As part of our placement with Challenges Worldwide, each volunteer is a member of a committee, with a choice between communications, team building and impact. Our day-to-day purpose during the placement is supporting the growth and development of local businesses. Challenges recognises an opportunity to provide time to give back to other areas within the community, which is where our impact committees come into play. Split into two; Health and Education. As a member of the comms committee, I was given the privilege to attend the Health Impact Day, which was an insightful and accomplished event. I hope to share that experience with you as best I can.
After weeks of planning and preparation, the time had finally arrived for the Health Impact Day. There was a buzz of anticipation amongst the group as we gathered in the early hours in Ntinda. We picked up two representatives from Days for Girls, the charity we are supporting, to help us run the health sessions.
Days for Girls are dedicated to creating a more free, dignified and educated world, through providing lasting access to feminine hygiene solutions and health education. Being a taboo subject within Uganda, this charity wants to educate girls and boys alike about hygiene and menstrual health.
A short while later we had arrived at Central View school and set up a room to prepare for the sessions. The day was split into two parts. The first part was with both boys and girls with ages ranging from 13 to 16 and the second half with just the girls.
After an introduction about Challenges from Keebs and Annabell, session number one was on the importance of hygiene and staying healthy. Araphat and Alex led the demonstrations on hand washing followed by discussions on when to wash and why! We spoke about how to avoid illnesses such as malaria, by sleeping under a net and keeping the grass cut short, as this is where they breed.
The next session was looking at male and female reproductive systems. Led by volunteer Rita, we explained the different areas and looked at the changes the body will go through during puberty.
The third session for the morning was on menstrual health. It was important that the boys learn about the process girls go through in order to minimise the stigma surrounding the topic. It’s essential for them to be taught that it’s a normal process the body goes through and nothing to be ashamed of, especially not something to miss school for.
We had a break at this point, which is when the boys were free to go. The afternoon was all for the girls.
Kate started the session by demonstrating how the reusable sanitary pad worked, how and when to change it. Explaining the process of when to wash them and how to look after them. The pads are set to last for three years, but by teaching the girls to make them, they will be able to create more in the future.
Days for Girls started by showing the girls how to make the bags that they can keep the pads in. This helps to develop their sewing skills as well! They made drawstring bags of fantastic kitenge print. They explained that if the girls had these with them everyday, they would always be prepared and no one would think it had anything to do with their period. Once the girls had made the bags, with some assistance from the volunteers, we stopped for lunch.
At school, children are taught to eat with their hands. So, after teaching the importance of hand washing at the begining of the Health Impact Day, we ensured we had a make shift sink where the children could properly wash their hands before lunch, with assistance from Kate and Tanya. Us volunteers also ate with our hands, which is much harder than it looks!
We continued the afternoon with sewing the sanitary pads. The concentration from every girl in the room was amazing! The aim is to get the girls to replicate what they have learnt. Not everyone has the chance to take part in a day like this, so it’s important that the message is passed across.
Challenges Worldwide is an advocate for working towards the SDGs. In the last session, volunteer Peace explained what these were and which ones we had covered during the Health Impact Day, included clean water and sanitation, and health and well-being.
Days for Girls provide packs for the girls, which include a pair of pink pants and 7 more reusable pads. The volunteers gave these out to each girl, to put into their new bags! We asked a volunteer from the girls to explain and show everyone how they work and key things to remember. There was a very positive atmosphere throughout the day and the girls were very pleased with their new bags.
As the day drew to an end, we had some photo opportunities with the girls, before they left. It was a very successful day and everyone left with knowledge and a smile.
Amazing work from the impact team!
Written by Evie Robinson,
Business Support Associate, Uganda – 2017
[themify_box color=”purple”]If you would also like to travel where the challenges are, as Evie did, click here for more information and apply to our programme by the 7th of January.[/themify_box]
On Saturday 25th November the environmental committee kick-started cycle 12’s series of impact events. Titled Protect Our Planet, the event focused on illuminating a variety of environmental concerns here in Ghana, a topic that has long needed addressing. When turning to the statistics one is amazed at the dire environmental condition Ghana has found itself in. For example, of the 36,000 metric tons of plastic imported and manufactured in Ghana per year a measly 2% of it is recycled (in comparison to 63% and 62% in Austria and Germany respectively). A quick look at the streets of Accra will testify to these figures. This all came to a head in 2015 when a tragic flash flood triggered by a rubbish-filled drainage system resulted in the loss of 159 lives. Confronted with bleak figures such as this one cannot help but ask themselves “how do we even begin to tackle such an endemic issue?” During the event, a host of Ghana’s bright minds gathered to present their solutions to this pressing matter.
Whilst we have started on a rather morbid note it must be stressed the event was a positive success, emphasizing a message of hope rather than despair as is often the case when discussing the environment. One of the many shining stars at this event was Chineyenwa, an aspiring environmentalist who tackles the growing rubbish problem through the production of artistic works. Made of recycled waste these works illustrate a combination of her two passions: environmentalism and art. Yet, her efforts do not stop there. Taking the fight to environmental threats further she has been instrumental in establishing a Pan African waste management symposium and works with children aged 8-18 to educate them further on the problems facing the environment. From Chineyenwa we can learn that in order to impact environmental change we must act both at the higher and lower levels of society. After all, this is our planet to protect so why shouldn’t every individual be involved?
After speakers such as Chineyenwa, Richard Frimpong and Lovan Owusu-Takyi paved the way with a series of fascinating speeches. Speeches that not only highlighted the growing environmental concerns but went a step further to illustrate a number of solutions. It was time for a quick recess. Here a few businesses working on the Challenges’ programme put on an excellent spread of food. Special mention must go to Caris Gold who quenched everyone’s thirst with a delicious array of fruit juices. However, I digress.
With bellies filled and minds reinvigorated the event entered its final stage. The climax of this was a truly thought-provoking speech from keynote speaker Gideon Commey, founder of the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement. Focusing on environmental consciousness, Commey conveyed the perfect level of concern and hope, concluding that the current environmental situation could be utilised to stimulate growth in employment and technology. The applause he received after his speech was not only indicative of his own personal success but the success of the event the environmental impact committee strove so hard to bring together.
Overall the event was a major triumph which truly reflected the hard work of the individuals involved. Richard Frimpong, CEO of the waste management enterprise 21st Century initiatives, described the event as:
“A great and innovative way to address the environmental concerns we are facing, not just in Ghana, but across the globe.”
Not only was the event praised by external parties but internally as well. One of the invaluable coordinators of this event Ciara Farren described the day as an “overwhelming success”. Expressing particular thanks to the panel of speakers for their “inspiring and insightful talks” and to her team of fellow volunteers without whom the event would never have come together. On a personal note, I would like to thank the environmental committee for what can only be described as the perfect Saturday, which left environmental concerns in the forefront of my memory.
Mary Nayiga, 26, from Mukono Nabuti did her Bachelor in Development Studies. Before her Challenges Worldwide ICS placement, supporting Ugandan businesses, she was unemployed. “I had worked on some contracts but I had no previous experience of volunteering. I wanted to discover what it’s like to volunteer and to work alongside volunteers from the UK,” she shared.
During her placement, she worked with Mashambani Dairy Goats Farm, an enterprise that has been producing milk and yoghurt with locally sourced goats since 2016. Mary, together with her counterpart, did an evaluation of the organisation and made, as well as implemented, recommendations.
“The business needed support with organisational structure. The CEO does everything so she needed support to look at operations management. As a new business, marketing was a big focus of our consultation intervention,” Mary said.
She said that many people have never heard about goat milk or they do not know about their benefits. That is why part of her job was to talk with an identified targeted market and raise awareness about the product.
Mary shared with us that she “created awareness by visiting children’s homes which is one of the identified target markets. I personally visited 6 homes. I developed sales skills and followed-up with potential customers. Part of my work was to provide educational interventions to help them understand the benefits. The work I did around marketing, helped to raise awareness of the product.”
“My proudest moment during my placement was my first presentation. At first, I was very scared and I was feeling nervous as I have watched the previous volunteers deliver their presentations with confidence. However, I delivered my presentation to the business development team and I received positive feedback and comments. This was really encouraging and has helped improve my confidence in future public speaking opportunities,” Mary said.
Finally, Mary commented that the Challenges Worldwide ICS placement was a “great opportunity to discover individual strengths and weaknesses.” She also said that “the placement has changed me so much. It has widened my knowledge of the business world. I now know how to start up a business and how they are managed. As a result of my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement, I’m thinking of starting my own business with packed fruits. I feel more employable and feel I could develop my own business.”
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For many people, especially those in Rwanda, creating a business is a way to survive. It’s a means of making money, not necessarily driven by the desire to be an incredible entrepreneur but simply to provide for themselves and their family. In a nation where more than 30% of households are female-headed and without a ‘man-of-the-house’, women, business and power are words that certainly aren’t strangers to one another in this small East African state.
The 1994 genocide ripped through Rwanda, killing a million people in 100 days and leaving the country with far fewer men than women. With women making up 60-70% of the population in the wake of the atrocities, perhaps it’s unsurprising that President Paul Kagame acknowledged that he and men alone could not fix what was left of the country. Kagame embarked on a women’s empowerment strategy that aimed to empower women at the backbone of the economy and would extend to the very highest positions in government.
Fast forward 20 years and Rwanda is now the number 1 country in the world for women in power. Despite the UK praising itself for an all-time high of 32% women MPs in the 2017 general election, Rwanda boasts double that. Rwanda takes the lead worldwide when it comes to the share of women in the national legislature, having 64% of seats within the government.
As part of my Challenges Worldwide ten-week placement in Kigali, I’ve lived in a host family led by a strong independent woman. My host mother was made a widow by the genocide and has single-handedly raised her daughter and niece since losing her husband and son. I’ve also worked in an enterprise not only run by an incredible women management team, but that also exists solely to empower other women in the community. Working and living in female-oriented environments for the whole of my placement has taught me a lot about the growing trend of successful women and how inspirational they are. Here are three lessons we in the UK should sit up and learn from.
1- Women are Powerful
Before the genocide in 1994, women were not educated and were not raised with the expectations of a career. It was unusual for married women to take a job outside of the home and was uncommon for a woman to own her own land. These days, Rwanda encourages female entrepreneurship by accepting and registering a business, not based on the gender of the CEO, but on the basis that it is a legitimate business idea with an impact that will value the economy if you utilise your workforce 100%. These ideas are propagated by the president and supported throughout government initiatives.
In the UK, most women in business initiatives are facilitated by the private sector or charitable organisations. This is particularly true for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, where there are now a whole host of women empowerment groups to encourage women to career-shift or upskill. The government meanwhile is primarily focused on changing the attitudes of young girls to ensure that future generations do not experience the same disparity. It is yet to acknowledge that this approach has a significantly slower impact rate than if it were combined with policies that addressed the females who were already adults and eager to be powerful.
Driven by necessity in the mid-90s, Rwanda couldn’t afford to wait for the next generation. The economy needed rebuilding, and it needed rebuilding quickly. Women were put on the forefront of political, economic and reconciliation initiatives. Kagame said that empowering women was a vital precondition to socio-economic transformation and by accelerating progress in this regard, they were speeding up their own development. We in the UK could certainly benefit from embracing this attitude, particularly if it were adopted officially as government policy.
2- Women are Creative
It’s not just that women in Rwanda have started businesses. Lots of people have started businesses. However, I was amazed to see so many of the most creative businesses we’ve worked with in Kigali have been founded by women: eight out of 11 from our cycle to be precise. Businesses here in Rwanda are most successful when they’re managed with a thriving creative flair.
The social enterprise I worked for was called The Women’s Bakery, and it’s not just your average street corner bakery. It was founded, lead and run by a team of extraordinary women who work to create opportunities to empower women within East Africa. It’s a creative enterprise that addresses two societal issues simultaneously. From staff member to consumer, this social enterprise can satisfy the needs of the two groups of people that they impact the most.
The business focuses on the three issues that affect women disproportionately; poor nutrition, unstable income and lack of education. My CEO created a training programme that aims to address all three. The Women’s Bakery’s curriculum focuses on business management and baking skills, whilst simultaneously creating highly nutritious baked products that stock their successful bakery.
In a country where getting enough protein from anything other than mixed beans can be tricky, The Women’s Bakery has turned their enterprise into a niche offering. For example, they create muffins that contain 5g of protein. That’s 8% of an adults’ daily intake and 21% of a child! Their products range from loafs of bread to cookies and biscuits, all baked with low/no sugar, hidden fruit and vegetables and using only the finest quality produce. Trust me, we researched the suppliers during our analysis phase, a lot …!
The women that work inside the bakery are women that beforehand had no income, poor nutrition knowledge and usually had around 4/5 children. After training, these women are presented with a full-time job and are now equipped with the knowledge of how to bake fortified bread for themselves and their families.
If more women in the UK were empowered and encouraged to create enterprises that address a societal need, like that of The Women’s Bakery, rather than simply to generate profit, we’d have an economy filled with creative and socially conscious enterprises – just like Rwanda.
3- Women are Influencers
Think of all the little girls you know. Who are they looking at for inspiration? Think of all the little boys you know. Who is showing them how to be supportive? Who is teaching these children why it’s so important to work hard, have courage and support one another?
Studies show that young children have the tendencies to copy, re-enact and grow into the shoes they have been following their whole lives. What you show them today, impacts them tomorrow. The young of today will grow to be the adults who create new opportunities for their own generation and in Rwanda, where more than 40% of the population are younger than 14 years old, people understand just how important creating an active, engaged and equal society really is.
We may have a far smaller youth population in the UK, but arguably a declining population size makes it just as important to empower the youth as an expanding one. The youth of the UK will be the ones who’ll need to address many inevitably difficult challenges for the UK, from economic stability, how to support the elderly and, of course, the damaging effects of climate change. To address these issues, we’ll need 100% empowered people, not just the 50% who win the luck of the gender card draw. Instead of misleading the children of today into believing the stigma that the word feminism is stuck in, we should be teaching them the benefits of equality and pouring light onto the concept of empowering women.
We should be teaching the young ones in our lives to have courage and to speak up for their right to be successful, whatever gender. We should be livening their creativity and awakening the ideas that not only address their need for sustainable livelihoods but also leave a lasting impact. A legacy. But most importantly we need to be role models for them; helping them to build their own future through entrepreneurship.
To all the strong women I have had the pleasure to work with, that have inspired me, thank you. To all the women still out there fighting for their independence, working hard every day to make a living for themselves, you are amazing. I can’t tell you how inspirational it is to see strong women get up, show up and change their world. For all my destiny child lovers out there, keep on surviving.
We know the statistics – worldwide more than 1 billion young people will enter the job market between now and 2030, 600 million jobs are needed globally over 15 years to keep current employment rate, 71 million young people are unemployed globally, the youth population in Africa will double to over 830 million by 2050, 75% of young people in developing countries are in irregular or informal employment.
Even among young people who are lucky enough to receive an education and go to university, there is no guarantee of a job at the end. In Uganda, 40,000 young people graduate university every year, with only 8,000 securing employment. Part of the issue is a lack of jobs available, the other is the skills gap between what employers want and what graduates have.
To start solving the problem two things are needed:
1. More jobs
2. The right skills to do the jobs
Which comes first?
With the job market as it is, there is little surprise that many people turn to starting a business – with 285-345 million informal enterprises in emerging economies. And, whilst starting a business can be a solution for many young people, most remain purely as livelihood businesses – remaining in the informal sector and struggling to move to a position where they lift their owner out of poverty, let alone create jobs for others.
So instead of focusing on starting a new business, why not look at the existing ones? There are 25-30 million SMEs in emerging economies, contributing up to 45% of total employment and 33% percent of GDP. If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
However growing SMEs is not without its challenges, with failure rates high, access to finance difficult and leadership skills lacking. SMEs need more skilled employees who can raise the game in terms of management and leadership, financial accounting, and use of technology. These skills can help bridge the gap needed to access finance, and create more stable organisations – in turn helping them to grow and employ more people.
But which comes first? SMEs can’t grow without the right people working for them, and the right people can’t get the jobs unless they grow.
A virtuous circle
At Challenges Worldwide we’ve looked at how we can solve these problems together. Our ICS programmes place young people in an African SME for 12 weeks, pairing a UK volunteer aged 18-25 with a national from Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia or Uganda to work as Business Support Associates. We provide training in Professional Consulting and Management and Leadership that is accredited by the Chartered Management Institute. Through a structured programme these young people identify the needs of the SME, working to recommend solutions to help them grow. Longer term we utilise the information collected in our software to understand the barriers to growth and help SMEs access the finance they need.
We have spent over 15 years providing access to finance, consulting and private sector development services to SME’s in emerging economies. As you probably know, that sector is dominated by professionals with countless years of experience. So when we first started working with 18-25-year-olds we were sceptical. They arrive mostly with no training in consulting, no experience in business, and if they do have a degree it is often in an unrelated subject. Honestly, we wondered what young people could achieve. But after working with over 700 young people providing 132,000 days of onsite support to 300 enterprises – the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Our Business Support Associates have enabled us to identify the key barriers to growth for these enterprises – through learning about enterprises from within and getting their hands dirty they’ve discovered as much, if not more than many more experienced consultants we’ve worked with.
51% addressed issues with marketing strategy
31% addressed issues with lack internal processes
38% implemented new record keeping systems
23% improved market knowledge
20% addresses a lack of human capital
Our young people have demonstrated that they can learn the right skills – in a week; that they can apply these quickly and create lasting change for themselves and the SME’s – in 12 weeks; and that these SMEs can grow – and in many cases employ them.
Each SME we work with has seen that the skills of two young people for 12 weeks is hugely valuable, and each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning. Young people can start to create the jobs which will employ them.
“Each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning”
We’re 0.001% of the way there. How do we connect the other 29,999,700 SMEs and 70,999,300 young people?
Challenges Worldwide work to provide innovative solutions that engage, grow and connect people to emerging opportunities for development and investment. We support young people through structured work-based placements, support enterprises to grow organisational capacity and deliver a range of consulting services enabling growth connections in trade and finance.
Planning a successful and impactful trip for your summer/gap year is not always easy given the number of voluntourism opportunities out there. You may have seen the stories that more and more young people are travelling abroad to volunteer so that they can fill up their Instagram account with selfies, or the report from Save the Children that states that “an overwhelming majority of children living in orphanages in developing countries actually have a living parent”. Even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is campaigning against irresponsible volunteering placements, tweeting “I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs”.
“I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs” JK Rowling
So, how can you steer clear of the minefield of irresponsible and purely commercial options out there?
Follow our tips below to ensure you don’t fall into the voluntourist trap:
Research the company and placement you are about to embark on
Be sure to look at “development impact”. Does the charity appear to monitor and report on the impact that their volunteers are having in the community? This could form the basis of an impact page on their website or an annual report. If they don’t seem to have a monitoring and evaluation function in their organisation then chances are they care little about the impact they are having and simply want money from their volunteers.
Find out how the programme is funded?
If the programme is purely volunteer funded then it is likely that once again there is little focus on community impact and creating positive change for the so-called beneficiaries of the volunteer placement. When looking at a placement advert ask yourself, “Is all the language geared at convincing me to part with my money, in order to benefit myself?”
The existence of a recognised funder, such as a development body like UKaid (UK Department for International Development) or SDI (Scottish Development International) shows that a larger body has a vested interest in the programme and the social impact it has pledged to create. Being expected to pay something towards the cost of the programme via fundraising is usually okay as long as the main purpose of the fundraising effort is to raise awareness of the programme and its aims.
What is in it for you?
Is there a tangible benefit to taking part in the programme? Will you be supported to overcome new challenges? Is there room for personal and professional growth alongside delivering genuine social, economic or environmental impact? Organisations that run a programme that encourages personal growth will tell you about what previous volunteers have accomplished and what skills they have developed, they may even offer a recognised qualification.
Apply for a volunteering placement with International Citizen Service (ICS)
International Citizen Service (ICS) is an overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, it is funded by the UK Government and aims to bring about three things: project impact, volunteer personal development and the creation of active citizens. There are eight different development organisations delivering ICS projects in over 20 countries.
Challenges Worldwide, an Edinburgh based International Development charity, runs an ICS programme to support businesses in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. The programme includes 10 weeks of training in Professional Consulting paired with a business placement in one of 4 African cities. The programme is split into three stages: Analysis, Recommendations and Implementation.
After your placement, Challenges Worldwide will continue to support the growth of the business and you will return home with a chance to complete a level 5 qualification in Professional Consulting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
April 22nd, 1970 marked the first celebration of Earth Day. With its roots in New York, at a time when pollution was considered a by-product of prosperity, Earth Day saw the birth of the modern environmental movement. Groups opposing pesticides, destruction of the environment, oil spills, raw sewage and power plants all came together and realised their common values; environmental protection. The result was coast to coast protests; 20 million Americans came out into the streets in favour of environmental reform. Since its dawn almost 40 years ago, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic holiday, spreading to 193 countries and putting the issue of environmental protection into the minds of millions across the world.
Whilst on my Challenges Worldwide placement, I am working as a business support associate with Areg Agro Foods, a small food producer located in Kampala. The owner and CEO, Rachael Corda, has a background in organic farming and is passionate about incorporating environmental considerations into the day to day workings of her business. Rachael knows the value of using organic techniques to grow crops. The result is high-quality natural foods which do not cause any of the environmental problems of pesticides, for example, soil contamination and the death of wildlife.
Since the birth of her business, Rachael has taught farmers how to grow their crops organically and has converted many farmers to the organic lifestyle. Areg Agro only uses high-quality organic crops and milk to produce their many varieties of Italian cheese and fruit preserves.
However, Rachael is also careful about the environmental impact of her business’s waste products. This has led her to reduce waste by ensuring that by-products of cheese production are sold at a rock-bottom price to local farmers and used as animal feed or fertilisers. The result: delicious mozzarella which doesn’t hurt the planet.
In 2016 the WHO published a report which stated that air pollution levels in Kampala and Jinja were 5.3x higher than recommended safe levels. The burning of rubbish was stated as a significant contributing factor to this figure. Luckily, another business that volunteers on our cycle are working with, Bio-electricity has the answer. Established in 2008 in Kyengera by Wilson Ssendagaya, Bio-electricity has an innovative approach to waste disposal. Waste is sorted through and split into categories; natural waste such as food products are turned into an organic fertiliser over a process of two months. This reduces air pollution and also ensures that waste serves another purpose. Ssendagaya also has big plans for the future, currently, plastic waste is shredded and stored with the intention to convert it into diesel using technology imported from the United States. This would not just solve the issue of waste disposal but would go some way into the move towards renewable energies, not just in Uganda but globally.
On this World Health Day, I was wondering about what to get for lunch. The Scottish classic of square sausage in a roll or something a bit healthier. The daily dilemma. Luckily for my health, I was inspired to go for the healthier option (and to go outside) after reviewing some of the Enterprise Recommendations presentations from our Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteers aka our Business Support Associates (BSAs) in Zambia.
Hi, I’m Lewis and I am one of the Portfolio Analysts at Challenges Worldwide and my main role is crunching the numbers that our BSAs produce during their placement. We then use these numbers to inform our strategy for Enterprise and Value Chain Development. This data is invaluable as our approach is unique in that we critically evaluate enterprises from within instead of surveying owners once and hoping the right information is given.
Umoyo Natural Health is one of the enterprises we are currently working with and specialises in providing natural health products; medicinal products, foods, supplements and cosmetics.
How does this relate to world health day?
Prevention is the best policy when it comes illness
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes. In 2016, close to half of the children under 5 were stunted (low-height-for-age) as a result of malnutrition with another negative impact being a decrease in academic performance.
How does enterprise development impact health?
Well, it’s about the long-term, we want a solution, not a plaster. There are 3 ways in which enterprise development will reduce malnutrition:
Increasing Distribution: By providing technical assistance the enterprises we work with will be in a position to approach investors, confident in the knowledge that they meet investment criteria beforehand. By expanding their business, Umoyo will be able to increase the number of people they can provide their health goods to.
Reduction in Price: As the enterprise grows, it will be able to benefit from economies of scale as the unit cost is reduced (the first car wasn’t cheap!) and consequently becomes a realistic option for people on lower incomes.
Increase Incomes and Demand:Umoyo has over 35 (19 female) employees and over 140 suppliers. As the business grows, enterprises must take on more staff, their demand for inputs from suppliers increase and they may need to find new suppliers. When you consider the women between 45 and 49 were surveyed their ‘completed family size’ was on average 6. Ultimately, it will be those in the household of employees that will benefit.
This is by no means a silver bullet (health warning for werewolves) and educated assumptions are always made, please see here, here and here. However, at the end of the day, if a parent’s income increases I’d bet it’s more than likely they will spend it on improving their children’s welfare. Why don’t you join us to implement lasting solutions?…and have a healthy dinner while you’re at it!
You can join us in supporting enterprises such as Umoyo by taking part in the Uk Government funded Challenges Worldwide ICS programme for 18 -25 year olds from the UK, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.
Complete your online application today and help businesses like Umoyo reach their potential for delivering positive social and environmental impact on the communities in which they trade.
Last June, I departed the UK on what was sure to be an adventure. I was heading to Kumasi, Ghana as a team leader with Challenges Worldwide for 3 months. Although I had no idea what lay ahead of me as I began that 24 hour journey to Accra with the other team leaders, I could never have envisioned that, fast forward 7 months, I would be stood speaking about my experiences at the Houses of Parliament in front of the head of DFID, Lords, Ladies and a group of MPs.
When I applied for an ICS placement, I had just secured a job in London and was looking for something to fill my final extended summer. I wanted to travel, but having already taken a few too many ‘gap years’, this time I wanted to give something back. I’d heard horror stories about the voluntourism industry: “They’ll knock down anything you build for the next group”, “You’re money’s going to a selfish and greed-driven organisation”, “Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?” These are all valid points that highlight real issues around this industry, and they resonated in my mind as I searched the internet for opportunities to combine my wish to travel with my want to do some good.
“Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?”
ICS was something I learned about from Facebook. The DFID funding gave it credibility, the opportunity to work in partnership with other young people was unique, and the breadth of projects and countries was exciting. I had no real idea as to where in the world I’d like to end up or with which organisation, I just knew that I wanted to be involved in an entrepreneurial-focused initiative. Everything I’d read and believed pointed towards the sustainability of development when the power of business was harnessed in the solution. No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact. Two weeks after my initial application, I heard I would be interviewing for Challenges Worldwide. Another quick trip to my go-to google and I realised this project aligned perfectly with my aspirations.
No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact.
The work the volunteers did whilst on placement was fantastic. Over the space of the 3 months, they made a real impact on 9 businesses within Kumasi. However, what led me to the Houses of Parliament, and what I’ll focus on in this blog post, is the social impact that bringing a diverse range of people and a community together can have.
For those who have not been on a Challenges placement, I’ll give a quick explanation. Alongside their day-to-day work, whilst in country volunteers are split into four groups:
MPR (Mid Programme Review) – tasked with organising a fun-filled weekend of reflection halfway through the 3 months
Team Building Committee – responsible for activities and events that bring the volunteers closer as a team
Communications Committee – with the joint aim of marketing the volunteers’ achievements and work
Impact Day Committee – required to identify a need within the community in which the team are living, and organise a day of action to tackle this.
As a team leader, I headed up the Communications and Impact Day teams, and my counterpart Lukman took charge of the MPR and Social committees.
It’s at this point that I’d like to challenge you to take a look at the below picture and ask yourself: what you believe you see?
We’ll revisit the answer to that shortly – but first, I’m going to explain how this picture, and the Impact day it was taken at, came about.
Planning Impact Day – take one
As previously mentioned, part of every ICS project is a team “Impact Day”. Although the eventual outcome of this event is tackling a social problem, it was clear that due to the nature of the Challenges programme it would be best to take an entrepreneurial approach.
The easiest way for a group of newcomers to a city to do this would be to join forces with an already established network. In our case, however, Challenges was as new to Kumasi as we volunteers were, meaning we had no existing connections. We, therefore, set about searching for charities and volunteer groups, talking to host homes and businesses, looking online, and reaching out to friends.
An orphanage affiliated with one of our businesses approached us for help. However, in order to mitigate the ‘voluntourism’ risk that I spoke about before, there has been a shift away from working with children on any Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. Challenges’ 20 years of expertise centres around sustainable business development in emerging economies and their work delivering ICS seeks to disrupt the status quo of unskilled young westerners undertaking short-term projects that can cause more harm than good. Therefore we were encouraged to approach our impact day activities with sustainability and long-term outcomes in mind.
Planning impact day – take two
Weeks passed, and ideas came and went. We all wanted to make a real lasting impact in the community that had welcomed us so nicely, but – like anything in a developing country – overcoming obstacles was a daily challenge. Thankfully, using prior university contacts from home, I managed to contact a social enterprise, SanEco, who wanted to help. Saneco is the brainchild of The University of Southampton’s Enactus Society. In short: SanEco have identified a way to create reusable sanitary towels from readily available and affordable materials. They train unemployed members of communities to make and market these products with a focus on also educating women on their bodies and menstrual cycles. Through this initiative, social entrepreneurs are created. By increasing these people’s income, they directly tackle poverty levels. These entrepreneurs also increase the standard of living of the females in their communities, who would now have access to affordable sanitary products, allowing them to continue with their normal lives whilst menstruating.
I pitched the idea to the Programme Manager and our Impact Day Committee and they all loved it – but they would, as a predominantly female team who understood these issues and were comfortable speaking on the topic. The real issue would be introducing the concept to the male members of the wider team and, as expected, there were mixed reactions. We, as Westerners, like to believe that we stand for equality and share the mutual respect to discuss health issues and topics such as the natural processes of the female body. It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the Saneco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the SanEco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
After a few difficult conversations and a hard stance from the Impact Day team that this was how we would proceed, we got everyone on board. We would deliver workshops in the morning, transferring skills that are essential to any business: budgeting, marketing and bookkeeping, to name a few. We would then introduce the SanEco programme in the afternoon, and apply what we had taught in the morning to the product.
Preparing for Impact Day
The team were excited and the day began building momentum. We bought materials, secured a venue, did shout outs on the radio, printed and handed out flyers, reprinted and red-handed out flyers and attended church ceremonies to spread the word. Before we knew it, the day was upon us and all we could do was wait to see if anyone turned up.
Anyone who has been to Ghana will be well aware of GMT (Ghana man time). To those who haven’t, this is the name given to the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to show up to arrangements hours after the agreed time. A bizarre concept for people from the UK to wrap their heads around. Thankfully, it appeared that GMT was running particularly close to regular Ghana time this day, and at just 45 minutes after our planned start day, the room had over 20 people in (both male and female, from babies to grandmothers!)
The morning workshops went without a hitch. The participants were actively engaged, offering examples, asking questions and genuinely enjoying themselves. We broke for lunch and got ready to introduce SanEco.
There was a buzz in the air. We had decided to market the initiative only as a new ‘social enterprise idea,’ in order not to discourage anyone from attending before they understood the initiative. However, to our surprise, when we revealed what we would be showing them, the excitement remained in all participants! We began walking them through the process of creating a sanitary pad. Unfortunately, as accomplished as we all felt for pulling off this day, it turns out that we’d overlooked the slight issue that none of us could use a hand operated sewing machine, which was the main component of making these pads. Thankfully, and with some quick thinking, we threw it out to the audience and were extremely relieved when a lady in the front row was more than happy to help. She came up to the front, and in less than a minute, we had our first pad. I pulled out my iPhone and quickly snapped the above image.
When I earlier asked what you thought my picture showed, I’m sure you didn’t guess the answer. A woman empowered by a group of young people with the tools to start her own business tackling women’s needs.
Since returning to the UK, I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in this image. It’s been in newspapers, been voted top 10 out of over 400 entries in the ICS photography competition and allowed me to attend a showcase at the Houses of Parliament, discussing my experiences with some of the most influential people in the country. The Houses of Parliament showcase was the first time since returning from my placement that I really had the time to sit back and reflect on the difference that we have made and can continue to make. Meeting volunteers from other ICS organisations has reiterated the positive impact that young people are making across the world. Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
With the changing, and somewhat frightening, world that we live in today, it’s never been more important to spread the word on the positive impacts that collaboration across borders can make. I spent 3 months living in a country where I was a ‘foreigner’, and quite frankly the experience would have been impossible without the welcome, help and support I received from my Ghanaian colleagues. Pictures, to most, are a way of preserving memories. They have always been a very personal experience for me. However, what I’ve learned from this experience is that they also serve as a tool to spark curiosity, spread positivity, and tell a story. I’m not promising all pictures will end up with you in the Houses of Parliament, but I have seen first-hand that people want to know about your placement, they are interested in learning from your experiences and it’s actually pretty fun to relive them through sharing your story.
So: post your pictures, share your stories and remember that the Challenges Worldwide ICS experience is a truly unique one.
Inequalities exist all around the world and gender isn’t an exception to this reality. Women represent half the world’s population and yet account for 70% of the world’s poor. To make matters worse, women contribute approximately 70% of working hours in the world but only earn 10% of the world’s income. Hence, women in many countries face inequalities throughout their whole lives, from when they are born until the time they die.
From an early age, millions of women face gender-based stereotypes that discriminate them from having access to education. As well as not having access to education often young women are conditioned to see their only aspiration in life is to get married and have children. In the eyes of many societies around the world, having a well-kept home, a happy husband and producing offspring is the only worthy indicator of a successful woman.
Those who are able to overcome the first hurdle of accessing an education then grow up to face limited job or promotion opportunities. Often the job opportunities that are afforded are limited to domestic activities and service roles. Many women find themselves with little or no power to make decisions in their work and home and many others have to defend themselves from sexual harassment and gender-based violence, from which millions of women die every year.
In Africa, these realities occur every day and, although this has been recognised as a problem to be solved by most African governments, the transition has been much slower here than in other regions of the world. However, empowering women and girls is a key factor for economic development. Healthy and educated girls, with an equal access to opportunities, can help their families to get out of poverty, become leaders in their communities and make significant changes, like Wangari Maathai or Kaya Thomas have done.
What can we do to empower women to change the world?
The first step is to be informed; running away from the information won’t make gender injustice around the world less of a reality. As Minna Salami says, “it takes individual consciousness to create collective awareness”.
“it takes individual consciousness to create collective awareness”.
The second step is empowerment: working together to give women the real opportunity of making their own choices, especially the most vulnerable ones. But, how can this reality be changed? It isn’t easy peasy. Still, there are many people working for gender equality around the world. Here we’ll share some African enterprises that are encouraging examples of this:
Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment (F.R.E.E)
F.R.E.E. is a social enterprise that works to reverse marginalisation of women in Zambia by providing them with opportunities that go from making jewellery to reducing illiteracy levels. It helps women, mainly single mothers and those who are in a vulnerable situation, to have a dignified source of income.
Ng’ombe Jewellery Project, for example, is one of their projects and is based in the Ng’ombe community. The idea is to teach woman how to make jewellery, from bracelets to necklaces, by using recycled cooper (which have generated many political, economic and social issues in the country), as well as semi-precious Zambian stones. As the cherry on top, each of these pieces is packed in a small chitenge bag, which are sewn by Vida and her sisters, who are disabled but talented women in the Ng’ombe community.
Is a skin care business that doesn’t only sell beauty products but builds opportunities for women in Ghana. In this sense, Ele Agbe is empowering women in rural areas to gain a sustainable livelihood by producing quality products for both the local and international market. This venture started making jewellery from recycled glass and then moved to shea butter products, thanks to the vision of their inspirational founder and CEO Comfort Adjahoe. But why attempt to tell the story if Comfort can do it better.
Another women-led enterprise based in Uganda that, contrary to the previous ones, isn’t mainly focused on empowering women but on creating jobs for young people. Decent work opportunities, not charity, as we’ve seen through all these examples, is a more powerful way to provide employment and dignified ways of income. Kampala Fair began with sewing lessons in Mette Islandi, who then teamed up with Louise Graymore from the UK and created Kampala Fair together.
Nowadays, Kampala Fair is a sustainable, profitable and fair trade business that sell their products for local and international markets. Everything in this clothing business is locally made, from the vibrant fabrics to the designers and tailors. We invite you to visit the web page, learn more from them and get lost among the beautiful designs.
Last October Challenges Worldwide volunteer and soon to be Team Leader Rosie Coleman spent a Friday evening with the Kumasi, Ghana chapter of women who code to lead a workshop on “excelling your career.”
The most interesting thing for me was to witness the similarities between the women here in Kumasi and those I’ve met back home in London during similar tech career workshops. The Kumasi women had the same fears and concerns about interviews and our feedback session focused largely on the same issues with self-confidence and belief in their own awesomeness.
Not only in the global South but also here in the UK
Here the gender inequalities aren’t as big as in other countries, however, we aren’t absent of this reality. One of the main issues is the “missing middle” in organisations. What does this mean? Even though at junior management levels both genders are equally represented, male managers are 40% more likely to be promoted to higher roles. This is the number one cause of the 23% gender pay gap.
You can join Challenges Worldwide by taking part of the International Citizen Service volunteer programme and help any of these enterprises to keep on empowering women or you can do your own bit to fill in the missing middle and join the Chartered Management Institute at an exclusive discounted rate for Challenges learners.
By joining many small efforts, challenges can be overcome and great changes can be achieved. Be part of this movement!
Take the chance and travel to Africa with us. Apply now!