One of the projects that I am currently working on here in Nicaragua is a case study of MiCrédito’s social products. In the world of microfinance, these include products that are designed to meet the needs of clients belonging to specific social groups. MiCrédito targets women, youth, and rural communities through three innovative products: Women Entrepreneurship Loans, MiCrédiEstudios (Student Loans), and Sanitation Loans. Women Entrepreneurship loans support women who have a business idea, but not the capital, to build their first business. The MiCrédiEstudios product offers financing for the final two years of university education as well as funding options for youth entrepreneurship, equipment purchase, language courses, and further education through Masters and PhD programs. Finally, through its Sanitation product, MiCrédito provides low-interest loans designed to allow families to replace latrines with high-efficiency toilets, improving family health and hygiene. You can learn more about MiCrédito’s social products here.
Subcategories from this category:Ghana, Canada, United States, Peru, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Zambia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Tanzania, Haiti, Myanmar (Burma), Uganda, Nigeria, Pakistan, Columbia, Jordan
I have officially been in Dar es Salaam as MASAVA’s newest intern for five weeks. Full disclosure: this is my first time to Tanzania, and indeed Africa. As is the case with any new adventure, being here is unbelievably exciting. I have battled the cacophonous streets markets in city center, sweated under the intense heat playing soccer, and traveled to an island closeby for some fresh fish and chips. Amidst all this fun, I’ve had the chance to learn about and take part in a very interesting project.
The purpose of the MASAVA Project is to tackle Vitamin A deficiency in rural Tanzania. 34% of Tanzanian children aged 6 – 59 months and 37% of women aged 15 - 49 are Vitamin A deficient due to inadequate diets. Consequently, they suffer from night blindness, weak immunity, and a host of other psychological and physical symptoms.
I am exactly one month into my internship with MEDA partner MiCrédito in Nicaragua and I have fallen in love with this country and its people! My first four weeks have been a whirlwind, but I am grateful for the diverse experiences, both personal and professional, that I have gained already. My days have been filled with everything from touring churches in colonial cities to visiting MiCrédito clients at their farms and businesses.
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.
When I first got off the plane at Yangon airport, jetlagged and exhausted from the 42 hour journey, what shocked me most was being handed a stack of 1,000 kyat ($1CAD) bills at the currency exchange - around 500 bills to be exact. Unable to stuff this into my wallet or fanny pack, I asked the currency exchange clerk if they had larger bills, to which she replied “We ran out.”
This was my first glimpse into the nearly non-existent banking services of Myanmar. They say that frontier economies develop in the following order; telecommunications, banking, power & hydro, and finally, consumer goods. While the internet connection is slowly starting to improve here and power cuts have dropped from an average of three times a day to just three times a week, the banking sector is still lagging behind. Decades of hyperinflation and mismanagement have made everyday citizens weary of using existing banks and financial institutions.
To the middle and upper class, the low utilization of banks presents certain problems. For example, large payments must be made in cash since checks cannot be processed without a checking account. An expatriate once recounted to me the story of the first time he prepaid rent – he loaded an entire taxi with cash, went to the landlord’s house, and waited for her to hand count all of it three times in the span of four hours. Getting all this cash isn’t easy, either. Another expatriate had to visit a local illegitimate businessman with a basement stuffed with cash and jewels in order to obtain enough cash to pay the lease on her newly purchased hotel.
Everything is bigger in Texas – including this year’s convention! This fall, MEDA is hosting Business as a Calling: Women Changing the World. What could be bigger than world-renowned speakers, fine dining, tours of cutting edge businesses and times for networking with emerging and seasoned leaders alike? Nothing of course!
While the seasons are changing at home, jump back in time with us to sunshine and warm weather as you bask in the history, music and culture of San Antonio. The city’s famous Riverwalk and historic sites provide a premier backdrop for the festivities to come.
Among these festivities are a group of world-renowned speakers, women who will share about emerging topics at the intersection of faith and business. This year, we are ecstatic to hear from Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Sara Wenger Shenk, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary president and Sally Armstrong, winner of three Amnesty International Canada Media Awards.
The breathtaking view from my backyard in Kololo, Kampala. I live on a hill top, where there is fresh air, chirping birds and a view of the city of 7 hills. The sun shines through my windows every morning, so waking up is always a pleasure.
Chapati is a fried pancake made with flour, water, and oil and cooked on an iron hot plate. These were from a chapatti stand in Jinja, Uganda. They are so good that I always have at least one every day!
This is the view outside of my bedroom window. To the right is the “Myanmar Plaza”; the largest shopping complex in Myanmar that opened just this year. To the left is Inya lake; a manmade reservoir built by the British when they colonized Yangon and named it “Rangoon”.
This little joint is a quick walk from my office and only set up from 6-11am in the mornings. For 700 kyat ($0.7CAD) you can get a full breakfast!
Mohinga is the most popular Burmese breakfast dish. Consisting of fish soup, rice noodles, deep fried chick pea crackers, coriander, mysterious crunch vegetables and a handful of chili flakes; it’s definitely one of my favorites.
From August 26 to September 1, GROW’s communications team was busy visiting the offices of all our Key Facilitating Partner organizations in order to facilitate a refresher training and capacity building discussion on MSCs. MSC is short for Most Significant Change stories, and is MEDA’s version of a client success story. The template features three main sections: relevant background of client, change the client is reporting and why the change is significant to him/her. Basically it’s one of the ways we collect qualitative (or narrative data) and it allows us to track the project’s success on an individual basis. In addition to individual stories, a few are tracked over the life of the project in order to provide a complete view of the impact.
KFPs are required to submit stories quarterly, and, currently, we have over 40 stories in our catalogue that highlight diverse project areas including conservation agriculture, gender, farming as a business, our value chain partners, technology adoption and financial literacy, among others. Last year, the KFPs all attended a training session on MSCs conducted by GROW’s Senior M&E Manager from HQ and its former in-country M&E Manager. Story quality definitely improved after this workshop and they have been gaining more and more traction, even over the eight months I’ve been in the country. Stories were shared by the KFPs at our annual PAC meeting, they are included in our Annual Report, shared with our donor and partners, appear on our social media feeds, are included in GROW and MEDA fundraising appeals and requested by other managers from HQ for various other purposes.
Thanks for being part of the MEDA family. I thought you might be interested to hear about our new work in Ukraine. Just a few short weeks ago MEDA gift officers Mike Miller and Bob Kroeker were part of a group of 16 travelers to see MEDA’s Ukraine Horticulture Business Development Project (UHBDP).
Ukraine holds special meaning for many Mennonites, including some of those in their group. As they toured the old Mennonite colonies and heritage spots, including the historic Chortitza oak tree – a landmark meeting place, a Mennonite cemetery and the Mennonite Centre, the group replayed old family stories in their heads. For Bob, it was particularly bittersweet, as he walked in the land of his grandparents, who in 1929 had fled for their lives with their young family – including Bob’s mother, then aged four.
As you know, it is early days for our Myanmar project, Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW). But after a period of dotting i’s and crossing t’s as we built our team and laid our foundation, I am excited that we are beginning the “real work” and seeing areas that, with your generous support, will make a difference for the lives of women in Myanmar.
In June, MEDA helped to support the first-ever vegetable and fruit trade fair in Southern Shan state, where I met a woman grower and mango processing operator. Trade fairs are a great way to network and we made many connections, including one with an organic buyer who has since met with our team to explore opportunities. I saw a lot of potential at this fair, but what I didn’t see were many women farmers! So next year, we want to sponsor women to attend the event, raise their profile, and even create an award for best woman farmer of the year. While other organizations may do similar work to us, no one is focused on women, reminding me of MEDA’s unique opportunity in Myanmar.
Some of IMOW’s work will also focus on women’s savings group. In one village we visited, the first female politician was just elected (pictured below). She attributes her decision to run to the increased confidence and speaking skills she gained from participating in the savings group. MEDA will be working to help groups like hers go to the next level and encourage even more women to take leadership roles. We hope our efforts in villages in other parts of the country where there are no savings groups at all will result in similar stories of confidence-building and empowerment.
Recently we visited two villages where we heard familiar stories of women’s economic roles in Myanmar: Women share equally in farming, are active in the marketplace, are recognized by men as better price and deal negotiators, and typically handle household finances. Yet the man is still the head of the household and is more visible. He is the one who attends meetings and receives training to build his capacity. He receives invitation to events such as the kind of trade fair we participated in. Women remain behind the scenes. But strongly behind the scenes.
Perhaps this G. D. Anderson quote I read just last week sums it up best:
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
On our last morning, we visited the village of Tongo Hills and the nearby Tengzug Shrine. In order to go inside the community, we had to pay a fee and ask the chief himself for permission to enter his palace and take pictures. He was an older gentleman who looked a bit like a professor with his round glasses and white hair. He was reclining on cushions on his throne where we introduced ourselves and shook his hand. The chief has 23 wives, about 150 children and there are about 350 people who live in his compound. Tradition dictates the buildings are not allowed to have thatch roofs and are made completely of mud, with flat roofs where people sleep outside during the warm season.
Part One of a two-part series on an awesome adventure by our interns in Ghana.
Hi friends! Janelle and Sarah here. July 1st is Republic Day in Ghana (and also Canada Day) so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and travel to the Upper East Region. This area falls directly east of the Upper West, where we live, and borders Burkina Faso to the north and Togo to the east. Our destination was Bolgatanga and nearby Paga, which are located about smack-dab in the middle of the region. Even though it’s only a few short hours away from both Wa and Tamale, the terrain is vastly different from any we have seen in Ghana so far. There are rocks everywhere! Nevertheless, it seems to be more fertile there, or at least they have received more rain than in the Upper West, because everything was very green and the maize and millet were already knee-high.
My name is Daniel Simonson, and I am the new Gender/Business analyst intern for the MASAVA (Mafuta ya Asili ya Alizeti yenye Vitamini A, which translates to “Natural Sunflower Oil Fortified with Vitamin A”) project based in Babati, Tanzania. I just completed my first week, and I finally have a little time to catch you, the supporters of MEDA, up on the ins and outs of life as an intern.
Part Two of a Two-Part Series about our new FEATs Project in Ghana.
High quality tree seedlings have a significant impact on trade success and economic growth. With funding provided by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, MEDA has partnered with international tree nursery company, Tree Global, to produce and supply high quality cocoa, shea, cashew, and rubber tree seedlings to Ghanaian farmers.
MEDA’s goal for the project is to improve the economic well-being of 100,000 male and female farmers in these four tree crop industries over a span of 6 years. With an emphasis on women and youth, MEDA hopes to distribute 21,000,000 seedlings over the life of the project. Since 2015, the project’s seedling supply partner (Tree Global) has been using leading edge growing technology aimed at producing high quality seedlings that grow faster, have higher survival rates, earlier maturity and increased yields than conventional seedlings. MEDA has deployed iFormBuilder, an electronic data collection tool to collect seedling performance metrics for analysis in partnership with selected academic and research institutions. The results of this analysis would contribute to the project’s policy work and would be disseminated at selected fora.
As part of the project, MEDA is working to facilitate the development of a sustainable seedling distribution network by supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs with matching grants to establish seedling distribution centres called Community Distribution Nurseries or CDNs to get these high quality seedlings into the hands of farmers. Using an inclusive market systems development approach, MEDA is also partnering with key stakeholders including government agencies and industry groups, for example the Ghana Cocoa Board, Global Shea Alliance and African Cashew Alliance to name a few, to make the project successful and sustainable. Through partnerships with major international companies such as Mondelez – makers of Oreo, Toblerone and Cadbury - MEDA is helping farmers to gain access to high quality seedlings and to thus increase their productivity and incomes for years to come. Building the capacity of farmers is vital to their sustainable economic growth and well-being. Incentive programs such as discount coupons offered by the project to farmers, enable them to procure and plant high quality seedlings. Supplementary training on good agronomic and environmental practices as well as business skills equips farmers with the knowledge they need to make their business flourish.
With tree seedling production in Ghana residing at the apex of West African trade and sustainable economies for individuals and communities, MEDA continues to prioritize this work as part of our larger mission to provide business solutions to poverty. So the next time you are wandering the aisles for your favorite chocolate bar or shopping for new tires, remember the farmers in Ghana working to provide better livelihoods for their families and the shared prosperity that occurs when trade, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship succeed.
Part One of a Two-Part Series on our new FEATS Project in Ghana.
Roaming the aisles of the grocery store, one might not expect to find a chocolate bar or shea lotion sitting next to a collection of crisp apples. However, these products unsuspectingly originate from fruit trees just like their apple relatives. Residing on the West African coast, Ghana’s tropical climate allows for cocoa, shea, rubber and cashew trees to thrive, creating an essential export for the country and providing market opportunities for farmers.
MEDA Myanmar currently works in two states – Shan State in the North and Kayin State in the South. I have been here for almost two months now, and I’ve had the privilege of visiting villages in both of these areas and observing the stark differences between them. While Southern Shan villagers have been blessed with the assistance of numerous NGOs due to the lack of armed conflict in the area, Kayin villagers have been tormented for over 50 years by the ongoing conflict. Burdened by a shared border with Thailand, Kayin’s Christian rebel group (the Karen National Union) and Buddhist rebel group (the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) use proceedings from controlling border trade to fund weaponry used to fight the Burmese Army.