Assessing Youth Financial Needs in Cross River State

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MEDA is partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) works with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Following MEDA's detailed institutional assessment of financial sector in Cross River State, five financial inclusion partners were selected for capacity building support. Subsequently, an assessment of Youth Financial Needs was undertaken in May-June 2015. This blog documents the key findings of this assessment.

Why was the assessment needed?

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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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Looking Back At YouthInvest: Lowering Barriers and Increasing Uptake

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Lowering Barriers and Increasing Uptake


In the past few blogs, we have taken you through the journey that we took when developing youth-friendly financial products and services in Morocco, looking at the importance of supporting frontline MFI staff and making the business case for MFIs to offer youth financial products. But have we really accomplished anything? Are more youth accessing financial services?

Let’s begin this final blog entry on our YouthInvest Praxis Series by looking at the strategies that were deployed to facilitate access to and improve usage of our partners’ financial products and services. It was YouthInvest’s philosophy that access to financial services should never be a solitary offering, but should be paired with the appropriate training. This was one of the cornerstones of our approach, where we worked to ensure that clients were not only able to access products appropriate to their needs, but also understood the products and services they were availing.

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Fostering Employment Opportunities for Libyan Women


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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Culture of cycling

We are currently in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, 100km away from Quebec City. We are camping and I’m lying outside on my towel trying to digest all the food I just ate (Now I can eat almost anything, at any time). There is a married couple at the campground in front of ours. They cycled here too. There are in their 80s. The cycling culture is huge in Quebec. Yesterday we did 150km and people were cycling beside us screaming enthusiastically in French. There are pathways that seem like highways throughout Quebec. They are called the Green Route. It has been so incredibly beautiful. We took the Route 5 into Montreal a few days ago. A group of MEDA members were nice enough to come meet us 80km out and cycle with us into the city. They definitely exposed us to some amazing routes. We took a ferry and crossed over to Oka where we rode on a bike path the whole way into Montreal. In Montreal there are many cyclists, and for the first time, with our day off, we cycled around the city. There are bike paths everywhere and everyone cycles to commute or to work out.

It truly was a wonderful experience. Here’s why: Usually we cycle on the road because they are paved; however, Google maps tries to take us on bike routes, which end up being sand and/or gravel. It doesn’t sound like a bad route, and it’s not, but if you have 28inch tires then you end up doing 20km in two hours. This is not advantageous, because we can usually get up to 35km an hour. So based on previous experiences, we avoided any type of trail. Now that we are in Quebec, we are spoiled rotten. Not only has the route been nice, but the architecture is so different here. I really enjoy going through small towns and seeing the churches and colorful tin rooftops. Did I happen to mention that since we’ve entered Quebec we have been cycling along le Fleuve, the St. Lawrence River. Today we stopped to enjoy the beautiful little islands and to look at the mountains on the North shore. Tomorrow we arrive at Riviere-du-Loup (Wolf River). National Geographic describes it as having the second most beautiful sunset in the world.

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Effective Integration of Financial Services into Economic Opportunities Programming for Youth

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How can financial services be effectively integrated into economic opportunities programming for youth?

The SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group, facilitated by MEDA, recently completed a series of learning documents which highlight promising practices in youth financial services, illustrated by examples from multiple projects and stakeholders. In a series of member consultations, four topics were identified as areas of particular interest:

  • Integrating youth financial services into economic opportunities programming
  • Understanding usage and dormancy of youth savings accounts
  • Using incentives, subsidies and complementary services to promote youth financial inclusion
  • Understanding the role of parents and families in youth financial inclusion

A learning document was created to explore each topic, with full publications available here:

We will profile each in a blog entry over the coming weeks, starting with today’s topic: integrating financial services for youth into economic opportunities programming.

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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.

Share and contribute

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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Praxis Series - Entry 4: Designing youth friendly products and services: An approach

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In our last blog, we looked at making the business case to MFIs to integrate financial (and non-financial) services for young people into their portfolios. One of the drivers we looked at was the need for said products to be low cost. “The cost of youth clients (and youth-friendly products) are comparable to the cost of adult clients. Loan Officers are able to integrate youth into their client portfolios without additional costs.” So how do you do that?

We developed an approach that takes 12 steps or 4 phases to build MFI capacity to offer a new youth-friendly product. In the product development (PD) cycle, we begin with phase 1 – the identify phase – to support partner MFIs in identifying the needs of their new target client. This is accomplished through targeted information gathering, analysis and conducting interviews with current clients and non-client to discern their needs and wants from a new product.

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Picton Golf Club & Grill

Here’s a shout out to the most amazing community I could ever ask for. Today was the Picton event, in my hometown. I am blessed to have people in my life that are so generous and loving. Before this bike trip, my old boss called me to confirm an event at the golf course. On top of this, she also told me that her and her husband were donating the whole buffet breakfast, which included a speech and slideshow. All donations were to go to Bike to Grow.

I was pretty nervous to host the event because I never know how many people are going to attend. Before today, only 7 people had actually bought tickets. The lack of attendance made me nervous. At the beginning of the event only four tables were present and we began with an introduction and a Q&A. I was nervous and felt awkward. However, my mood changed as people kept strolling in and we ended up with a full house! I saw people I hadn’t seen since high school and people I didn’t necessarily expect to come.

Today we raised $1,300 by family and friends who came out to support Mary and myself. Mary’s parents and a MEDA staff member, Helen, were able to join us and added to our stories throughout the event. The event was supposed to end at 10 and we ended up staying there until noon. My dad and a friend cycled out with us on County Road 49 to wish us off. It started raining, but by the time we put on our rain jackets the rained stopped. As we rode into Desert Lake Campground, 70km from Picton, there were clear skies.

To top off the day, an exciting thing happened as we approached the registration desk to pay for our campsite. The owners saw us stroll in with our bikes and gear and after we told them the GROW story, they offered us a complimentary hotel room.

To come back after a one week holiday, I couldn’t be happier to start riding again. Family, friends, and strangers continue to support us in our every day adventures.

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MEDA: Modelling mission and stewardship for the 21st century

Wally Kroeker, MEDA's director of publications, wrote the following to present last week in Harrisburg, PA, at a Mennonite World Conference seminar. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it, so we share it with you here today.

    For more than 60 years MEDA has been a mechanism for Mennonite businessfolk and others to share their skills and resources with the less fortunate. We have sometimes been described as a “mission arm” of the Mennonite business community. Perhaps it is bold to say so, but I believe we have redefined the nature of ministry and whole-life stewardship as we’ve helped people in poverty to build livelihoods that last.
    If you look through our early archives you’ll see photos of white-faced (maybe sunburned) Mennonite men riding around on the backs of pickups, trudging through jungles, and sitting under trees eating watermelon with indigenous Paraguayans. Back home in California and Ohio these men ran large companies and employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Ed Peters, our first president, was described by Life magazine as a “shirtsleeve millionaire.”
     We began in 1953, a time when Mennonite refugees from Russia and Europe had been dislocated following the Second World War and had ended up in Paraguay. MCC had generously provided them with food and shelter. But those who had left trades behind could not get the working capital to build businesses to provide goods and services in the Mennonite colonies. The local banks wanted exorbitant interest rates because they had no collateral or credit history.
    Orie Miller, the head of MCC, knew all about business and the need for working capital. He worked for a successful shoe business back in Pennsylvania. He knew how important it was to have productive enterprises to provide an economic foundation for a community. He decided to recruit other Mennonite businessfolk from North America. He organized trips for several of them to visit Paraguay and see for themselves what could be done. These visitors immediately saw the need, and just as quickly saw a way for them to fit in.
     They formed a new organization – called MEDA – that would provide not only capital funds but also personal engagement to develop enterprises.
     Loans and investments were made. Members were assigned to sponsor certain projects and to visit their partners to provide ongoing encouragement. As the loans were repaid, other projects were proposed and new loans were made.
     The first project was the Sarona Dairy in Paraguay’s Fernheim Colony. Native Paraguayan bush cattle produced only a couple of quarts of milk per day. MEDA formed a partnership with local farmers to clear some bushland and import a high-grade bull for cross-breeding. Before long, milk production was boosted to several gallons a day. If you go to Paraguay today, and eat breakfast at a four-star hotel in Asuncion, you may be served yogurt or chocolate milk from one of the numerous Mennonite-owned dairies. Today, two-thirds of Paraguay’s dairy production comes from the Mennonite colonies.
     The next project was to help a small undercapitalized tannery make leather from cattle hides. Erie Sauder recalled that before the tannery was built the people used to stretch out cattle hides to dry in the sun, but wild animals would come at night and chew them up.
    A cattle operation and a tannery led quite logically to MEDA’s third project, a shoe factory to make shoes, boots, saddles and motorcycle seats from the leather from the tannery. You can see they had a few ideas about vertical integration. By the late 1970s the factory was producing more than 600 pairs of shoes a month.
     And so it went.

     The need for MEDA’s brand of help was immense, and invitations came from all over the globe. Soon MEDA found itself working in Africa. Eventually there would be more than 100 projects in places like Tanzania, Zaire, Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, working with the poorest of the economically active.
     Along with its success, MEDA learned important lessons.
     One painful discovery was that loans were often made by local committees on the basis of family ties, or friendship, or even to augment authority. We learned that if you give a village pastor the combination to the safe you are combining spiritual power with economic power. When this combination is abused, it is a very potent brew. MEDA learned to practice sound lending based on business criteria.
     The Africa years also taught important lessons about dependency – lessons that not enough well-meaning agencies have learned. Some borrowers thought North American money was a magic currency that did not have to be repaid. Debts were seen as an imposition rather than as an obligation. Sometimes tough love was needed – “If you don’t repay, we can’t lend to your neighbors.” MEDA had to convey what some of us learned as children – there is no Santa Claus.
     Today we are known worldwide for, among other things, micro-enterprise development, having been a pioneer of this movement. We helped prove that the poor are bankable.
     One of my favorite client stories is of Vincenta Pacheco of Bolivia. I met her twice – first in 1990, and then 10 years later. She had been injured in a kitchen fire and needed money to pay her medical bills. A small loan from MEDA enabled her to buy sewing equipment so she could set up shop as a tailor. The additional income covered her medical costs and eventually enabled her to create some jobs for her neighbors.
     A decade later I went back to Bolivia on an evaluation mission. I asked the local staff if Vincenta was still around. Yes, she was. I went to visit her. Her little shop had expanded and she had created more jobs. I asked if she still needed microfinance loans. “Oh no,” she said, proudly. “Now when I need to upgrade equipment or buy fabric, I use my savings.”
    That is music to our ears. We like to work ourselves out of a client.

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Improving Workplaces and Working Conditions for Young Employees

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This blog is a follow-up to one posted on 13 January 2015 titled “One Workplace At A Time” by Shaunet Lewinson featuring the E-FACE project.

The Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE) implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihoods. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18. One E-FACE intervention focuses on improving workspaces and working conditions for young workers using a three-component system that places young workers rights and safety at the forefront, while creating a participatory environment for both the young employees and their employers to get involved in the development of a safe workplace. The diagram below provides an overview of the 3 components (also referenced in previous blog).

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The Northern Myth

This past week and a half I took holiday to attend weddings, and it was great to catch up with everyone from back home. I come from a small town, so I received numerous questions about the bike trip. Some examples include: “What is your average km per day?” “What were the biggest challenges you faced?” “Where do you go to the washroom?” “Have you seen any wildlife?” Presumptions also arise, “The Prairies are flat,” “Northern Ontario is desolate,” “You must have a support vehicle.”

It’s surprising the angst I had before this trip. One example is how scared I was of Northern Ontario before, and during, the trip up until arriving in the province. I was scared that we wouldn’t find towns, cafes, or any sort of food. Bears, wolves, and moose petrified me. I thought we would be cycling for days without seeing people. I was utterly and completely wrong.

Northern Ontario has been my favorite part of this trip and created many dear memories. I am a proud Canadian and extremely proud to now say I am from Ontario. Coming from the Sandbanks, I personally believed I was spoiled, and I am, but there are many more beaches across Ontario. In Terrace Bay we set up our tents on the beach and swam in Lake Superior. In White River, where Winnie the Pooh originated, we took a five-hour break from cycling to enjoy the sandy beach of White Lake Provincial Park. In Marathon, we camped right on the water. The beauty of Tobermory shocks me. I have pictures on social media, and its beauty blows everyone away. It is a gorgeous, turquoise area on Lake Ontario with caves and cliff jumping. What’s more surprising is that I never knew of Tobermory even though it isn’t that far from me. It took us a month to get across Northern Ontario, and WE ARE STILL HERE. The majority of the time we camped along beaches like these.

There have been a few milestones on this trip: finishing the Rockies, going over Summits, and detouring to Saskatoon, among others. One milestone that was extremely important was arriving in Thunder Bay. This is the halfway mark across Canada, as well as where Terry Fox decided to end his run to fight cancer. When we went to the monument, overlooking the sleeping giant, I was deeply touched and felt a wave of emotions. I had goose bumps on my arms. What Terry Fox did was extraordinary, and I am only getting a glimpse of his trip from this ride. I felt like crying because I was so overwhelmed with emotions standing there and looking at the statue. Another epic achievement for me was going across the Che Cheman Ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. This signified that the hardest parts of the trip were over, conquering the mountains, facing headwinds (sometimes for days) in the Prairies, and going through the hilly Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. We took the night ferry at 10pm so that we were able to stay outside and look at the stars while we talked about our accomplishments and how surreal it was that we had made it this far. Now we are headed out East, and there is less than a month left of the trip.

I look forward to its beauty, and I recommend all Ontarians, and the rest of Canadians, to visit North West Ontario and take your time to see it.

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Northern Ontario

As we sit here looking at Georgian Bay, I am in disbelief that I made it through Northern Ontario. For me, the ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory was a major milestone in this journey. I thought if I could just make it there, I could see myself making it to St. John’s. We will still have challenges and we will still have hard days, but from here on out, I can look back and remember all that I have overcome thus far.

As we enjoy a much-needed day off at Cyprus Lake in Tobermory, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, I reflect on so many amazing experiences I have had in the last three weeks. As we crossed the border to Northern Ontario, I felt my stomach tighten into a million knots. We had been warned about the shoulders on the road, the bugs that never go away and the crazy truck drivers that will drive us right off the road.

Somehow though, they forgot to tell us about the unimaginable beauty of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There was beauty in the natural scenery we were surrounded by, there was beauty in the hearts of everyone we met and there was beauty in the company of our fellow cyclists.

Through Northern Ontario, there are not too many choices of routes to take, so we seemed to run into different cyclists, all with their own story. The most amazing part of this whole journey to me is how everything seems to happen exactly when it is supposed to. There is no question that God is listening to everyone praying for us. As we were entering into what I expected to be the scariest part of the whole trip, we connected with the perfect people to keep our spirits high.

First, it starts with a plan of where to camp for the night, then a spot to meet up for the next night. Suddenly, we’re figuring out what our next week will look like together. Surrounded by beautiful, inspiring people, the days seem to fly by and before we knew it, we were on the ferry to Tobermory.

With too many stories to tell, all I can do is thank all of those people that I met along way who kept me going one more hour, one more day and one more province. The closer we felt to each other, the more we were able to open up. All of us needed to find this new community for different reasons: Some for a day, some for a week and some for the whole province. The goodbyes were never fun, but the memories made are ones that are making this into the summer I had always imagined...full of funny stories, tough challenges and new friends from all over.

The hills were big, there were a lot of bugs and the shoulders weren’t great, but none of that seems to bring us down from the best summer of our lives. Northern Ontario has taught me to be patient, to let go of what I cannot change and to trust that I will be okay. When I am able to let go of my fears and worries, I find ways to overcome challenges that I never thought imaginable. As we treat ourselves to a day off in Tobermory, suddenly St. John’s doesn’t seem so far away.

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Can MEDA’s Approach Reduce Child, Early and Forced Marriage?

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There are nearly 70 million child brides worldwide and if current trends continue, 142 million more will join them in the coming decade.1 Married adolescent girls are among the most vulnerable groups in society. They face numerous risks, including early pregnancy, higher maternal mortality and heightened risk of domestic violence and sexually transmitted disease. Their future potential and that of their community and nation, are cut short.

Early and forced marriage usually marks the end of a girl’s education, diminishing her long-term opportunities and sentencing her and her children to lifelong hardships. Often isolated to the domestic sphere, married girls may be able to engage in income generating activity, but will have no control over their income, no awareness of market systems, and no buffer for weathering economic shocks.

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From Nicaragua to a Hutterite Colony

In 2013, I was in Nicaragua as an Impact Assessment Intern with MEDA. Near the end of my internship, I went to Little Corn Island on the Atlantic Ocean. This is where I met Colleen and Glen from Vancouver Island. There were kind and generous and took me out for meals. Last year, they returned to Nicaragua and they contacted me with advice on where to go.

When Mary and I started our bike trip at Mile 0 in Victoria, they came to support us and wish us well. Along our route we stay with people we know, sometimes people we don’t know, and camp. We were going through Elrose, Saskatchewan where Colleen is originally from. There is a Hutterite Colony in Kyle, a town a few kilometers south of Elrose.

For those of you who don’t know what Hutterite is, like myself before, it is a community that has an average of 130 members who live and work together in a community farming, raising livestock and producing manufactured goods. Their daily life centers around community. For example, when we were eating, it is with the whole community in a large dining hall. They attend church every day for half an hour and for two hours on Sundays. Hutterites have a typical dress that they wear – you can see the women’s outfit in our picture of Mary and I.

Colleen grew up as a family friend of members of this colony and had called the Pastor to see if it would be okay if we visited. It was such an amazing experience. They gave us a tour of the farm, fed us and dressed us up as Hutterites.

While we were visiting, the colony was building a separate colony. Hutterites have up to 100 people in their colony and once they reach this point, they separate. There are two different pastors and a certain name is chosen from the two. Whoever is in that group with the pastor goes to the new colony.

I had a million questions and was amazed how they were almost self- sustaining and had learned different skills within the community. The Hutterites were welcoming and generous. One of the men had a golf cart and he toured us around the whole community. Sometimes I found it hard to understand anything. They speak low- German and it was the first time I had ever heard this type of accent. I tried speaking with the children, but kids under the age of six don’t speak any English – I didn’t realize this and had spent a while trying to talk to them.

We spent four hours with the colony and then we were off to Elrose, where they connected us with a family to stay with. All of the girls around our age walked our bikes to the entrance to wish us good luck.

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Child Safe Certification

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Using social-impact certification to reduce child labor in the traditional textile industry of Ethiopia

The use of social-impact certification as a marketing tool to entice consumers into making purchasing choices that are sensitive to social and environmental issues is a growing trend. The E-FACE1 project's 'child safe' certification is geared towards this trend in an effort to reduce child labour and promote change in the traditional textile industry. Although laws are in place to protect Ethiopian children engaged in labor, enforcement of these regulations is inconsistent, meaning many children and youth are left to be exploited.

E-FACE has assisted a group of designers, retailers, and traders in creating a certification standard and establishing a business model that promotes sustainability in the textile production process. Establishing a child safe certification exposed MEDA clients to a formal and internationally recognized certification system, similar to other popular social marketing programs, such as The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), Good Weave, and Fair for Life. This exposure created the necessary peer network and support for the promotion of 'child safe' textiles as a competitive marketing edge for E-FACE clients.

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The Legendary 26

On Friday, June 19th, I had my 26th birthday in Regina, Saskatchewan. The day before was the hardest day I had ever had on this trip.

We faced the strongest head winds when we were heading from Saskatoon to Davidson: We were biking 15km/hr when normally we average 25-30km/hr. Having heads winds rather than tail winds can really make a big difference. After seven hours in strong winds, we had biked 115km; in comparison, another day we did 160km in six hours with the wind in our favour.

I was extremely exhausted the next day, my birthday. I didn’t feel like riding the 130km to Regina at all. On the bike ride, I received numerous amounts of birthday wishes from my family, friends, MEDA staff and individuals from Ghana. These I remember quite vividly as, “Our Ghana Family wishes you a happy birthday.” The encouraging wishes helped me push through to Regina and I was then greeted by the wonderful Good family.

I was already feeling pretty excited to get to Regina, not only to relax. We had met Jen Good this past November at the MEDA Convention in Winnipeg and I had stayed in contact with her during the year. I was eager to get to her home as she had planned many things for us. Jen, Shawn, Dawson, Natasha, and Mitchel opened their home to us.

Once we had our heavenly showers, we ate and then we were off to a Saskatchewan Riders football game. It was the last exhibition game and was against Calgary. The Good family prepared us for the game with Riders t-shirts. Thank goodness we had them because we would have been the only ones not wearing green.

I’m so thankful for all the wonderful messages and calls I received from everyone. These kind words of encouragement help to push me through the difficult bike days.
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Prairie Times: Mary Fehr

MEDA followed up with Bike to GROW to find out how they’re fairing at the end of the Prairies– Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This time, Mary shares her insights...

How did biking in the Prairies compare to biking in the Rockies?
It was wonderful. I finally feel I have a rhythm. I get into my cadence and I can just cruise and let my mind wander. I now feel at peace enough that my bike is going to hold together and I can enjoy the beauty of the fields around me.

How well has your body and mind adjusted to this daily physical endurance?
My body has been feel great, a few sore knees and a few scrapes but nothing to complain about. My mind is loving it. The prairies may get boring in a car but on a bike, each new field is a new excitement and the sky is forever changing and shaping in different ways.

What has it been like spending every day for almost two months with Sarah?
Amazing. I don’t know that there is anyone else I could do this ride with. We don’t get along and agree with each other every step of the way, but we work through and communicate about everything. We are aware of each other’s moods and are learning what we both need in different situations. For instance, I know that Sarah’s mood is directly correlated to the speed she is biking: When she is in a good mood, I can never catch her, but when she is tired or hungry or frustrated, I am able to stick with her or even worse... pass her.

How has it been connecting with MEDA supporters and introducing others to MEDA?
I don’t know what were going to do after this trip because no one will be asking what we are doing and why. I love when I get to share the work of MEDA and my personal experience as a previous intern. It is so easy to share our goal and look to get others involved because I am so passionate and confident that the money is going to improve so many women’s lives.

How is cooking for yourselves on the road?
This is interesting. We are very different eaters. So far, there has been many small towns that we can usually plan lunch around but come Northern Ontario, we will be doing much more of the cooking ourselves. I am sure we will have many conversations about what we both need to function in the best possible way. We will both compromise so that each of us has the fuel we need to get through the next day. Then, when we see a restaurant, we’ll indulge.

Is it hard biking carrying all of your own gear and belongings?
At the beginning, I couldn’t believe how heavy it was but now, I feel empty without it! It has become so natural that I don’t even notice it anymore, unless I pack up to quickly – in which case I am usually heavily left or right sided, and I notice that almost immediately.

How often do you stop for breaks during the day?
We try to stop every hour just to stand up, maybe eat a snack and make a little pit stop on the side of the highway. So in the Prairies, it has been every 25km.

What do you do when you don’t have a pre-arranged place to stay?
We would camp but more often then not, we have met people along the way that have offered us a place to stay or to connect us with someone in a future town. We are incredibly lucky and supported!

What do you do on your days off?
Laundry and rest. We are usually pretty exhausted on our days off that we don’t have much time for other activities but we did get to a Rodeo in Regina that was amazing!

What is one new thing you’ve learned about yourself?
I have learned that my mood is determined based on my electrolyte level. As I become dehydrated, I find myself getting upset at things that are really not an issue. As soon as I am able to get some electrolytes back in my body, those same issues no longer frustrate me. I am sure Sarah has learned this about me far quicker then I did but we both have an understanding. There is “hangry” and there is “angry” – both are valid emotions.

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Praxis Series - Entry 3: Is there a business case for youth services? – We think so!


Youth under the age of 30 comprise over 50% of the global population. However, when thinking about offering financial services targeted at this age group, financial service providers (FSPs) often overlook this up-tapped reservoir, particularly in rural areas.

MEDA's YouthInvest project worked closely with Moroccan Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) – Fondation Ardi, Attadamoune and INMAA – to explore questions around the feasibility of integrating youth into their portfolios and whether this made good business sense. Through intensive discussions with MFI management and tailored frontline staff training, we discussed the benefits of working with youth, as well designing new financial credit products that would enhance the MFIs' bottom line.

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The Summits and the Wind

We hit a milestone two days ago when we reached the British Columbia and Alberta border. To reach this goal, we had one last summit to climb.

We like being mentally prepared – we always ask people how the summits are and what the elevation levels will be like. For example, will we have gradual climbs, steep climbs, or rollercoaster hills? Could it all be flat (not likely)? Usually, people warned us about large climbs that would take us most of the day, Coquihalla Summit being one of them.

In total, we had three summits. Don't get me wrong, most days in the Rockies were a struggle, but at the end we always reached our goal and were on time with our schedule. Once we got to our location, we were filled with happiness and we always appreciate the beauty of the surrounding area. There is something about manpower and sweat that makes the end goal that much more awarding. Out of the three summits, we didn't hit our last one until our last day in BC, coming out of Fernie.

Crowsnest Pass Summit is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border. The elevation of Crowsnest is 1, 358 meters. Everyday we try to be mentally prepared for the toughest day. We were also not avid cyclists beforehand (even though we trained for a year), thus some climbs and routes are harder for us sometimes. It also helps to be prepared so that you're not disappointed when you see a 7km, 15km, or 30km climb ahead of you that could take you 4 hours. Each summit limit has a description with the name of the mountain and the elevation level. This is when we know we've done the hardest work there is to do in the day and then we can celebrate.

We crossed the Crowsnest Pass and then 2km later we were in Alberta. I didn't believe that that was it and we were done. Either the climb wasn't hard, or we have become stronger and have dealt with a lot harder climbs. I think it's a combination of everything. This is a large milestone for us – we learned how to cycle in the Rockies.

Now we are happy we are in the Praries where the terrain is a lot easier, however we have a new challenge. Someone in Alberta told us a joke that "everyone walks sideways here." They were referring to the wind. Our first day in Alberta, yesterday, coming into Lethbridge, had 22km winds against us. Lethbridge is known for being one of the windiest cities. We cycled 99km into Lethbridge from Pincher Creek, just outside the BC border in Alberta. I struggled a lot mentally and physically too. I'm not use to the wind and cycling continuously, at least in the Rockies we had a 20km break when we went down the mountains. Alberta and Saskcatchewan will be a new challenge, but I look forward to the new scenery and continuing to meet new people.

One province down, nine to go!

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