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Innovation Challenge

by Reach Out NGO
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge
Innovation Challenge

Dear Donors, sorry about the delay. You will be happy to know that, Giovani, from last report, has a microproject about him, and that already has 180$ in donations! If you want to support him to start his business follow the link, he needs as much help as he can get! We thank you for your support so far and we know we have not have had much success fundraising for this project, but you should know that we are also trying other avenues such as proposal writing. As of now, we are focusing on preparing the next Innovation Challenge in Tole, 2018, since the most important thing is to repeat the challenge in the first community where it held, to perpetuate the culture of innovation.

Today we want to present you with a different kind of innovator, she is not as young as Giovanni, she never went to secondary school, but she has seen a lot and knows what is needed to change her community for good. Madam Justina.

1963 “My mother brought me here. [to Tole] We lived at the tea plantation and I completed Primary Education here too.

When I completed school I started working for CDC [Cameroon Development Corporation, the state company that owned the plantation, one of the major companies in the country]. They had this policy. My parents planted this Tea, and the children of the workers were given opportunities, since we were more educated, many came as clerks.

That was my life until 2003. The place was good, we had many services, like medical. We lived in the camp. In 2003 they bought the tea plantation. They fired us. Until now I have not been paid compensation, neither the other 736. [Her compensation is estimated to be 10,000$].

I built my house in 1993, it was supposed to be temporary, I thought I would come to retire in the village with my pension. It´s not the house I planned.

Then we were working on contract for the new owners. In 2011 it looked like we were going to get our compensation. From September 9 to March 8, 2012, we sat in the Labor Office in Buea. They promised us they will give in 9 months. Up until now we are still waiting.

After this I did not want to work for them on contract anymore, so I started my own business.

It was not my first. In 1988 I was displaced to Saxenhof [nearby plantation camp]. The area was far, it´s not a village like Wotutu or Tole. It was difficult to get some basic things.

I went to a bakery and asked what would take for them to bring bread to Saxenhof. They said 5000. So that was my first business. I started because I wanted to eat bread myself. In one year my 5000 capital had turned into 100,000 and I was buying also ground-nut, soap and milk. It was going very well but when they transferred me to Tole I stopped.”

[Back to 2012] I had spent all my savings in Buea, living for 6 months in the Labour office, protesting. I had two small girls in the house (her grand-children) and we needed money fast. Food is quick cash, people will quickly eat it all. I still do this Water-Fufu the same way I started it 5 years back. Now I also have earrings, and other things we do as a group [savings, poultry, chairs rental]. The other things are to save money, this is to eat every day.

[To this day, Justina supports herself and her children with dignity, she never failed to pay their school fees, they never fail to eat and have their basic necessities covered. She seems to attract small children from distant relatives and right now takes care of three girls: 2 teenagers and 1 child. Note: Water-fufu it´s a Cameroonian product made of cassava)

Her role as a mentor in the community

[Justina also helps us in another project, the Keep a Girl Alive, she gives advice to young single mothers starting businesses, and also help us identify possible girls to help.]

“I feel pity, I was also a struggling child, still am. It´s not good to stay like that. To see a girl holding a baby and still depending on her mother to buy soap and food for that baby… Is not good. She should have something doing, something of her own. Those are the girls I pick”

Her Idea.

I have been a farmer since I was small. I used to farm some land that CDC had left unused. It gave me very good cassava. I think if farmers would work together they would not suffer this much. 10 years ago I saw a cooperative in Clerks Quarters [Buea]. I saw how there were so many things there. So fresh. The way pepper [chili] looks when it´s just fresh from the farm. It was so good, that woman was good, very organized. Farmers would just come and drop their things and at the end of the day get paid.”

I was thinking that if we had a Farmer´s House, a place that will help farmers store and transform their products, and would sell to big clients for them, things would be so much easier. They will get better profit, suffer less.  I know buyers interested, but they can´t buy from one or two persons, they need quantity. I also know enough farmers and I can coordinate them to harvest at the right time and prepare the products. I just need a fridge, stable electricity a scale and some basic items. So that´s what I wrote.”

And that´s what we like. Storing, preserving and mediating between farmers and traders is so necessary in the economic climate of Cameroon and most developing countries. We love that such ideas come from humble members of the community themselves, not only from government and NGOs. Would it not be great to help her carry on? She estimates she can work with 30 farmers in the first year, 90 by the second. We have known her for more than ten years, and we think she is being modest.

Thank you again for reading, if you enjoy knowing about real innovators and real entrepreneurs from Cameroon. Please, let us know!

Very soon you will have a microproject to support Justina, but now let´s focus on the next Innovation Challenge, Tole, 2018!

Justinar giving out advice during a training
Justinar giving out advice during a training
Working in her group farm
Working in her group farm
During Innovation Challenge prize ceremony
During Innovation Challenge prize ceremony


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Giovanni is a 26-year-old man living in Tole community. Those who don’t know him might not notice him, he just looks like an idle young man. I see him often when we go to Tole for the different projects we have there, walking around shirtless, joking with other neighbours and always looking very relaxed. There’s more to him than that.

One day I was with some friends and somebody showed me a video of a 7-year-old boy in Ghana. He had managed to master the process to produce Bio Gas out of manure with simple compressor. I thought if a 7-year-old boy can do it, we can also do it.  The group of friends set themselves to try, and they built a prototype with basic materials. They went to a nearby slaughterhouse and asked for cow dung to fuel it and…. It worked. You should not just try to play with gas because it can get very dangerous. Let the experts do it He studied sociology and learned everything he knows about Bio-Gas through the internet.

They kept thinking about it and developed a business model, they could set biogas facilities in villages that do not have regular access to gas and electricity and also set it up at a small scale in households. But without initial capital the idea was put in stand-by. Such a business will need a few thousand dollars at least to start, not too much, but out of reach for the group of friends.

A year later, we came along with Innovation Challenge, and he heard about it when we were registering applications. He came to one of our workshops and applied presenting a summary of the biogas concept

From his application:

 I have been doing research on it for quite some time now and my dream is to see the project realised 

Bio gas is a natural gas (Methane) got from plant waste, animal dung and other decomposable elements from our natural environment that can be used as cooking gas and fuel. From the production of bio gas, we can also obtain chemical fertilizer

The production of Bio gas is very cheap, affordable to the local man. We will reduce dependency in the forest for firewood, reducing deforestation and protecting the environment.

I was the person receiving his application. it looked so neat and serious, with some additional pages attached, and I went through it on the spot. I immediately asked Can you do this?Yes, Ive done it, I have all the videos in my phone.. I knew we had our winner.

Giovanni went on to take the first prize of the Innovation challenge 2016, and we continue to work with him to connect him with opportunities nationally and internationally. The main challenge is to get enough capital for the receptacles where compression happens, and gas bottles to commercialize it. He is starting another project to generate money now, a fast food omelette restaurant. Theres a kind of chicken not known here that produces so many eggs in a week, I know a friend that has them and Ive been helping him. I want to raise it and every day have the eggs cooked and served. Tole has been growing a lot these last years and theres always need for food.

Speech during ceremony
Speech during ceremony
Leading a team during a workshop
Leading a team during a workshop
Workshop on applying innovation to day-to-day
Workshop on applying innovation to day-to-day


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Dear Donor,thanks for believing in us, while waiting to receive enough donations to execute a new Innovation Challenge by early 2017 (Thanks to you we will have enough funds to start up by January!), we offer you this report about the first pilot project executed this 2016, which was self-funded by us, so you understand better the concept you are getting behind.


Why is it that 90% of the girls we help want to start a hairdressing business?

Why would somebody see the neighbor selling roasted corn and go and start a roasting corn business in front of her?

Why is it that all stores have the same products?


Since I came to Cameroon I’ve heard those kind of questions, I’ve asked them, when I came as a new volunteer, and I’ve tried to answer them as I received others. There are economic answers to explain this, but lack of a creative environment plays a significant role.

One day we got tired of talking about it and thought about doing something, we had tried to introduce creative thinking into our trainings of basic business management; the response was first shy and gradually more participative. But we could do more, if the problem was so important; why not dedicate a project just to it?

But what could we do?

All over the world we hear about Innovation Challenges, we don’t claim ownership of the concept. companies, foundations, government, they love to have a huge number of people competing to proof that not only can they do something great, they can do something different. We knew about the methodology because we ourselves, as NGO, have participated in many of them writing our projects. Why not apply that to a community? If creativity is needed at a basic level, why not focus on bringing innovation to the grassroots?

Creativity can be learned, everybody that has studied in the field agrees, and our team fervently believed in this idea. We still do. So we just had to look at what has been written about boosting creativity and translate it, literally (to Pidgin English) and figuratively (to something real, practical, useful for somebody living in an underserved community of the South-West Region of Cameroon). Luckily so much has been written about it, we did not even get to read all the materials that were sent to us by friends and supporters. We need to thank The Innovator’s DNA ( ) , from which we designed most of our materials.

What else? For a month, everybody will be able to submit their new business ideas(everybody, we helped illiterate and semiliterate people, heard their ideas and wrote them for them), and there should be a prize to the best of them. The prizes will be symbolic monetary prizes for the best 4 and then we also offered follow-up for them so they could actually execute the idea, help them access foundations and credit.

But we also knew that participating on such challenge and not winning is a wearing experience. Our commitment is with the community as a whole and we extended this follow-up concept to most participants, at the end of the project we will have a small database, opportunities come up for example for young girls (like our Keep a Girl Alive project ), people in need of micro-loans or to say, people who want to start a piggery, we will use the database to connect them to those opportunities.

We picked Tole, in Buea, one of the communities we have a long time relationship with, to facilitate the mobilization process. We went to churches, community groups and we even hired the local Town Crier to go around.

So the first day of training was there, and we were hesitating. There was no food prepared, the concept was a bit abstract, we were not giving out anything but a message…people had farms to take care of…will somebody come?


109 people attended the first day of training! We really pushed the limits of the school room that had been habilitated for the workshop. The rules of the challenge were explained and short exercises to enhance creativity were conducted, the first day focused mostly on setting the mindset for the brainstorming sessions to come (no wrong answers, being open to say crazy things) and on associating ideas and different businesses. Women (79) and men (30) of all ages gave their best in group work, each group was supposed to come up with ways of mixing their different backgrounds and businesses. They responded very well, groups presented on ways to develop their businesses together, share selling spaces, market each other’s products, organize in cooperatives even set up new informal microfinance systems.

So the first day was a blast, post-workshop evaluation was excellent, and people were already submitting their ideas…But will we really find disruptive innovators among them?


Read the next report!


Thank you for believing in crazy things.


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Organization Information

Reach Out NGO

Location: Buea, South West Region - Cameroon
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @reachoutdev1
Project Leader:
Njomo Omam Esther
Executive Director
Buea, South West Region Cameroon

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