The role of Assist Social Capital and Challenges Group Ghana in Green Economy
The ‘green economy’ has an increasingly important role to play in the future of many countries, and Ghana is not different. This is why Assist Social Capital and Challenges’ role in providing financial management training for producers on the edge of Bia Bioshpere Reserve in Western Region is imperative. On 27th of March, 2018, Challenges’ Benjamin Res Esanti and Michael ‘Meeki’ Adu facilitated a full morning training on financial management and best business practices to beneficiaries in Kunkumso, Bia.
The training was very interactive and engaging and was attended by high profile personalities from the region, including the Queen Mother of Asuopiri – Nana Abena Attaah – and the former District Chief Executive (DCE) of Bia West District – Hon. Alexander Ofori.
[themify_box color=”grey”][themify_quote]Thank you very much Challenges Ghana and Assist Social Capital for organising this training, we will not only apply this in our Beekeeping business but also in our other endeavours especially our cocoa farming.
– Hon. Alexander Ofori (former DCE- Bia West District)[/themify_quote][/themify_box]
The project connected with beneficiaries of a previous project (Green Economy in Biosphere Reserves) within Bia Biosphere Reserve who produce four products – honey, mushrooms, snails and palm oil. Their production is designed to support economic livelihoods whilst protecting the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. However, selling to bulk purchasers is difficult as they had not managed to establishe trade linkages or partnership agreements with institutions and individuals to market their products.
Through this 3 month project, Assist Social Capital (ASC) and Challenges have successfully connected the beekeepers to Bright Amoah Antwi (CEO of Ecocycle Ghana Limited) and Emmanuel (CEO of Firm Nut Limited), the snail farmers to Bantama market women and Golden Beam Hotel, the mushroom farmers to Mr. Asante Ohene (CEO of Tropical African Mushroom) and palm oil farmers to the market women of Kumasi Central Market. This achievement will not only ensure consistent and constant market for the beneficiaries but also increase the revenue generation of these farmer associations. Not forgetting the opportunity it gives them to expand their businesses by procuring more facilities and adopting modern mechanisms to enhance efficient production.
Business cases for all the four products have been developed. They encapsulate the pros and cons of the business side of all the products. This is excellent as the Associations have a fair idea about what sits for them if they put their house together and approach their endeavours with a purely business mind.
During the training, producers were also connected to OASIIS, an online platform dedicated to connecting social entrepreneurs with social investment, partners, and like-minded businesses, catalysing their contribution to more sustainable global society.
Assist Social Capital and Challenges Worldwide have demonstrated their commitment to progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in diverse ways by using social capital and business improvement services respectively to deal with complex challenges.
It’s a new year at Challenges Uganda and our Accelerator programme is in full swing!
Building on the hugely successful ‘ICS Entrepreneur’ programme, where we have supported over 150 Ugandan SMEs with a full consulting service of diagnostics, recommendations and implementation and over 150 Ugandan youth with consulting experience and employability skills, we started piloting a new approach to supporting Ugandan SMEs.
Our Accelerator is based on the longstanding Challenges belief that quick consulting and mentoring only begins to realise the potential of SMEs. This type of programme has recently been controversial due to some organisations offering little value for money, offering e.g. only 3 meetings per month, for 6 months only, where 2 people per business have to go to labs or group sessions. Enterprises are usually required to pay at least a $500 commitment fee, plus 2% of their equity and at least 1% of all revenue.
Instead, our Accelerator as first word is modelled on a long-term support approach, encompassing four phases and a variety of resources: Diagnostics (3 months), Hands on Consulting (3 months), Fortnightly check-ins and Direct Mentoring (3-Months), Consolidation of Growth Strategy (3-months), in addition to further mentoring until tailored Revenue and Profit KPI targets are achieved. This means our success is directly proportional to the enterprises’ growth.
Since November, four exceptional Junior Consultants, all from Uganda, four Senior Mentors and four Senior staff have begun the Diagnostics phase, analysing strengths and fundamental issues and devising a work-plan for the Consulting phase to address the latter. We have also facilitated a successful intra-business deal, which has demonstrated our significant impact in less than 3 months of inception!
Also, our Investment Partners Entrepreneurs 4 Entrepreneurs, a membership network of investors and private companies in Belgium, sent their Managing Director to meet our first Accelerator Cohort in December, and were delighted with the breadth and the quality of our enterprises. We look forward to further incorporating this relationship into our Accelerator model.
We had a busy end to last week both here at Edinburgh HQ and in Accra. We were absolutely delighted to host a delegation from the Ghana High Commission at our recently opened new HQ. It was great to get a chance to talk directly around all of our hard work in Ghana over the last three years and share with them some of the successes of our young people supporting SMEs at the same time as showing off some of the great products we have from Ghana on display here.
It was an honour to be joined by High Commissioner His Excellency Papa Owusu-Ankomah; George Blankson- Head of Welfare and Consular; William Osafo- Head of Education; Joyce Asamoah- Koranteng- Head of Political & Economic Affairs; Kofi Addo- Head of Trade and Investment; Dr. Charles Ayiku- Honorary Consul for Scotland; and Frazer Lang – Scotland Africa Business Exchange, who had set the visit up.
His Excellency Papa Owusu-Ankomah was thrilled to see the quality of the Ghanaian products from the SMEs we have supported along with stories of some of what our Ghanaian alumni have been able to achieve on placement with us and their next steps into a career. It was great to show everything from bamboo bikes to craft Shea butter to handmade leather shoes which all the delegation were keen to source pairs of.
“Your work, your enthusiasm and your interest in Ghana were all very much appreciated by the whole team. I was especially surprised to see the kind of work that you have been doing and the already set-up links that you have developed with Ghana.”
Dr. Charles Ayiku- Honorary Consul for Scotland said “Your work, your enthusiasm and your interest in Ghana were all very much appreciated by the whole team. I was especially surprised to see the kind of work that you have been doing and the already set-up links that you have developed with Ghana.”
It was a fantastic morning with all involved very keen to highlight the opportunities that are available in Ghana to more partners in Scotland and the UK. We will be sourcing more of our Ghanaian SME products which can then be on display in the High Commission in London.
On the same day, our Ghana team were also invited to a reception with the UK High Commissioner in Ghana, Iain Walker, along with a number of delegates. Joining Challenges Ghana staff (Country Manager Simon Turner, Business Development Manager Joshua Amponsem, and ICS Programme Manager for Accra Prince Kelly Anyomitse) ,were two of our volunteer Business Support Associate Team Leaders, Cassie Mackenzie and Ropafadzo Rusere and Volunteer Business Support Associate, Celine Fleming, who were great ambassadors for the event as they shared their experience in working with local MSMEs with some key stakeholders at the reception. Business Support Team Leader Ropafadzo Rusere said “We had a great evening networking with fantastic organisations and spreading the word about what we do! Not only did we meet some inspiring people, but we also got to share our passion for developing young people’s skills, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment through private sector development!”
“…trade between Britain and Ghana is a top priority of the two nation’s relationship.”
The High Commissioner was very enthusiastic about the work Challenges is doing in Ghana. In our conversation with him, he re-emphasised the value of our work towards MSMEs and also mentioned: “trade between Britain and Ghana is a top priority of the two nation’s relationship.”
He was excited to learn of the numerous outstanding MSMEs in Ghana that have been part of the Challenges business growth support services. More to it, the commissioner was impressed to see how young people have been a driving force in the success of Challenges in Ghana. This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to build the capacity of young people, increase their employability, and inspire them to be active citizens in driving change in their communities.
Similarly, Alan Rutt, the Country Director of the British Council was most keen to discuss our work and to synergise with Challenges in maximizing our impact on local businesses and entrepreneurs.
In all, one thing that stood out in all conversations was the growing need to strengthen the capacity of local enterprises in Ghana to manage their businesses towards growth, and how Challenges is at the forefront of this.
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.
On a sunny evening in September, I was sat in Astana, Kazakstan to attend the Constantinus International Awards for Management Consulting. As Director of Business Development at Challenges Worldwide, I was there to collect our award for the best consulting project by a British firm where Challenges won the award after training two young Brits and two young Ghanaians to deliver a 3-month consulting project with Ghanaian company Booomers International Limited who make bikes from Bamboo. Winning the British competition nominated us for the global award for which we picked up silver!
What are the Constantinus International Awards?
Every year the Constantinus International Award invites consultants from all over the world to submit projects with exceptional customer value. Even as a very young award, the Constantinus International Award is already a much sought-after decoration for outstanding consulting performances. “The International Consulting Award continues its worldwide success story and is already an established quality seal for knowledge-based services all over the world”, says Sorin Caian, President of ICMCI. “The Constantinus International Award does not only display the best players of the IT and Consulting industry, it also shows the economic power and importance of the ICT industry.”
How did the award come about?
Since 2014, Challenges have trained over 700 young people from the UK and Africa in Professional Consulting and had them deliver consultancy support to over 400 African enterprises. When I started at Challenges 3.5 years ago I was excited to begin working in what for me what was new African countries, Ghana, Uganda & Zambia. I was looking forward to setting up our ICS programmes in these markets and getting to build a sustainable programme that aimed to upskill young people to have the skills and abilities required to grow companies, by providing them with internationally recognised training and a structured work placement in an SME that needs support. I was cautious over what could be achieved by using young people in a professional consulting context but excited that we were trying to build local capacity that would grow local opportunities for both young people and SMEs.
Over the past 3 years, I have been lucky enough to spend time with our teams of staff, volunteers and SMEs in each of our markets which now includes Rwanda. At every turn I have been proved wrong by the skills, drive and innovative ideas that our young people bring to the table, they are truly helping our SMEs grow and succeed!
It just goes to prove that when you provide passionate and enthusiastic young people with the correct training and support framework they can go on to achieve great things!
Thinking back to our first ICS programme in Summer 2014, where we took 19 young people from the UK to work with other young people and enterprises in Ghana and Uganda, I never thought I would be making a trip to Kazakhstan to represent Challenges at an International Management Consulting award ceremony, I am proud to receive this award for our work supporting Booomers to accelerate their growth and bring their environmentally friendly bicycle frames to the UK market. I am astounded by the achievements of the young people we have trained through our programme and their contribution to this project has been invaluable. It just goes to prove that when you provide passionate and enthusiastic young people with the correct training and support framework they can go on to achieve great things!
What next for Challenges?
The award comes as Challenges celebrate a milestone of delivering Chartered Management Institute (CMI) accredited training in Professional Consulting in 10 countries. This milestone has made Challenges the largest exporter CMI training and services from the United Kingdom and puts them at the forefront of supporting professional development to the future consultants and business professionals in international markets. The success has allowed Challenges to form a strategic partnership with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and begin delivering training in Management & Leadership to managers from both the UK and overseas. Matt Roberts from CMI said, “CMI are delighted to have formed a strategic partnership with Challenges. Our work together in recent years has grown considerably with both organisations committed to quality in all that we do and the unique impact that Challenges make not only for learners but most importantly the communities they work in across the globe is something we at CMI are so pleased to be able to support.”
Now the lines are drawn, we are UK champions and global runners-up for an impactful and creative management consulting project, next year… gold!
How can you get involved?
Challenges will begin delivering face to face training in Professional Consulting and Management & Leadership to Scottish organisations from January 2017, to find out more information, and to register your interest visit challengescatalyst.com
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!
In light of London and Paris Fashion Weeks, Challenges have been celebrating the fashion enterprises we have supported across Sub-Saharan Africa and the innovation of our volunteers in this sector.
African fashion and textile businesses are important!
A history of imitation brands within the Sub-Saharan African fashion industry, particularly in Zambia, has resulted in a gap in the market for local fashion talent and designers. Across the Sub-Saharan region, international aid has created patterns of dependency, and the provision of clothes from international donations has stunted the development of locally manufactured goods.
As part of plans to tackle the dependency cycle in Zambia, laws have been introduced to prevent the importation of textiles, encouraging instead the expansion of the local industry. As more young enterprises enter the African fashion industry and increase their outreach to a global audience, the added competition will drive new brands and local fashion talent. Dressmaking skills are in high demand and are an easy way of making a profit. Reaching into the global market could stop the pattern of imitation and boost the local economy.
At Challenges Worldwide, we recognise that sustainable economic growth needs to be achieved through the support of local products, and have been working with African fashion enterprises across Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda.
Atto Tetteh is a Ghana-based fashion company revolutionising the African menswear scene. The founder and Creative Director of the company, George Tetteh, aims to compete in the global menswear market with their high-quality clothing designs that have been inspired by local African culture.
Liberty Powers Footwear is a Ghanaian company, specialising in the production of hand-made leather shoes, and dedicated to increasing specialist skills for young people. Amos Osomi, the business owner of Liberty Powers, has created an apprenticeship scheme to train local youth in shoe production to increase their employment opportunities.
Kente Master is a fabric artisan company committed to promoting African culture, entrepreneurship, and economic self-empowerment. We do this by servicing and providing a unique inventory of premium Kente graduation stoles. With Kente Master, you’ll receive authenticity, customizability and choice that can’t be found anywhere else.
Buqisi-Ruux, meaning ‘Queen of the Village’, is a women’s footwear enterprise based in Kampala, Uganda. The company, founded and run by women, consider their African inspired shoe designs as “wearable art”, and aim to promote African culture and women’s empowerment through their work.
The Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment (FREE) is an artisan business established to provide economic empowerment to women and to tackle gender inequality. The enterprise works with young women living in poverty, training them with artisan skills, such as copper jewellery production. Providing young women with a skill can help them gain the financial independence to better their own lives.
ZUVAA – A U.S based digital marketplace for African inspired fashion.
The Zuvaa Marketplace is a premier online destination to find unique and one of kind African Inspired pieces. Zuvaa works directly with emerging designers around the world to bring you the best selection of high quality, one of kind African Inspired pieces the industry has to offer.
At Zuvaa, We’re Shining A Light On African Fashion. The Zuvaa Marketplace Is A Premier Online Destination To Find Unique And One Of Kind African Inspired Pieces. We Work Directly With Emerging Designers Around The World To Bring You The Best Selection Of High Quality, One Of Kind African Inspired Pieces The Industry Has To Offer.
The KinzmenGh is a sunglasses business that has been created by one of our innovative return volunteers, Abel Ofoe-Osabutey. Driven to make a difference by his younger sister’s sight problems, Abel has built a Bamboo Eyewear Business to help prevent blindness. Abel’s experience with Challenges Worldwide connected him to those with relevant design expertise to support him in his entrepreneurial endeavours.
Return volunteer, Jack Fellows, has founded The Social Mercenary since finishing his Challenges Worldwide ICS placement in Ghana. Now working in Hong Kong, Jack’s platform provides entrepreneurs from the developing world the opportunity to market their products to a global audience.
In the long term, Jack hopes to invest in the businesses promoted through Social Mercenary to further their successes.
‘Challenges Worldwide give you a great deal of responsibility during your placement and so not only did I develop skills in market research, I also gained a great understanding of the operating procedures and the financial recording requirements that are vital to a business. Finally, and probably most importantly, the placement gave me confidence in my own ability’.
Following her Challenges Worldwide ICS placement in Zambia, Nifemi Oyebanji, has gone on to set up the Lagos Fashion Festival in Nigeria. Motivated by the vision to bring together young people and professionals within the fashion industry, Nifemi helps connect people from across the industry to showcase their work. Through workshops, talks and large scale fashion events, Nifemi is redefining a sense of pride in ‘Made in Nigeria’ apparel and encouraging young people to consider career routes into the sector. A percentage of ticket sales from Lagos Fashion Week also goes towards supporting mental health programmes in Nigeria.
‘I would say that 80% of my knowledge of business is from my placement and I am still using it all now.’
I started by purchasing 40 tote bags from eBay and then asked creative contacts for advice about producing images to print onto them. After seeking advice on ink printing and a talented friend kindly agreed to create some Ugandan animal illustrations, I purchased some carve rubber for handmade block prints and decided to use only the colours of the Ugandan flag – black, yellow and red – and letters from the word ‘Uganda’. With some help from YouTube and an evening with a couple of friends who helped me print in exchange for food and wine, I finished hand-printing the bags, each with a bespoke design. I documented my progress on a blog in the hope it would inspire more donations as people could see the research and work that went into each stage.
It was kind of spontaneous, I had a lot of colourful string at home that was just collecting dust so I figured I’d try and make something out of it. The inspiration came from seeing photographs of some bracelet ideas on Pinterest.
As you can see, Challenges work covers the entire spectrum of fashion and textiles. Our programme allows volunteers to utilise their creativity – whether that be through their fundraising before placement, their direct work to support African SME’s or during their work after placement. We are constantly inspired by the amazing work of the people and enterprise that we have had the pleasure of working with. We hope this blog has inspired you.
If you would like to get involved with Challenges work then visit our get involved page