Help 25 Ghanaian women create jobs where they live

 
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Jul 10, 2012

Business in rural Ghana: Stories from the farm

Ghanaian entrepreneurs are fun people to chat with. They have seen enough movies to know that some people in this world are unbelievably wealthy, and when they compare themselves to Americans, they know that their resources and opportunities are limited. And yet they’re cheerful, optimistic, and driven. Focused. The resources that are available to our clients are used with a precision that I’m not used to seeing in America: expenditures need to maximize human capital (through nutrition or education) and financial capital (through their micro-businesses). The hyper-efficient-entrepreneur-of-the-week award goes to Koopa.

Koopa runs one of the most successful farms in our district. In fact, his farm is large enough that he was never interested in the $100-$600 micro-loans that Lumana offers. All the work on his 20 acre farm is done with a hoe, and he has a strict schedule of walking to the field at 5am every morning, stopping for a long lunch and nap, and then working all evening, when the temperature has cooled down enough for the back-breaking work. He is 33 years old, with a wife, five kids, and big plans for growing his business.

When Chris and I arrived at Koopa’s farm to say hi, he was very eager to ask for updates about Lumana’s upcoming investment in Mr Sena’s tomato processing plant. Koopa told us that he is working on a contract with Sena to sell a specified amount of tomatoes at a low price. Every year both parties would be able to predict price and quantities. With Ghana’s volatile produce markets, this would be the first time that Koopa could make reliable plans about cash flow, so the increased production of tomato puree will create almost as many tangible effects in his life as it will for Sena.

Koopa is also excited about the fish farm system that is coming to his village. Since he was a child, he wanted to develop a large fish farm.  So since Lumana’s partner, Solve Farms, started talking about setting up an aquaponics business with a tilapia farm, Koopa has been trying to learn every detail about starting the farm and preparing for the fish. As Solve begins building the pond in the next few months, Koopa will be studying each step of the process.

But he knows that his fish farm will have to wait: first he needs to finish developing a 500-bird chicken farm, and finish construction on his restaurant. He’s working off of an impressive business model where he cuts out middle-men at every step. He knows that he needs more composted manure for his crops, so instead of buying from the ranches that are over a hundred kilometers from his fields, he is developing the chicken coup to access their dung as fertilizer for his produce. Since he already grows corn, he doesn’t need to buy very much chicken food—just a vitamin/mineral supplement. So he can sell eggs and meat at a higher profit. And the simple restaurant he’s building will eventually be able to sell food that primarily comes from his chicken farm, produce farm, or corn farm. One day, his fish farm will also supply the restaurant. In each of these side-businesses, Koopa will capture all the income from the farm field to the restaurant plate.

Today I spent six hours talking with Koopa about strategies for his business. After crunching numbers about chickens, loans and savings, Koopa went home to mull over the benefits of saving for several months before starting the chicken farm, as well as putting his other business expansions on hold until after he starts seeing egg revenues. I think our plans today will save him over $1,000 in interest charges (compared to plans he once had to get a loan from a formal bank).  That means today is a good day in Ghana.

Lumana works with entrepreneurs from a fish monger borrowing $100 all the way up to large scale farmers to learn the best ways to create better community banks that will help everyone thrive. We believe that these poor rural communities have an endless potential that just needs a little support to get going in the right direction. Thank you so much for donating to our vision to holistically empower rural African villages to move out of poverty!

Mar 8, 2012

Halfway Point of a Fellow's Journey

I am just now halfway through my time here in Ghana and I could not be enjoying myself more. Even though work has definitely picked up, and I am finding myself busier by the week, I love every minute of it. I am also becoming so much more accustomed to life here in the village of Anloga. I have even started to accept the increasingly more frequent power and water outages as a part of daily life. Either way, it is amazing to think that I have less than five weeks left here; I really do not want any of it to end and am looking forward to what is yet to come.

Like I said above, the work has definitely increased and sometimes it feels like there simply is not enough time in a day. As the field project lead for Lumana’s pilot investment project, I am working simultaneously with a client of ours, Sena Ahiabor, and with our implementation partner company, Blossom Farms. I’m working with Sena to prepare him for investment money that will greatly expand his business, and with Blossom Farms to start up an aquaponics farm in Atorkor. With Sena’s help, I am organizing all of his financials and preparing a balance sheet and financial statement for the past two years that can be sent to potential investors in the US. I also am working on a project proposal that will outline his intended machinery and inventory purchases with the investment money, as well as a market analysis and company overview for his tomato processing business Tip Top Foods. I travel out to Sena’s house, which his business is located next to, multiple times a week and really enjoy getting to learn from him. I am also learning so much, through my work, about financial statements and the necessary steps for investment acquisition.

My involvement with the Blossom Farms project is to be the primary connection with their leadership and head up all work on Lumana’s side of things here in Ghana. In my time here, I will be able to help find and secure land for the aquaponics system, aid in establishing our official partnership with Blossom Farms, and hopefully put in a good amount of work on the actually construction of the system. An aquaponics farm is a sustainable farming method in which crops grow with their roots in troughs of water, rather than soil, which is pumped to them from a fish pond. The compost and nutrients from the fish acts as fertilizer for the plants, and then the nutrients from the crops are pumped back to the fish pond to feed the fish. This closed system is very efficient because the only water lost in the process is through evaporation. So far, we have established the partnership with Blossom Farms, and have a general understanding of our roles. We have also found the land that we are going to use for the project.

It has been rather hard to establish a normal routine here but I am beginning to enjoy a constantly changing day-to-day schedule. I often have not even figured out said schedule until each day begins. Other than the days when I have very early morning meetings, I usually wake up around 8 and spend the first hour or two of my day reading. This is a rather nice way to start out the day, if I do say so myself. Some days I just work on my computer, organizing financial statements and line item documents, but most days I am traveling around to different meetings, working at Sena’s place, or visiting the farmland. As well, every four days is the market day in Anloga in which I often walk around and do the house shopping for food and supplies. It is a very exciting and crowded market that I have grown to really enjoy. I find time to go running everyday around 5 PM and am getting more and more used to the high temperatures and humidity. Nights are usually spent cooking, hanging out, and watching movies with everyone in the house.

All in all, I am really enjoying my time here in Ghana. There is so much that I am learning, not only about investment and financial statements but also about the culture here. The language is becoming easier to use in basic interaction and the food has really grown on me. Though I only have five weeks left, I look forward to the coming weeks with great anticipation.

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Dec 8, 2011

A Closer Look into the Life of Lumana Client

When asked to tell us a bit about herself, Enyonam Dediwo bursts into a humble, enthusiastic giggle. She takes her time recovering from her fit of laughter in true Ghanaian form, feeling no particular rush to provide her answer to the question just then. Once she’s composed herself, she proceeds to enlighten and impress us with her story.

Enyonam moved to Anloga when she was 6 years old from the Eastern Region of Ghana. She has lived in this area since, raising her first born girl, 11, and two boys, 7 and 3, along with her husband Ahadzi, a Sr. High School teacher in the nearby town of Sogakope. Enyonom has already come a long way since becoming a Lumana client only one year ago as a member of the Morkporkpor (Anloga) Cooperative, but she’s an ambitious businesswoman and from the sounds of it, she’s got a lot more cooking.

Enyonam started Amenuveve Cold Store 5 years ago. In Ghana, cold stores are where you purchase frozen goods, usually meat and/or ice cream. Enyonam happens to provide an assortment of meats, such as beef, chicken, sardines, salmon and her best seller, the local favorite fish, tilapia. In addition to running her cold store, she sells meat out of a pan that she carries to the market occurring every 4 days, in order to reach out to more customers. She’s even a seamstress on the side! Her real focus, however, is on growing her cold store business. Enyonam travels once or twice per week to Tema, an outskirt of the capitol Accra, to buy these various meats and transport them back home. Roughly two or three hours away, depending on the condition of your mode of transport, Tema is the nearest city with a fish farm where she can pick up crates of tilapia.

Before joining Lumana, Enyonam was only able to buy a crate or two of tilapia with each trip she took to Tema to restock her supply, but with her loan and the business education provided, she is now able to buy ten to fifteen crates with each trip. In order to get her load home, she has to charter a car from the fish farm to the main road and take a long trotro (mini-bus) ride back to Anloga before her fish can be inspected and placed in one of her two freezers. Since the fish are crated, she is unable to inspect quality until she finishes her day-long business trip, so buying higher quantities ensures she’ll have the inventory after picking out any product that has spoiled. This risk is a constant challenge, as well as battling the seasonality of the market for fresh fish. Her loan provides her the initial capital to make these trips to Tema far more profitable and, coupled with what she’s learned from her three-day business education course, she is growing her cold store business with a plan.

She informed us that her most valuable take away from the class was goal setting by designating a specific future purchase to save toward for expansion, as well as having a separate pot for personal savings goals. Enyonam took this advice and ran with it. She now has both short and long term goals for business and personal savings. Regarding her business, she is pursuing the short-term goal of buying even larger quantities of the meat she currently sells to ensure her customers have the best selection in town. Her 3-5 year goal, by no means a cheap purchase, is to save for a third, larger freezer, which she can purchase in Accra for 1,700 GHC and fill to the brim with meat. As for personal savings goals, she hopes to set aside money to build a home for her family and plans to start an emergency savings fund in the near future.

At the end of the day, when this industrious woman of many talents has turned in to spend time with her family, you can find her cheering along the sidelines of her husband and childrens’ football scrimmage (no, not the kind with the pigskin) in the sand just outside their home or resting as the Ghanaian sun descends and offers a short break from the grueling heat. Her outlook is good. Her daughter wants to become a nurse. Her oldest son, a banker. With the example she now sets, accomplishing goals such as these are certainly in the cards, and her newfound financial stability will ensure their higher education is possible.

Sep 6, 2011

Stories from the field: How to retire in Ghana

A loud SQUAK almost makes me jump backwards as I open the gate to Margaret Kpodo’s compound – I look down and realize I’ve just bulldozed a chicken with the fence, and as I snicker, it angrily picks itself up and preens its feathers, throwing angry glances as it stalks away.

Margaret’s compound is always a zoo, quite literally: a very pregnant goat chases her two baby goats around the perimeter (I didn’t know pregnant goats could run that fast!) followed by very excited dogs, and dozens of chickens roaming freely alongside dozens more children while their working parents look on. Margaret bursts out of her house, arms open, warmly coming to greet Mercy and I (Mercy is Lumana’s Assistant Loan Officer, and a stellar translator). I ask Margaret, jokingly, if all of these kids are hers. “Of course not! I live here with my brother, daughter, niece, three cousins and their families, and my old mother,” she laughs.

Jun212011_Margaret_Mercy Fashion1

This is the third time I’ve met Margaret; the first two times were in co-operative meetings with our field officer Richard, where she was shy and gracious. Now, however, in the comfort of her own home, she is anything but quiet: welcoming, hospitable, and animated, it’s a pleasure to chat unguarded. We’re invited into her sitting room and chairs are provided, and I can see into her tailoring shop that most likely doubles as a bedroom, half-finished skirts and cloth strewn all over the chairs, the walls, the desk, and the floor.

Jun212011_Margaret_Mercy Fashion

“Business isn’t good,” Margaret says, her voice sobering. “Most of my tailoring work is seasonal, since people only need new clothes around Christmas, Easter, or a funeral, and I don’t feel good anymore. Also, people don’t come to me sometimes because I’m getting older and they think I can’t do the new fashions, even though I know it all.”

“Do you think that if your tailoring business doesn’t get better, you will still continue?” I ask, noting that Margaret suddenly doesn’t look as happy as she did when we first walked in, sitting on the ground in her doorway, clutching scraps of fabric in her fingers and wearing a sad, weary smile.

“I have already started a new business. I sell cassava and corn locally in Atorkor every day, which I buy from Anloga. That’s becoming my everyday business, and tailoring has become an on-the-side type business,” Margaret states matter-of-factly. “But, don’t you miss doing tailoring? You’ve been doing it for more than 30 years,” I ask, a bit forlornly.

Wait, let me back up: I have spoken with so many of our clients that are working in an industry (fishing, farming, tailoring, food selling) just for the sake of making more money to survive, but finding little to no joy in the job itself. Before this interview, I learned that Margaret has been creating beautifully crafted clothing for her Atorkor community for years and years, even passing her artisanship onto her son; I was very much hoping I would be able to talk with Margaret about her love for the feeling of Ghanaian-made Kente or batik running under a sewing machine. Crestfallen might be too strong of a word, but I’m definitely feeling a little sad.

“I see. So, you sell cassava and corn now, and only tailor a little… for what are you planning to use the next loan?” I ask, feeling like I already know the answer. “I would like to start another business, a provision store. With my old age, it’s not easy to work hard anymore, but I could run a store,” Margaret replies.

Okay, that makes sense. We continue chatting about her family (“My family is from Atorkor, and my brother is the chief of the village.”) and future aspirations (“I would like to stop working one day, but first I need to make enough money to do so.”), but Margaret’s voice turns quieter and quieter, and she seems to withdraw further into the doorway. Despite the world-weariness written all over her face, however, she continues to mention her plan for using the next Lumana loan to create another business.

Last question: “Margaret, if you started a provision store, would you continue selling cassava and corn, as well as doing tailoring on the side?” I mildly ask. She nods her head assertively, saying, “Of course. I will continue doing as many jobs as I can.” As we thank her and leave Margaret’s compound, I notice that she does not accompany us to the gate.

Margaret’s story is similar to many others I’ve listened to, either over a frying pan cooking the day’s catch, or in small huts with corrugated tin roofs. Create a business, the business collapses, start over again with a new business, and repeat. When I ask, people seem to have a general idea of why their past venture failed, but when it comes to revenue earned or their return on investment, it’s clear that these questions have never been calculated. Reflection or asking ‘why’ about past failures aren’t common; in Atorkor, Ghana, the only direction left is forward.

While this courageous business mindset is impressive, I can clearly see that it exhausts many of the people living and working in Atorkor, like Margaret. Having worked since she was five years old (she started helping with the cooking for the family when she was barely able to see over the stove), this woman needs a break. I usually ask our clients if they would like to stop working one day, and the answer is always a decisive yes, followed by a despondent “…but, only if I can.” Margaret isn’t that different from you or I; while she is able to lift more on her head at sixty than I can do in my arms at twenty-three, she would still like to relax, see her children grow up and her grand-children play around her, and be able to gracefully enter old age with a financially secure peace of mind. However, her living circumstances – and the necessity to always run on survival mode – have forbidden this.

A former business major, Adan, who used to work at a microfinance institution in Mozambique told me an interesting story relating to the rural business mindset: Feliciana was a school girl living in a poor village, trying to earn money for school and her family from three side businesses, one being a hair extension salon where Feliciana spent most of her time. While visiting her salon, Feliciana told Adan that she often spent the entire day on one client. On the day of an appointment, Feliciana would spend 1.5-7 hours traveling to and from town (in Africa, rural travel depends on many external factors) to pick up the required extensions that would cost anywhere from 50 cents to $5 (which the client would then pay for), and then, no matter how skilled of a weaver she was, she would usually spend the rest of the day pulling, braiding, and pleating, for a small labor fee of 50 cents or less – all of this for one, single client. After listening to Feliciana’s story and realizing she was most likely spending too much money on this one business, Adan took time to go over her expenses - a simple calculation of her profit margin - and within fifteen minutes had determined that she only made about 3 cents per client because of travel and other related expenses. Because of Feliciana’s long distance to the nearest town, Adan and Feliciana determined together that the hair extension business was not profitable and had to go.

Of course, hair extensions are a different beast from tailoring, but in the same way that costs and expenses were able to convince Feliciana that she would be most profitable elsewhere, these same projections, simplified to rural needs, can aid Margaret and many of our other clients to calculate their own profitability, and thus allow the indisputable wisdom of numbers to make difficult business decisions for them.

Small business owners in developing countries, no matter how rural, are not magically exempt from the rules of engagement. Depending on the amount of money, business practices are scaled up or down, and quintessential business calculations should be as well. During Lumana’s three-day business education courses, clients are schooled in personal finances and savings, and this summer, we are working to integrate more of these projections into the program. By the end of the summer, these beginning courses will include calculating profit margins and basic marketing principles, taught by the elders of the towns in which we work.

Margaret deserves the opportunity to live quietly, without having to worry about food on the table or what business she will start next. In order to do so, however, she must stop living day-to-day; introducing fundamental business concepts into her operation will allow her to look to the future and make educated decisions about profitability, to ensure a graceful transition into retirement.

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May 4, 2011

Stories from the field: Lumana leaders in action.

A loan is not the only reason people join the Lumana program.  They also join to get an education, or to connect with a cooperative group for support, and many times to partner with local mentors who help them improve their businesses. We have seen many cases where women who take these steps start gaining greater control in their lives and eventually become the kind of leaders their families and communities need most.

We decided the best way for our program to continually support our clients would be to encourage them to work towards their personal and business goals.

We like this method because of the way it it sends a message to our clients that we are there to help them improve their lives on their own terms. It also helps us to learn how quickly clients can reach their financial goals, and gives us stories that we can learn from and share.

We believe that helping our clients reach their goals enforces one of the strongest assets a client has, the belief that they are the skilled and able authors of their own futures.
 

So far we've seen a diverse array of goals, ranging from target savings amounts, to business investments, to tuition coverage for children and we are excited to hear more.

Here are some examples of the goals set by members of our microfinance programs in rural Ghana, and how with Lumana's help they have been able to grow their businesses to create more jobs in their areas:

http://mifos.lumana.org/photos/images/photos/Klutsey_Peace_seamstress_Norvisi_ATK.jpg?1302749799

Peace Klutsey owns a business that makes cloth and sells sandals, she wants to build a kiosk in Atorkor and train three more apprentices to work in her shop.

Peace travels to Accra to buy sandals and batik, the fabric she uses for cloth. She takes the batik back to her workshop made of palm thatch which is equipped with two sewing machines and tables. Whenever visitors stop by, Peace is busily working with her apprentices making cloth. The new kiosk she would build on the main road in Atorkor would attract much more attention than her current location, and she already knows a carpenter who can build the shop. The three new apprentices will also help production to increase. Peace possesses the intelligence and ambition to greatly expand her business.

http://mifos.lumana.org/photos/images/photos/Attitsiogbi_Beatrice_Amenuveve_ATK.jpg?1302944996

Beatrice Attitsogbi sells her own baked goods in Atorkor(our first village), and she wants to grow her business so she can attain financial security for her family. A loan would allow her to purchase a kneading machine that would rapidly speed up the time it takes to make each loaf of bread.

Beatrice's baking business is her only source of income, and she has already been able to hire two employees to assist in production. She readily acknowledges Lumana's role in transforming her business, and she wants to continue accessing microloans so she can purchase beneficial products like the kneading machine.

 

These are just two examples of some of the amazing women Lumana partners with in Ghana. If you are able, please help us to continue offering our services to help their communities in rural Ghana to reach their goals of education, empowerment and security.

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Organization

Lumana

Seattle, WA, United States
http://www.lumana.org

Project Leader

Cole Hoover

Director of Programs
Seattle, WA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Help 25 Ghanaian women create jobs where they live