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

A 10 year Milestone: Helen Loftin’s Experiences Working with Women Empowerment Projects at MEDA

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It’s approaching the 10 year mark. That is, in February 2016, I will have been with MEDA and in the international development industry for 10 years. I began with the management of our small but mighty value chain development project in Pakistan, “Behind the Veil”. Its design and impact is held as an industry standard for effective pro-poor programming and for women’s economic empowerment and I shamelessly brag about it because I had nothing to do with its design. And as a newcomer to international development, to a Muslim country, and to Mennonites (MEDA), I imprinted in several ways on that project.

We’re much more alike than we are different. We say that often at MEDA when talking about the world around us, our work in it, and the motives and incentives that guide human behaviour.

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Linking Young Entrepreneurs with Nigerian Micro-Finance Banks

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Youth Unemployment in Cross River State was pegged at 46 percent by Senator Liel Imoke, the past governor of Cross River State in 2013 during the commissioning of the Central Bank of Nigeria sponsored Entrepreneurship Development Centres in Calabar.1

With little and near absence of employment opportunities in the Nigerian public sector, youth unemployment has become a great concern for the government of Cross River State Nigeria. While past governments made spirited efforts to find solutions to this through national and international collaborative programs on entrepreneurship and various skills acquisition programs; the population of urban and rural unemployment continues to increase. A conscious probing into the cause of the enigma of unemployment in the state points in the direction of a number of factors such as insufficient skills, access to finance, incompatible/unenforced policies, poor infrastructure, poor educational system, etc.

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Asrat's Story: Women As Key Market Actors

Asrat Tadese – Hombolarena Kebele, SNNPR, Ethiopia

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She stood at the door to her house as we approached and with a huge smile, welcomed us in. Asrat Tadese led us to a room that housed 34 egg-laying chickens that she had purchased from a chick supplier in Sodo town.

The room was probably 5 feet by 5 feet with some hay strewn over the floor, and feed and water were placed in small containers in the corner of the room. The room was easily one of the former bedrooms for Asrat’s children, but as a single parent, she was now using that room for poultry and her family slept in the third of the three-room house she owned. My colleague and I asked how she got into the poultry business. She explained how she had received training and support from her village extension officer on how to raise egg-laying chickens and was told with relatively little investment, she could begin making money as long as she cared for the chicks, fed them, kept them housed, and ensured they received proper vaccinations to ward off disease. She was convinced then, that chicken rearing was an excellent income generating opportunity and immediately decided to invest. With the help of the extension officer’s knowledge and connections, she was able to buy a “package” of fifty 45-day old chicks. She made connections to the university close to where she lived and through this, established a consistent buyer for the eggs her chickens soon began producing. Unfortunately, she explained, some of the chickens died due to disease, but by the time the chickens had been producing eggs for over two months, she had managed to sell enough eggs to make close to $75 – money that for her and her family could support their expenses for quite some time. Asrat shared that it was at this time that she was forced to sell her chickens because she had to travel to visit a sick relative. The sale of these chickens made enough money for her travels and a few additional expenses. Once she returned home after a number of weeks of caring for her family, she immediately purchased another fifty one-day old chicks. And these were the chicks we were looking at in the small room. Asrat explained that she was also involved in a number of other farming activities, as most Ethiopian smallholder farmers are, though she believed that her poultry business was an excellent income generating opportunity and was already having visions of expanding it in the near future.

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Impact Evaluation: YouthInvest’s 100 Hours to Success Training

In 2012, MEDA, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), received a grant to administer an impact evaluation (IE) of one of our youth employability interventions, 100 Hours to Success, a training program we developed on the YouthInvest project. Our donor, 3ie, conducts rigorous evaluations of initiatives across the development spectrum.YouthInvest 3

 
100 Hours to Success - a training of 100 hours, covering soft skills, entrepreneurship and financial education - was a key component of MEDA’s YouthInvest project in Morocco. The training provided youth between 15 and 25 years old with the necessary skills to facilitate their transition to either paid- or self-employment. Between 2009 and 2013, MEDA and its local partners trained over 23,000 young people from under-served regions of Morocco on 100 Hours to Success.
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Cautious Optimism – Youth Unemployment and Global Entrepreneurship Week 2015

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Background

Those of us working in youth economic opportunities have been reading about the increasingly alarming statistics on youth unemployment and underemployment. The headlines talk about the “global unemployment crisis facing youth” and articles warn of the “tsunami of youth unemployment” and its “scarring” effects. (1) Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi once told European trade leaders “Youth unemployment is a time bomb.” (2) Is this exaggeration or an appropriate forecast of what’s to come? Here are some facts: 

  • 75 million young people in the developing world are unemployed and hundreds of millions more are underemployed
  • Every year, 20 million young people enter the labour force in Africa and Asia alone
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, 80 percent of young workers work in the informal sector
  • Youth are three times more likely than adults to be unemployed
  • One in four young people cannot find work for more than US$1.25 a day. (3)

Yet global economic growth and poverty reduction over the next 15 years will have to be driven by today’s youth. How do we address these staggering numbers to support this population bulge in becoming economic drivers of success for tomorrow?

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Access and Marginalization: An Overview of Lessons Learned from the YouthSave Webinar

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On October 9th, 2015 USAID’s Microlinks platform, in association with The MasterCard Foundation and Save the Children, hosted a discussion and webinar titled, “Pathways to Development: Evidence from YouthSave.” The purpose of the event was to bring together researchers and practitioners to share their experiences and insight gained on youth savings, spurred by the completion of the 5-year YouthSave project.

YouthSave, "A Report of the YouthSave Consortium: YouthSave 2010-2015," (Oct 2015): pg 8.

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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 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: 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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