Information and stories about Africa.

africa innovation challenge“What’s New?” This is the question engraved on a medallion for the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) created the award in 2014 to honor Janssen, a prominent pharmaceutical researcher who passed away in 2003. Janssen would pose this two-word question daily to his research and development lab. Now, every year, the award is given to an innovative and passionate scientist or team of scientists alongside a $200,000 prize as part of J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge.

The Africa Innovation Challenge

The challenge is part of J&J’s Champions of Science initiative. Seema Kumar, J&J’s vice president of innovation, global health and policy communication, explains that the initiative is designed to “champion science” because “science needs champions.” The 2016 launch of J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge 1.0 was part of a geo-specific initiative to support scientific advancements in Africa. Such developments are key to improving healthcare in impoverished areas.

J&J sought applications from Africa-based entrepreneurs who were creating new healthcare services and products in “early childhood development and maternal health,” “empowering young girls” and “overall family well-being.” Winners received mentorship from J&J’s team of researchers, engineers and scientists as well as up to $100,000 in funding.

The Need for Innovation

Access to healthcare is often a hurdle throughout Africa. Twenty-seven of the world’s 28 poorest countries are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2015, the majority of the world’s poor reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average poverty rate is 41%. In comparison, data from 2018 suggests that approximately 8.6% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty.

With such high rates of poverty, it is estimated that less than 50% of Africans have access to modern healthcare facilities. In 2009, sub-Saharan Africa spent only 6.1% of its GDP on healthcare. For the majority of African countries, less than 10% of their GDP goes toward health expenditures. The continent consequently has the highest mortality rates in the world and is the sole continent in which deaths from chronic diseases are outnumbered by deaths from infectious diseases.

J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge aims to alter these statistics and improve healthcare in Africa through science-based initiatives. After naming three Africa Innovation Challenge winners in 2017, J&J launched the Africa Innovation Challenge 2.0 in 2018. This time, the six challenge categories were “botanical solutions,” “packaging innovations,” “mental health,” “health worker support,” “digital health tools” and “essential surgical care.” J&J announced six winners, who each received up to $50,000 in funding. These are the nine companies that have won the Africa Innovation Challenge since its launch in 2016.

Winners of the Africa Innovation Challenge

  1. 2017 winner SaCoDé makes washable and re-wearable pads that tie around the waist for girls and women in Burundi. The pads prevent infection among the many Burundian women who cannot afford disposable pads. Since winning the Africa Innovation Challenge, SaCoDé has opened two new manufacturing locations and created jobs for 20 women in Burundi.
  2. 2017 winner Innov Asepsis makes hands-free faucets. There is an approximately 60% chance of contracting an infection from unclean faucet handles in Uganda, but these hands-free faucets reduce the risk of infection by eliminating contact. PedalTaps fit onto existing sinks to reduce the spread of diseases related to faucet handles.
  3. 2017 winner J-Palm is a makeup and skincare brand made from cold-pressed palm oil. Makeup products imported into Liberia are affordable and popular but are often made with chemicals that may be toxic. J-Palm addresses this issue by providing customers with affordable, safe makeup products. The company supports local farmers and has created 330 new jobs in Liberia.
  4. 2019 winner LifeBank is a digital platform with the goal of increasing safety, efficiency and efficacy in Nigeria’s blood supply chain. Approximately 8% to 14% of HIV cases in Nigeria are a consequence of poor safety and regulatory measures in the blood donation system. LifeBank works to deliver the necessary blood for transfusions to Nigerian hospitals in less than 45 minutes to improve the quality of the blood supply chain.
  5. 2019 winner The Hope Initiative uses a validated metric to measure “hope among nurses and mothers” in Rwanda and to “understand how hope intersects with healthcare worker burnout and perinatal health outcomes,” according to the J&J website. An estimated 50% of healthcare workers are classified as “high risk” for experiencing burnout. Based on demonstrated research that hope decreases burnout, The Hope Initiative’s goal is to diminish burnout among emergency care workers by identifying the “interventions that positively influence hope.”
  6. 2019 winner Dreet is a Botswanan phone application that uses hearing device tests and remotely connects children in rural Africa to healthcare professionals. Approximately 67% of the world’s hearing-impaired population resides in developing countries. The Dreet application helps families navigate life with a hearing-impaired child while working to mitigate high or unnecessary healthcare expenses.
  7. 2019 winner Crib A’ Glow is a “solar-powered, foldable phototherapy crib provided to hospitals, health centers and parents” in communities across Nigeria to treat infant jaundice, according to the J&J website. Infant jaundice most commonly occurs when babies’ livers have not matured sufficiently in order to remove a chemical compound called bilirubin from the bloodstream. An estimated 6 million babies worldwide do not receive treatment for jaundice. Left untreated, jaundice can cause hearing loss, developmental issues, cerebral palsy and, in some cases, death. Crib A’ Glow helps to give poor infants a chance.
  8. 2019 winner Uganics manufactures mosquito-repelling soap that is both affordable and organic. Africa has the world’s highest rates of malaria transmission. In 2018, the continent was home to 93% of the world’s malaria cases and 94% of malaria-related deaths. Sixty-seven percent of those deaths were children. Uganics’s soap helps prevent malaria from spreading in Uganda.
  9. 2019 winner M-SCAN aims to help pregnant women in rural Ugandan communities who do not have access to ultrasounds. The company’s device uses a portable probe and smartphone, laptop or tablet to perform ultrasounds. This device helps healthcare professionals and/or midwives prepare for any risks that may arise during delivery.

The winning companies, or “Champions of Science,” have helped increase healthcare access among Africa’s poor while also improving healthcare safety. Through J&J’s Africa Innovation Challenge, these sustainable solutions to public health problems have also created jobs, providing workers with stable incomes and helping boost countries’ economies. By expanding support and funding for public health innovations, companies, organizations and governments can continue to “champion” change.

– Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr

Pott’s DiseaseInfectious diseases are one of the main results of poverty in the developing world. In addition, the prevalence of infectious diseases has long been disparate between developing and developed nations. In a report on environmental risk factors and worldwide disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) affirmed the “total number of healthy life years lost per capita was 15-times higher in developing countries than in developed countries” for infectious diseases. Yet, one disease continues to be the deadliest infectious disease in the world, killing approximately 4,000 people a day: tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a devastating widespread illness in the developing world, specifically in Asian and sub-Saharan African nations. However, tuberculosis of the spine called Pott’s Disease is a serious concern for the developing world. Read on for five things to know about Pott’s Disease.

5 Things To Know About Pott’s Disease

  1. Pott’s disease gets its name from a British surgeon. Though it is also referred to as spinal tuberculosis, the namesake of Pott’s Disease takes after British surgeon Percivall Pott. Pott originally studied and defined the condition in 1779, and his writings and research are still used today.
  2. Pott’s disease begins when tuberculosis spreads to the spine. Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that begins when an individual inhales mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes the disease. If tuberculosis goes untreated for a long period of time (which it often does in the developing world due to lack of access to healthcare and low-income citizens who cannot afford medication), the disease can spread from the lungs to the spine. Once this happens, an individual experiences a type of “spinal arthritis.” Tuberculosis bacteria invades the spinal cord and, if it infects two neighboring spinal joints, blocks the nutrient supply to that region of the back. Eventually, the spinal discs deteriorate and can cause serious back injury, difficulty standing or walking, nerve damage and, in serious cases, paralysis.
  3. Pott’s disease is visually recognizable and has existed for centuries. Unlike normal tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs, Pott’s disease is easily visually recognizable due to the severe curvature of the mid to lower spine that results from the infection. Specifically, the thoracic spinal region is the most affected, followed closely by the lumbar region. This visual indication from remains traces the disease back to the European Iron Age and Egyptian mummies, making it one of the oldest documented diseases in history.
  4. Spinal tuberculosis only represents a small percentage of all tuberculosis cases. Although it is the most debilitating form of tuberculosis, Pott’s Disease only accounts for 1.02 cases per 100,000 tuberculosis cases in the world. This rate is higher among Africans, where 3.13 per 100,000 cases are attributed to Pott’s Disease. Globally, this means that only 1-2% of all tuberculosis cases are attributed to that disease.
  5. Pott’s disease can be treated through a rigorous medication regimen or surgery. Pott’s Disease is a result of a lack of treatment over a long period of time; conversely, a lengthy period of medication is often needed to fully treat the condition. The time period of treatment ranges from nine months to over a year, depending on individual symptoms and progression. However, medication cannot redeem an affected individual’s deformed spinal structure. Thus, it is often only used to treat the tuberculosis infection after surgery. “Spinal fusion or spinal decompression surgeries” can both repair the warped spine and “prevent further neurological complications.” Physical therapy is also often necessary after receiving spine surgery for Pott’s Disease. Yet, treating Pott’s Disease is highly expensive. Even when tuberculosis medication is free, “patient costs associated with TB treatment can be upwards of 80% per capita income in some regions.” However, multiple organizations exist that provide donations to supply healthcare and surgeries to low-income patients in developing nations. In addition, specific organizations like the Nuvasive Spine Foundation provide life-saving spine surgery in vulnerable regions around the world.

Although Pott’s Disease represents a small percentage of all tuberculosis cases, it is a serious illness. However, through the help of surgeons, medication and awareness, the disease can hopefully be treated across the globe soon.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

water management in africaAccess to safe drinking water is the building block for a healthy society. Unfortunately, 780 million people worldwide do not have access to improved water sources. This means that they are more likely to become ill or even die from consumption of contaminated water, which can cause diarrheal infections, cholera, and an array of other deadly diseases. It is estimated that roughly 801,000 children under the age of five die from diarrheal infections every year, and about 88% of these deaths can be traced back to the consumption of contaminated water. Innovation in water management in Africa is therefore sorely needed.

Many communities in Africa have historically suffered from inadequate clean water access due to factors such as geography, urbanization, population growth and low GDP. For this reason, in March of 2020 the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy suggested new policies for water management in Africa. The goal of these policies is to “increase Africa’s preparedness to address water and climate change vulnerabilities, with less fragmentation of efforts, as well as improve upon monitoring and forecasting tools, and enhance knowledge sharing and technology transfer.” To do this, the Commission is focusing on innovation and enhancing the existing skill sets of local organizations concentrating on water management in Africa. Here are five innovative solutions focusing on water management in Africa.

Five Innovative Solutions for Water Management in Africa

  1. Decision-Analytic Framework (DAFNE): The DAFNE Project is funded by the European Union and focuses on improving collaboration efforts regarding resource management among African countries. Many water sources in Africa, such as rivers, flow through multiple countries, posing a risk that water-related conflicts could emerge. Additionally, water pollution from one country can influence water quality downstream in others. DAFNE is consolidating existing data and processing it in order to explore alternative water management techniques that could be utilized to maximize efficiency in water management in Africa. It also aims to reduce conflict between neighboring countries for water access.
  2. FLOWERED: The FLOWERED Project has designed a device that can remove fluoride from water sources. This is important because in many rural African countries, groundwater is the primary water source for drinking, crop production and cooking. Unfortunately, groundwater in many areas contains toxic levels of fluoride. Although this filtration device has not been fully developed, a prototype has proven to be successful in Tanzania. In the coming months, FLOWERED intends to complete production of its de-fluoridation devices and conduct research to determine which communities are suffering from toxic fluoride levels in their water.
  3. MADFORWATER: MADFORWATER is a project that focuses on cost-effective water treatment allowing water to be reused and utilized for irrigation. Many communities in Africa face extreme heat that makes water a scarce resource. This makes water treatment a necessity, as people rely on clean water not only for direct consumption but also for farming. This project focuses on ensuring that this water treatment technology is affordable, user-friendly and environmentally conscious.
  4. AfriAlliance: AfriAlliance is a project that began in 2016 and is projected to be completed in 2021. Sixteen partners from all across Europe and Africa are connecting social networks throughout Africa to consolidate water-related innovation and make this knowledge readily available to community organizers. Additionally, a large goal of the program is to improve upon existing water accessibility research.
  5. SafeWaterAfrica: SafeWaterAfrica is a project that has developed a solar-powered water purification device. This device removes dangerous pathogens and chemicals from water sources, making water safe to drink. There are currently one of these devices in Mozambique and one in South Africa. These devices can make roughly 10 cubic meters of water per day, but have the potential to produce much more. Since they utilize solar energy, these devices may generate close to 10,000 liters of clean water per day in African countries.

While there is still more work to be done, these five projects have already made lasting impacts on many communities throughout Africa. An important aspect of these projects is their focus on creating sustainable solutions and including community leaders. These long-term solutions are a necessity, as they allow members of these communities to focus on economic stability while improving water management in Africa.

– Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr

urban overpopulationAfrica’s urbanization has been rapidly increasing. For example, sub-Saharan Africa is regarded as the world’s fastest urbanizing region. This increase in urbanization is related to the increase in people migrating into urban areas. However, urbanization often leads to overpopulation. Here is how urban overpopulation impacts sub-Saharan Africa and what African countries are doing to solve it through infrastructure development.

Rural-Urban Migration

African cities have fast-growing population growth. The UN reports that urban population growth has evolved “from about 27% in 1950 to 40% in 2015 and is projected to reach 60% by 2050.” This pressure has led to the over-exploitation of infrastructural resources like roads and markets. Many rural areas in Africa are remote, and they have fewer job opportunities. Accordingly, many people move from these regions to urban areas where they can find jobs easily. This problem causes a migration influx that leads to urban overpopulation in many African cities. Because urban areas also have advanced, easily accessible social services and facilities, people who may need or want better medical care or educational services have to move to urban areas. This kind of migration leads to increased population growth and urban overpopulation.

Urban Overpopulation

Increased population automatically increases urban areas’ population density, or the measurement of population per unit area. Overpopulation occurs when urban areas contain more people than the optimal proportion of population to land. When urban areas become overcrowded, people start building slums, the roads become very busy with high traffic, public markets and malls consistently become overcrowded and the competition for resources increases. This leads to increased pollution and the destruction of much infrastructure.

Urban Planning

African governments have started investing in solutions to accommodate this growing urban population through infrastructure. One way in which they are doing so is through urban planning. Many African nations have begun to provide urban planning education facilities and resources. This solution started preparing people who were equipped to design and plan for the overpopulated cities in Africa. For example, Nigeria established the Town Planners Registration Council. This council is in charge of determining who is capable of being the town’s planner and setting the basic requirements for people who want to enter the profession of urban planning. In 2013, Kigali City in Rwanda established the city’s master plan. This plan represented a vision the country had for organizing settlement in the city. The Building Permit Management Information System reports that this master plan is a “comprehensive long term plan intended to guide growth and development of Kigali City.”

Building Infrastructure

Most African countries have a complex topography. Some cities are hilly or close to forested areas. These natural features become a big challenge to companies seeking to build roads and skyscrapers in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. Despite these challenges, African nations are investing in building new infrastructure to support urban areas. GlobeNewswire reports that in 2019, all projects in Africa invested in building new and upgrading “54,110 km for roads, 55,345 km for railway and 599 km for bridges” in total. To include the environment in these developing cities, some countries introduced green belts in urban regions. For example, Kenya and Rwanda have started reserving some areas in cities for planting trees.

Africa’s population is growing fast. However, countries are investing in sectors that will manage to accommodate this urban population. Infrastructure has been one of the sectors that have helped cities plan for the population and the cities’ activities.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

Farmers in AfricaEstimates predict there will be over nine billion people on the planet by 2050. Of that increase in population, half will be born in Africa. In order to feed the world, food production must increase by 70% in that time. Farmers in Africa are looking for ways to adapt.

When investigating this problem of the future, it is interesting to note that nearly three-quarters of farm production happens on a small scale. There is roughly a small-scale farmer that produces a bulk of this food, and many of them are in need of assistance. The agrarian way of life is common, but not very prosperous across Africa. There is already an abundance of demand, but many African farmers are struggling to produce. Digital innovations are spreading and now helping farmers become more efficient. Here are three apps helping farmers in Africa boost their potential.

WeFarm

WeFarm is a networking app, comparable to LinkedIn or Facebook, but designed specifically for African farmers. A majority of their customer base is in Kenya and Uganda with over a million members in the two countries.

WeFarm helps to disseminate information among farmers. It gives a platform for farmers to connect and crowdsource solutions form their peers. By creating an ecosystem for these farmers to communicate and share best practices, farms will grow to be more efficient.

Many people living in more remote regions of Africa do not have adequate internet access. WeFarm can be used to communicate without internet access. The app facilitates communication across SMS which is much more prevalent than internet access in rural areas for some African countries, so more farmers can get plugged into the conversation.

CowTribe

CowTribe is an award-winning app and a boon for livestock farmers in Africa, particularly in Botswana where cattle account for 85% of agriculture.

This app helps owners take care of their animals’ health very effectively. The app monitors health record, reminds about due vaccinations, connect farmers with vaccinations, and can connect farmers with veterinary assistance. With CowTribe, every $1 spent on vaccination leads to $29 of revenue per year.

As of now, the app keeps track of 240,000 cows belonging to 29,000 different farmers. There are millions of farmers who can benefit from this app, and the membership rate is anticipated to grow 40% year over year.

Modisar

Modisar is another prize-winning app that has brought a new level of sophistication to its farmers in Botswana. The app requires a computer or laptop but can run without an internet connection, which is again very useful for remote, rural regions. Modisar is a platform that helps a farmer understand and better manage their farm. It maintains farm records, keeps track of inventory and livestock, and sends reminders for tasks that need completion. One of the greatest features Modisar offers is an expense and profit tracker. This allows farmers to see their financial history and can educate them on how to increase profits in the future.

Modisar also maintains a library of articles relating to best farming practices, so that farmers have other resources to troubleshoot and further educate themselves. The database also has a photo gallery of different diseases, that a farmer may consult when an unknown infection springs up in the crop. Modisar won the Orange Social Venture Prize in 2014 and has continued helping farmers since.

There is a menagerie of apps helping farmers in Africa with new ones releasing every year. There are seemingly many identical apps in the growing library of farm assistants, but many operate in different regions and have their own unique following. Agriculture, one of the oldest human endeavors, coupled with digital technology growing many small farmers in African countries.

– Brett Muni
Photo: Pxhere

Internet in KenyaLoon, a company division of Google, is using balloons to provide internet in Kenya. The Kenyan government is collaborating with Loon to provide more substantial 4G coverage since many areas of Kenya have poor service. In the future, Loon hopes to expand to other areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Loon is hoping to expedite the process of sending balloons to Kenya because of the increased demand for information during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Importance of Internet Access

UNESCO estimates that 45% of households worldwide do not have internet access. In Africa, 72% of people are unable to use the internet because companies do not see the need to travel to remote locations with less robust populations. Loon is looking to change these statistics by focusing its services in remote areas so people can use apps to communicate with each other.

Internet services help empower people in poverty by offering opportunities for education. Many students in rural areas do not have schools near them, so students rely on quality education through the internet. The Kenya Education Network (KENET) works to bring internet and laptops to various schools in Kenya. KENET has already invested $2 million in supplying free high-speed internet. The internet has become an essential need for educational purposes; Loon’s work will elevate people’s access to these important services.

Are Balloons Reliable To Provide Internet Access?

Loon used its balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed the cellular towers. The balloons were deployed to provide immediate internet access for people on the island. Before the official launch, Loon tested out 35 balloons, which led to 35 thousand people being able to access the internet in rural Kenya.

Now that Loon is working to send out more balloons, the company is hoping to cover 31 thousand miles. The balloons are effective for providing internet coverage because they work like normal cell towers. The signal is transmitted for 100 days by software controlled from the ground.

The Future of Reliable Internet In Kenya

Loon expects to deploy more balloons in the future through a partnership with Telkom Kenya. Kenya is one of the leading technological countries in Africa. From 2019 to 2020, an increase of 3.2 million people accessed the internet in Kenya.

One of the barriers for people in poverty in accessing the internet is high-cost data plans. Kenya has higher data prices than other surrounding countries. An unlimited data plan in Nigeria can cost around $26, but the same plan in Kenya allows for only 50GB of data. In Kenya, 36.1% of people live below the poverty line, so many Kenyans do not make more than $1 each day. Cellular data plans are still unobtainable for some of the population.

While the Kenyan government is looking to provide a better signal to rural areas, residents may not have the money to pay for cellular services. Access to more service areas through Loon and cheaper data prices through Telkom Kenya could help increase people’s connectivity.

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay

Health Workers in Sub-Saharan Africa
Johnson & Johnson announced a new collaboration in June 2020, to provide training and knowledge to health workers in sub-Saharan Africa in the wake of COVID-19. They will partner with The World Continuing Education Alliance, The Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery East Africa and the International Council of Nurses to provide up-to-date information and resources to those on the front lines of the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

The training program will be delivered through an application and aims to reach 600,000 healthcare workers — mainly nurses, doctors and midwives. The program includes six different modules available in three different languages: English, French and Arabic.

Partnering in 10 Different Countries

Johnson & Johnson will fund the programs’ introduction to 10 countries that it deems as a priority. These countries include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and South Africa. Programs have since become available in Egypt, Haiti, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Jordan, Guyana, Malawi and Tanzania — among others. Furthermore, there is a training option for countries not specifically listed.

Aga Khan University developed the modules and the World Continuing Education Alliance digitized and customized the curriculum. Its website now hosts two options for the workshops: one is for doctors and the other is for midwives and nurses. Through their collaborations with similar and broader-scope organizations, the International Council of Nurses has offered its support. The School of Nursing and Midwifery ensures those professionals in urban and remote areas alike have access to the modules.

Support For Front-Line Healthcare Workers

The new program’s introduction comes as the new coronavirus infections grow across Africa. The virus continues to infect more healthcare workers. While there are still scant resources available about infections among healthcare workers, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 10,000 health workers have been infected in 40 countries across Africa.

At least 10% of all infections are comprised of health workers in sub-Saharan Africa, concerning four specific countries. In 10 additional sub-Saharan countries, that figure is at least 5%. This puts a strain on the resources these countries have since several countries have less than one medical doctor for every 10,000 people. According to the WHO, countries that fall under this category include Mozambique, Tanzania, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Chad, Central African Republic and Niger — again, among others.

According to the WHO, some of the causes of rising infections among health workers include lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE), lack of education programs (and lack of implementation of such programs with health workers) and lack of medical infrastructure. Additionally, more than 90% of 30,000 healthcare facilities analyzed throughout Africa could not establish quarantine or triage units. According to WHO, 84% of facilities did not have adequate infection and control measures in place.

Training Workers and Providing PPE

As a result, the WHO trained 50,000 healthcare workers and arranged for 41 million tons of PPE to be shipped to 47 countries in Africa. Moreover, the WHO plans to train 200,000 additional workers. The organization notes that from May to July 2020, Sierra Leone went from 16% of all infections being among health workers to just 9%.

Similar to the WHO, Johnson & Johnson’s collaborative effort seeks to educate health workers in sub-Saharan Africa by providing them with the knowledge they need to treat patients and stop the spread of a pandemic.

– Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr

Ghanaian women in poverty
It is undeniable that, right now, the makeup, skincare and haircare industries are flourishing globally and are predicted to continue their economic rise well into the future. According to Euromonitor International, in 2020, the beauty industry’s net profit reached $500.5 billion — a more than 5% increase from 2019. Broken down by category: general cosmetic care earned $307 billion, skincare acquired $145.2 billion, haircare collected $79.2 billion and premium beauty earned $139 billion. The industry’s forecast predicts an annual net profit of $756.63 billion by 2026

Right now in Ghana, the beauty industry is experiencing a cultural role shift and growth in profit. The increasing population of young people is beginning to explore skin, beauty and hair care — and they’re looking locally. As this industry grows, Ghana-based brands are looking to do more than just provide beauty products. Through outreach programs and innovative business plans and programs, personal care companies are working to provide financial aid, job opportunities, equitable support and empower Ghanaian women. Here are three Ghana-based beauty brands empowering Ghanaian women in poverty.

3 Beauty Brands Empowering Ghanaian Women in Poverty

  1. FC Beauty Group Limited: Established more than 30 years ago in Ghana, FC Beauty Group Limited (FCBGL), not only provides and distributes high-quality hair and beauty products at a wholesale price to local salons but also hosts extensive outreach programs for impoverished women. FCBGL launched the Grace Amey-Obeng Foundation International in the summer of 2007. This foundation has made it a priority to aid Ghanaian women in poverty, with the purpose of providing young women an education, training and a sense of self. Through this program, FCBGL has focused its outreach to young homeless women, some of whom must engage in prostitution to financially support themselves. For women who engage in transactional sex consensually, the foundation provides them with skills to prevent difficulties in their profession. These skills include preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and exploitation. For women who do not wish to continue this work, the brand offers job prospects and training that allow them to change their economic direction. The brand continues its outreach work by partnering with the Osu Girls’ correctional facility to provide inmates with hirable skills for future economic success. FC Beauty Group Limited hosts another program titled the “Tutsi Project.” The Tutsi Project’s agenda is to act as insurance for the women who have completed FCBGL’s training programs and are now pursuing a career. Since its conception, the FC Beauty College has trained more than 6,000 economically successful students. Seed money is provided to women looking to start their own businesses. Many trainees are full-time mothers as well as entrepreneurs and FCBGL’s investment at the beginning of their career allows them to feel financially supported.
  2. Nokware Skincare: With old-school natural products and innovative ideas, the brand Nokware, meaning “truth,” creates all products from recipes and raw materials passed down through Ghanaian women’s lineage. Remaining local is an important piece of Nokware’s business plan and the brand solely uses materials that can be found and farmed by local African women. By practicing fair trade and pricing deals, Nokware can work towards its overall mission: economic inclusion. Recognizing the financial disparity many Ghanaian women face, this brand works to exclusively buy locally to put money back into the community and create a space for those who have been neglected in the workforce. By situating “community commerce” at the forefront of its company, Nokware works to stimulate the Ghanaian economy from the inside out. Empowerment of Ghanaian women in poverty is very important to Nokware Skincare. The brand works to accomplish that goal by primarily hiring women who face a substantial wage gap. Recognizing them as powerful resources, Nokware also staffs its executive boards and factory floors with Ghanaian women in an effort to minimize the prevalent wage gap in the country. The company’s “Nokware for Women” fund is an educational scholarship program available to the daughters of Nokware employees to diminish gender inequalities in education.
  3. True Moringa: Named after the extensive benefits of the plant found in northern Ghana, True Moringa is a brand that creates a diverse selection of products that all contain the oil of the True Moringa tree. On a trip with MIT’s D-Lab to Ghana, Kwai Williams and Emily Cunningham learned about the aforementioned tree, known as the “miracle tree,” from local farmers. The plant contains high levels of Vitamin A, calcium and protein. It also has the ability to grow and strengthen other crops in any climate. After learning this, Williams and Cunningham realized that the plant could minimize poverty and malnutrition in the country, and bring economic opportunities to farmers while providing consumers with high-quality skin and hair care products. The founders were aware of the lack of training, reliable commerce and income insecurity Ghanaian farmers face. As a result, they created a business plan that could compete with more established beauty brands and source locally to raise the monetary value of the brand’s contributing farmers. The company’s website states that the creation and application of the True Moringa brand has served more than 5,000 farming families, planted more than 2 million trees and increased local Ghanian farming revenue tenfold. In addition to the economic growth created through local sourcing, True Moringa allows customers to make an impact. With every purchase made, True Moringa will plant a tree which, in turn, combats deforestation and malnutrition in the small farming communities the brand works with. The True Moringa skin and hair care brand not only works to contribute to the beauty industry and empower Ghanaians by providing high-quality products, but also looks outside to create sustainable incomes and resources to empower Ghanaian women in poverty and their families.

All of these brands have created a positive impact on Ghanaian women in poverty. They have done so by looking beyond the cosmetic aspects of their products and focus on empowering women through their incomes, access to food and financial well-being. These brands have given hope to women and families for a better future, and have continued to walk alongside them as they move into a more financially secure future.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

gender discrimination in niger
Niger is a country located in West Africa that spans more than 1.3 million square kilometers and is home to approximately 22.3 million people. It is ranked the lowest out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). A prominent issue is its weakened education system, where children in Niger spend a mere two years on average. Additionally, there exists a gender gap that exacerbates discrimination against girls’ education. To combat this burgeoning issue, a variety of organizations have been working towards eliminating gender discrimination in Niger to provide better quality education for girls.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on reform of Niger’s education system for five years. Starting in May 2015, the project targeted several schools in the town of Torodi. While this small town has been left out of many national development programs, UNESCO is working to successfully implement accessible schooling services to all girls in the region. The program also facilitates tutoring sessions and encourages female teachers to be employed in local schools.

UNESCO recognized that due to the rapid population growth, empowering the youth through education would go a long way towards improving the country’s socioeconomic standards. Moreover, with organizations like UNESCO teaming up with the government of Niger, the country is seeing positive developments in girls’ education. They reported a jump from 27 % to 65 % in girls’ primary school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also played an active role in reducing gender discrimination in Niger’s education system since 2012. Through significant investments and thorough management, enrollment into primary schools has increased remarkably, especially with girls. Approximately 66% of the 71% of children enrolled in primary schools are girls. While these numbers are promising, factors like child marriages and safety concerns remain to be a significant barrier to girls’ education. UNICEF has laid out several objectives and solutions to overcome these issues.

According to a UNICEF representative in Niger, “only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school.” UNICEF partners with Niger’s government at the ministerial level to ensure that that access to girls’ education is a policy priority. In doing so, UNICEF monitors how Niger is meeting its education goals. Additionally, UNICEF works at the community level to monitor that both boys and girls receive quality education. For girls, UNICEF realizes the cultural and societal issues at play, like the expectation of housework and child marriages, and works with those effected to overcome these obstacles.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed a ten year deal  (2014-2024) with Niger’s national education sector to help decrease the gender discrimination present in its education system. USAID also promotes parental education to the community as a whole. Well-educated parents are more likely to enroll their children in school as well as encourage the completion of their curriculums.

International organizations are continually working to help Niger’s government through funding and managing the country’s education sector. Reform of the country’s education system has been progressing over two decades and has made notable improvements in terms of enrollment rates. As the country progresses into the next decade, organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and USAID plan to further support children in Niger by working to provide them with equal and quality education. Such improvements in education and gender discrimination can have a ripple effect, bringing positive change to Niger’s social, political, and economic systems.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Using Digital Land Registry to Fight Poverty
Land ownership rights and property titles are among the most critical yet inaccessible resources in developing countries. Property titles act as legitimate assets, allowing individuals to borrow loans for education, entrepreneurial ventures or investment. However, corrupt recordkeeping practices in many countries make it difficult to prove land ownership. Without a legal title to property, it is impossible to access these financial tools and improve one’s economic standing. Ineffective land registry practices are a global issue, hindering the prosperity of many developing nations. More than 90% of rural land on the African continent is unregistered. In India, legal ownership of land is a higher predictor of poverty than the literacy rate. In 2010, the value of unclaimed properties around the world, or “dead capital” was estimated to be $10 trillion. Today, that number has almost doubled. To efficiently provide legal property titles, entrepreneurs developed a way to provide digital land registry so people can have legal assets.

Bitland

Bitland, a nonprofit that entrepreneurs from the U.S., Denmark and Ghana founded, has introduced an innovative digital land registration system. It combines transaction records with GPS data and satellite photography to accurately document land borders and ownership. The nonprofit utilizes blockchain technology to address land registry issues because of its low operational cost and high levels of transparency.

By serving as an intermediary between government officials and citizens who want to register land titles, the organization establishes transparency and ensures data integrity. The organization stores transaction simultaneously in multiple places throughout the blockchain, making them nearly impossible to alter. Prioritizing data security from the beginning stages makes it possible to automate the entire land registration process and streamline information flow to the system of records.

Since many developing regions lack stable infrastructure and access to electricity, Bitland plans to implement solar-powered centers and Wi-Fi hubs. These centers will also offer educational resources to locals wanting to increase their knowledge and involvement with the project.

Bitland in Ghana

Bitland began testing the system in Kumasi, a city in southern Ghana. Like many developing countries, Ghana faces corrupt administration in the public sector which creates significant obstacles for those registering their land. Nepotism and poor infrastructure perpetuate property disputes, often at the expense of citizens. Approximately 78% of land in Ghana is unregistered, preventing thousands of people from accessing their capital and securing finances for basic needs like housing, food and running water.

Bitland plans to expand its services further across the African continent over the next five years. A secure digital land registry system will help to democratize property ownership and unlock land capital.

Long-term Benefits of Bitland

Advances in digital registry technology can help to improve the living conditions of many people in developing countries. In combination with progressive social policies, it has the potential to promote economic opportunity and well-being. Farmers and small business owners can benefit from the financial tools a comprehensive and functional land registry system unlocks. These systems can also aid in natural disaster recovery and relief, as well as solving land disputes which are typically handled solely by government entities.

Bitland is working to make its platform available to regions with nonexistent or poorly functioning land registry and title services. These efforts reinforce the United Nations’ outlined Sustainable Development Goals, which include eradicating poverty and providing inclusive employment and economic growth for all. Untapped property rights undermine the progress being made towards these goals. Through a combination of innovative digital land registry processes and community-based education programs, Bitland aims to mitigate corruption and bring transparency to land ownership.

 – Sylvie Antal
Photo: Flickr