Ethiopians dress conservatively, I erred on the side of long-sleeve tops, pants and loose lightweight clothing.- Variety of work-appropriate collared shirts (preference to long-sleeves)- Basic tank tops for layering and casual cotton long-sleeve tops- Slacks (3), capris , long shorts (2) and a pair of jeans- Long skirt, pencil skirt, knee-length dress- Cardigans (4), sweaters (4) and blazer (1)- Footwear: boots, open-toe sandals, black pumps, tan flats, running shoes, walking shoes and flip flops- Rain jacket, leather jacket- Scarves (3), tights and leggings- Gym strip (3)This list may have been excessively exhaustive in the depth of information I provided. At the very least, it highlights what I perceive I need versus what many other people may require elsewhere.
Dusty, sprawling streets. The roads may be paved but the sidewalks give way to dirt and rubble. Bare feet to leather boots, Ethiopians share the muddy roadside, as the rainy season showers soak the ochre earth. People swathed in coloured wraps, brilliant white Arab robes, decade-worn western brands, and tattered rags swerve left and right, jumping to the discordant rhythm of traffic.A child leaps forward giggling. Her eyes joyfully fixed on a rubber tire she is rolling forward with a metal rod.A row of small coal fires sizzle freshly husked corn, wafting sweet charcoal smoke.A barren plot of land where sixty sheep are lined up for slaughter. A pile of heads already await market, their opaque eyes glazed blue-white.The sultry aroma of dark roast Ethiopian coffee. Macchiato brimming with bubbling foam.Compounds with barbed wire fences, the paint faded down the forbidding walls. Stray dogs roam the alleys rabid, abandoned or unloved.Cool moist mornings. Icy breath forms in front of faces.The striking African Union building pierces the skyline. Its sophisticated architecture dominating the disorganized clutter of corrugated tin roofs below.A skinny man loosely holds a rifle beside the ATM.Someone grabs my arm with an uncomfortably fierce grip. I look up to see a small woman pulling me away from the aggressive rumble of an oncoming caravan.Genuine smiles from locals.Addis Ababa is sometimes called the City of Africa or New Flower. My boss aptly named it One Big Village. To me, Addis Ababa is a city of juxtaposition. Nothing is segregated, everything mixed into one. Poverty sits next to modernity. Authenticity beside security. Wintry mornings to sweaty afternoons. Affluence and absence. A rustic metropolis.