Clean Girl soap is ready for sale!
This report is being sent, with gratitude, to friends who have helped us to support girls in Zimbabwe through our partner in Harare, Women Advocacy Project (WAP).
You have donated to three appeals on GlobalGiving since 2018 which have raised a combined $6,231. This is of course fantastic. Even more fantastic is the fact that your donations have helped WAP to leverage well over $100,000 for the program and inspire innovation by girls in some of Africa’s toughest neighborhoods.
It started in 2018 when WAP took a stand against child marriage, which is widespread in Zimbabwe. We sent Alex, a student at Columbia University, to work with Constance, the founder of WAP. They came up with the idea of asking several girls to serve as “ambassadors” and organize clubs that would rally around girls at risk. We launched our first appeal on GlobalGiving to cover the cost of stipend and training.
The following year, Peace Fellow McLane from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, picked up where Alex left off and helped Constance to launch a pilot project to make and sell soap in the Epworth neighborhood. A second appeal from GlobalGiving raised $1,935 and paid for the materials. By the end of 2019, the girls had sold over 3,000 bottles of their Clean Girl soap. They had also described the threat from child marriage through a striking advocacy quilt which was displayed by Constance at the 2019 UN summit on women and girls in Nairobi.
The arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020 put soap-making on hold. Undeterred, the girls distributed emergency supplies to poor families. They also used their stitching skills to describe the savage impact of the pandemic on their lives.
As the pandemic began to recede, the girls returned to soap-making and sold around 6,000 bottles in 2020. Dickson from WAP profiled some of the WAP stars - Lisa, Trish, Tanatswa and Evelyn - for this sparkling video. Donors were impressed and WAP secured a 2-year commitment of $107,000 from four donors: Together Women Rise, Action for World Solidarity in Berlin, Rockflower and ourselves.
Finally freed from lockdowns and helped by Dawa, our wonderful 2022 Peace Fellow, the WAP soap stars have taken their thriving business to a next level.
They are still worried about child marriage but none of them has married since the program began five years ago and they now see a much larger threat from poverty to their families and community. This has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine which has led to food shortages, and by inflation. Some families earn as little as $2 a day while prices are soaring.
Soap remains their best hope to supplementing the family income. Sixty-eight girls are now participating in the program and they are about to reach their 2022 target of 16,000 bottles with three months still to go.
This has been achieved by streamlining and by reducing costs. A grant from Rockflower paid for a new center/factory where production can be centralized. WAP has also turned to solar power to avoid the crippling power outages that affect Harare. (Four panels were paid for donors, and another two from WAP’s soap profits.) Peace Fellow Dawa helped to secure a new vehicle from the Swiss embassy. This leaves WIFI as the major infrastructural challenge. WAP has improved labelling and packaging, which also saves time and money.
Instead of being shared out between all of the girls, the production of soap has been assigned to four experts – Trish, Dorcas, Lyness and Rosemary. This system was forced on WAP by the lockdowns but has proved to be highly efficient and been retained.
At the same time, all 68 girls take part in selling the soap and share the financial rewards - which is the main goal of the program. Over the past three years the girls have built up a loyal customer base in homes, in all-purpose stores (known as “tuck-shops”) and at supermarkets. This has allowed WAP to raise the price of Clean Girl soap by 50%, boosting sales.
The soap-sellers are no longer working in teams and helping each other to haggle for the best price, as we showed in the video. That is no longer necessary now that customers know the product.
Instead, WAP now gives each girl 11 cases - 66 bottles of soap - to sell in her neighborhood. She keeps 70% of what she sells and the remainder goes back to WAP to be re-invested. This means that the girls will share well over $12,000 this year, while WAP expects to have over $10,000 in the bank account by December. This is serious money!
Their success with soap has given the WAP girls a taste for innovation, starting with the environment.
The program is heavily dependent on plastic but as is so often the case in Africa, alternatives are incredibly expensive. There is no support for recycling in Zimbabwe and the Clean Girl bottles are too fragile to be used a second time. Bottle caps, however, are sturdy and can be cleaned and re-used. What is more, the cap accounts for 40% of the cost of each bottle (20 cents). WAP has promised the girls an additional dollar for every 20 caps they retrieve from customers. This is already proving popular.
At a time when food is short, WAP may also ask mothers of the girls to explore composting food waste and growing vegetables as practiced by our inspiring partner Stella in Nairobi. This would address the twin threats of pollution and hunger.
Having endured two years of lock-down the girls understood the importance of vaccinations and drew on the successful campaign in the Nairobi settlement of Kangemi to make the case for vaccinations to their own relatives and friends. This has produced 76 jabs so far.
Education is also on the agenda. No fewer than 50 of the 68 girls have yet to complete secondary school and AP and WAP have decided to launch a fund to provide scholarships. Peace Fellow Dawa created a spreadsheet of beneficiaries and estimates the cost at around $24,500 over 3 years. AP will prime the pump with $2,000. Of this, $682 was raised by American High School students who made and sold their own Clean Girl soap in solidarity with the WAP girls - a wonderful example of how Africa can inspire innovation in the US. WAP will contribute $500 from its soap sales to the new fund.
The WAP girls have also drawn on their talent for stitching to produce 30 embroidered blocks that will be offered for sale through a new AP online store this Fall, opening up another source of income. Bobbi and Delaney from AP visited Zimbabwe in the summer to offer advanced training.
It is hard to remain immune to the charm of the young WAP soap artists. Bobbi and Delaney, our embroidery trainers, found their enthusiasm infectious and enjoyed their sense of humor (photo). Our Peace Fellow Dawa organized a party to celebrate the opening of the new factory that turned into one long succession of hugs and gifts. As Dawa wrote in a blog: “I know I will cherish these tokens of friendships for a lifetime.”
But at the same time this is a business and tough decisions lie ahead. Dickson, who manages the program, reckons that his four soap producers could make over 50,000 bottles next year and is keen to keep them busy. This could produce as much as $30,000 for WAP.
But would it be enough to cover the increased cost of material? This will be made harder by the fact that one of WAP’s main grants ends in December. Dickson is doing the math and producing a new 3-year plan. He knows that the program will be measured by how soon it can be self-sustaining and will set bench-marks for how to get there.
If this could be achieved by girls who have faced down the pandemic and (in many cases) dropped out of school, it would send a brilliant signal to other hard-pressed urban communities in Africa.
WAP in Harare and AP in Washington
Trish and Bobbi at embroidery training
Preparing Clean Girl soap
Dawa, the 2022 Peace Fellow at WAP
Watching Americans students selling their soap
Celebrating the new soap factory in style!