MEDA focuses on reducing barriers to economic inclusion for vulnerable populations, specifically women, youth and rural populations. We work with diverse partners, particularly the private sector, to create sustainable market access for our end clients.

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International Women's Day Series

Keyhole Gardens and Marital Harmony in Northern Ghana

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

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Scaling in Practice

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A few weeks ago I attended the annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit in Washington DC, hosted by Making Cents International. This event is always a great convening place for the who’s who in youth in development, including: funders, implementers, policy makers, youth leaders, companies, educators, and researchers. This year, the event brought together over 450 stakeholders from 50 countries to exchange knowledge, effect practice and improve the performance of youth economic opportunity programming worldwide.

MEDA’s Senior Project Manager of Youth and Financial Services, Nicki Post, with Rani Deshpandi of Save the Children and Ata Cisse of UNCDF, – panelists at the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, 2015

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Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution: Unpaid Care Work and Greater Economic Inclusion for Women

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From Sept 30-Oct 1, the SEEP Network hosted its 2015 Annual Conference in Arlington, VA. For those that are not familiar, the SEEP network is “a global network of international practitioner organizations dedicated to combating poverty through promoting inclusive markets and financial systems.” This year’s technical topics followed four tracks: Financial Services and Technology to Promote Resilience, Private Sector Partnership Models, Small-scale Producers in Resilient Agricultural Systems, and Women's Economic Empowerment.

Among the many great discussions and presentations was a plenary session on Thursday, Oct. 1 entitled Beyond Access: Catalyzing Women’s Economic Empowerment in Market Systems, which had as one of its panelist Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender. Caren brilliantly opened the session with a great introduction to women’s empowerment and why it should be a focus for development. In her remarks, she cited a recent McKinsey report estimating that if women could participate in the economy in the exact same way that men do (i.e., complete economic parity), it would add up to $28 trillion to the annual global GDP. In other words, this would add to the global economy roughly the economies of the US and China combined. (1)

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The Role of Parents and Families in Youth Financial Inclusion

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.
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Should we be working in Myanmar?

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

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As Myanmar slowly opens its doors to the world, can it also leapfrog some of the biggest failures in development?

One of MEDA’s newest projects to launch in Asia is in Myanmar, also referred to as Burma.  A country in the midst of transition and change is slowly reducing barriers to foreign trade and influence, and opening its once closed borders to global firms. Myanmar now finds itself in the crossroads at the 21st century’s technology boom, with global powerhouse neighbours such as India and China, the country has a unique opportunity to learn and apply lessons learned in the entry to a globalized economy and marketplace. Managing the economic boom that will result with the influx of capital and infrastructure to ensure equitable distribution and equal access to new opportunities is no small challenge. And many international donors, such as the Canadian Government are seeking to provide support by facilitating economic growth in less developed areas, such as the country's ethnic states.

MEDA’s project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, focuses on reaching 25,000 women farmers and entrepreneurs in two of these states – Southern Shan and Kayin. MEDA plans to increase access to these new opportunities in rural areas of the country, targeting women in select value chains with high growth potential. And as the enabling environment gradually improves to foster private sector development, the potential for new economic opportunities for rural women and men also grows rapidly. Activities will focus on achieving women’s economic empowerment with the proven benefits to the larger household and community. As in other countries, women farmers in Myanmar have less access to land ownership but are able to access inputs, seeds, and extension services. However, gender differences in access to land and credit affect the relative ability of female farmers and entrepreneurs to invest, operate to scale, and benefit from growing market opportunities in their respective communities.

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Incentives, Subsidies, and Complementary Services to Promote Youth Financial Inclusion

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blogg, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in the world’s least developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access a range of economic opportunities over the course of their lives. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Usage and Dormancy of Youth Accounts

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blog, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Red Roads Over Green Hills: Contemplating Gender Equality in Ethiopia

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The state of the roads in Ethiopia’s Oromia region (a western region bordering South Sudan) are not for the faint of heart – nor week of spine. Worse yet was the speed with which our driver dodged crater-sized potholes and slip-slided through meters of slick red mud. This drive might have been a teeth-clenching test of endurance had it not been for the verdant green pastoral landscape that stretched out from the road on all sides. Having traveled in numerous countries in western and eastern Africa, I was more accustomed to views of dense, tropical jungles or semi-arid savannah, not to a landscape that more closely resembled Ireland with its greener-than-green fields dotted by grazing animals. The only striking difference being the dirt road that blazed like a red ribbon lain haphazardly over green velvet.

As our ancient Range Rover moved with alacrity through this landscape, my mind drifted back to the conversation I had had with my colleague on the airplane from Addis Ababa to Assosa. She had asked, innocently enough, about my other work at MEDA and I launched into a discussion about my projects and MEDA’s approach to women’s economic empowerment. This somehow took a turn to discussing the state of women in Pakistan (site of a MEDA value chain project focusing on women’s entrepreneurship), and as I discussed honor killings, acid attacks, and the Islamic custom of purdah (limiting women’s mobile outside the home), my colleague’s face became one of astonishment. I was surprised, however, that my colleague used this information as further evidence against Islam and not as a discussion point for women’s equality more broadly. Ethiopia, she informed me, did have this “problem.” While it may be true that Ethiopia doesn’t have the same kind of violence towards women witnessed in some parts of Pakistan, Ethiopia is not a shining example for the equitable treatment of women, despite being predominantly Christian (Muslims make up approximately 33%). While Christianity may not have as overt cultural practices segregating women, are not the subtle messages of submission and subservience on the part of women found throughout Christian teachings indicative of a pervasive, and deeply-rooted prejudice toward women?

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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

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“I want to provide more employment opportunities for struggling women and unemployed youth” stated forty-nine year old Faiza Al –Shgair who until June last year (2014) was a single mother struggling to raise her daughters in Tripoli.

Faiza is a graduate of the USAID Libya Women Economic Empowerment (LWEE) project and the winner of one of the matching grants awards. She won USD $13,000 to work on getting her catering business, ‘Almawasm’, running.

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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 programmingUnderstanding usage and dormancy of youth savings accountsUsing incentives, subsidies and complementary services to promote youth financial inclusionUnderstanding the role of parents and families in youth financial inclusion

A learning document was created to explore each topic, with full publications available here: http://www.meda.org/publications/seep-youth-and-financial-services-working-group 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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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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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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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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Praxis Series - Entry 3: Is there a business case for youth services? – We think so!

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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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