As the Business Development Intern on the FEATS project in Ghana, I had the opportunity to help an entrepreneur start a cashew aggregation business that will improve the lives of 250+ farmers and the lives of their families and communities. I supported this entrepreneur by developing the business strategy and operational plan to successfully and sustainably start his small business. In the process, I have learned a lot about the farming value chain and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and farmers in a developing country like Ghana.
Last week I had the opportunity to help MiCrédito welcome a MEDA Field Experience team to Nicaragua. As a MEDA intern, this was a chance to meet MEDA supporters from Canada and the United States, most of whom had never been to Nicaragua before. As I helped to interpret the management team’s presentation to our visitors, I felt proud to be involved in an institution that has had such an important impact on the lives of Nicaraguan micro-entrepreneurs. For me, MiCrédito’s work encapsulates the idea of MEDA’s “Business to the Power of 2” strategy. When the institution sees a need in the community, it uses enlightened business practices and entrepreneurial thinking to help people achieve their personal goals, thus building bridges out of poverty.
After seven months of living in Myanmar, it was finally time to bid farewell. As I looked outside the car window on my lone taxi ride to the airport, a wave of emotion overcame me as I passed dainty teashops and mega shopping centres – the latter of which were only erected during my stay here. There and then, I couldn’t help but feel I was saying goodbye to a person, rather than a place. A person with a vibrant yet humble personality, a disposition full of surprises, and most importantly, potential. If anything, I was saying goodbye to a turbulent teenager budding to adulthood.
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.
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.
FIFA’s U-17 Women’s World Cup was held in Jordan this past October. For the first time ever, these games were held in the Middle East and in a country that is currently surrounded by other nations experiencing much conflict and instability. In fact, the stadium in Irbid is mere miles away from the Syrian border and residents can often hear the sounds of bombs and artillery fire from across the border. I happened to have the good fortune to be in Jordan for the games and witness how young women footballers are regarded in a traditionally conservative part of the world. The experience was very emotional for me for a number of reasons.
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.
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.
Devex World conference. The website informed me this was the global development event of the year! From among its line-up of impressive speakers, the conference created five thematic tracks: Data Revolution, From Story-telling to Movement Building, New Funding Models, Innovating at Scale, and Business Transforming Development.On June 14, I made my way down to southwest Washington, DC to the Mead Center for American Theater to attend the
Needless to say, my interested was piqued and the conference did not disappoint.
MEDA is currently partnering with Cuso International in Nigeria on the Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) project. The Youth Entrepreneurship Business Support Plan (YEBSP) is one of the many activities aimed at improving access to finance for young entrepreneurs. The YEBSP has been designed and administered as a business plan competition for youth, between the ages of 18-35, who have completed or are currently enrolled in YouLead’s entrepreneurship training program. The YEBSP is meant to kick-start youth-led businesses in the natural resources sector with funds ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 naira (approximately CAD$400 -$1200).
The first and pilot phase of the YEBSP was launched in April 2016 and the results were recently announced on August 9, 2016 , after a long process of selection and verification.
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.