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Elexiay Clothing BrandAs artisans stitch rows of thread, their fingers pull yarn through loops in patterns passed down across generations. Elexiay, a Lagos-based Nigerian clothing brand, takes pride in its handmade garments crafted by a team of accomplished women crocheters. Supporting a small clothing business like Elexiay allows consumers to back community-based entrepreneurs as opposed to faceless fast fashion corporations. Small businesses have to compete with fast fashion giants, which makes it difficult for these smaller businesses to thrive. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting small businesses can make a significant impact on the lives of employees. The Elexiay clothing brand empowers Nigerian women and provides jobs to help them rise out of poverty.

The Elexiay Clothing Brand

Elexiay is a brand that redefines crocheted clothing, which is often stereotyped as “grandma’s clothing.” Elexiay’s collection of products is a reinvention of crocheted clothing that keeps up with the latest fashion trends. With crocheted crop tops, skirts and maxi dresses featuring elegant slits, Elexiay displays its grasp of the year’s latest trends.

Elexiay’s signature crocheted designs serve a greater purpose than just style. Elexiay’s founder, Elyon Adede, described to The Zoe Report how vital women’s empowerment is to Elexiay. Accordingly, Elexiay solely employs Nigerian women who handcraft each piece of clothing. Many after-school programs in Nigeria teach the art of crochet. Due to the emphasis on craftsmanship, Elexiays’s employees avoid the hazards associated with factory textile production and can share Nigeria’s art of crochet with the world.

Rising Poverty in Nigeria

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, approximately 40% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line, with millions more at risk of falling into poverty. During the pandemic, international oil prices dropped. This decline severely impacted Nigeria’s economy as more than 60% of Nigeria’s government revenue comes from oil. According to the World Bank, the consequences of the pandemic, coupled with Nigeria’s oil price crisis, could “push around 10 million additional Nigerians into poverty by 2022.”

In this way, Elexiay’s emphasis on fair wages and other ethical labor practices coincides with a time when millions of Nigerians face the risk of poverty. The company’s commitment to the “creation of jobs locally” demonstrates how a small clothing business can help communities in times of economic uncertainty.

Elexiay’s Dispute with Fast Fashion Brand

Despite Elexiay’s success in designing crocheted clothing, the company has faced difficulties. For instance, Elexiay posted a picture on Instagram of one of its pink and green crocheted sweaters side-by-side with a sweater featured on a fast fashion corporation website on July 16, 2021.  The sweater sold by SHEIN, the corporation in question, used a design strikingly similar to the pattern crafted by artisans at Elexiay.

In the Instagram caption, Elexiay described itself as a “small black-owned independent sustainable business” and expressed frustration in seeing “such talent and hard work reduced to a machine-made copy.” The caption also urged SHEIN to remove the sweater from its website.

Since posting the side-by-side comparison of the sweaters, Elexiay’s post received more than 97,000 likes and hundreds of supportive comments. While SHEIN has removed the controversial sweater from its website, this is not the first instance of SHEIN being accused of stealing designs. For example, designer Mariama Diallo accused SHEIN of stealing one of her dress designs for the brand Sincerely Ria in June 2021.

Aside from feeling disheartened after seeing the sweater on SHEIN’s website, the Elexiay clothing brand founder also expressed disappointment in SHEIN’s practices overall. In an interview with Insider, Adede describes the experience as especially difficult because “SHEIN is known for its unethical labor practices, which is the opposite of what I stand for.”

Supporting Small Clothing Businesses

While Nigeria has seen a rise in poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals around the world can make deliberate choices that benefit communities in Nigeria. The women employees of Elexiay crochet garments by hand, spending days on each piece to share the art of crochet with the rest of the world and are provided with a job and an income through the process. When making the decision of whether to shop from a large fast fashion corporation or a local business, it is important to question the values that each brand holds.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

Ghanaian local businessesOn June 26, 2021, the 22nd annual Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs) crowned Diana Hamilton Artist of the Year. This honor makes her the first female gospel singer to ever win the trophy and comes on the heels of year-long praise for her song “Adom,” which also won Gospel Song of the Year. While Vodafone Ghana sponsors the VGMAs to support the celebration of Ghanaian musicians like Hamilton, the company also recently partnered with Invest in Africa to aid local Ghanaian businesses and ignite growth in Ghana’s economy.

A Promising Partnership

Created in 2012, Invest in Africa (IIA) operates in five African nations: Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Zambia and Mauritania. According to Carol Annang, IIA’s Ghana country director, IIA strives to create jobs and attract investment opportunities for local businesses. By uniting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with large corporations, Annang says that these types of partnerships can help corporations “use their local buying power as a force for good.”

Since Vodafone Ghana has expressed its dedication to Ghana’s economic and social growth, the partnership with the IIA gives Vodafone Ghana the opportunity to utilize its resources in accordance with the company’s mission. Additionally, because Vodafone Ghana has served small businesses for years, the company can provide IIA with additional experience in “network-based IT and communication solutions.”

Specific Solutions

The IIA and Vodafone Ghana will focus on two solutions to propel the growth of Ghanaian local businesses:

  1. Red Trader: This mobile application and web portal assists traders in overseeing their inventory. Additionally, the application features tools that allow traders to track and collect payments.
  2. Your Business Online: This proposal helps SMEs expand their businesses online with the assistance of Vodafone Ghana’s team. The company’s experts help businesses create an online presence through professional site designs, “e-commerce integration and social media marketing.”

Through these measures, IIA and Vodafone Ghana hope to expand the digital presence of local Ghanaian businesses and boost the economic growth of these businesses. These solutions are set to begin implementation on April 1 for at least two years.

COVID-19 Setbacks and Steps Forward

As Ghana continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this plan for Ghanaian business growth comes at an opportune time. While coronavirus infections rose throughout the country and businesses permanently closed, by the third quarter of 2020, Ghana entered a recession for the first time since 1982. Additionally, Ghana’s GDP grew only 1.1% in 2020 compared to a growth of 6.5% before the pandemic began.

Because of this low GDP increase and Ghana’s high population growth, the real per capita income of Ghana was “1% lower [in 2020] than in 2019.” Moreover, according to the World Bank Group, additional impacts of the pandemic will include decreases in “foreign direct investment and tourism receipts.” Consequently, many families in Ghana have become impoverished and the country’s poverty rate has increased since the start of the pandemic.

However, one of the principal objectives of the collaboration between IIA and Vodafone Ghana is to help businesses recover from COVID-19 setbacks. In fact, William Pollen, the CEO of IIA, expressed how necessary it is to support SMEs because these enterprises employ the majority of people living in sub-Saharan Africa and constitute roughly 80% of business activity in the region.

The Road Ahead

On the whole, despite the past year’s struggles and the hurdles that arise on the road to economic recovery, the partnership between IIA and Vodafone Ghana presents a positive outlook for the future of local Ghanaian businesses. In the words of Tawa Bolarin, the director of Vodafone Business, “these are indeed exciting times for us and the entrepreneurial community in Ghana.”

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

E-Commerce Connecting Afghan Women Entrepreneurs to the Global MarketIn 2020, 47.3% of Afghanistan’s population lived below the national poverty line. Poverty in the country increased sharply over the last decade due to a stalled economy and the rise of Taliban insurgency. It left almost 90% of Afghans struggling to live and unable to support their families with their current income. This combined effect of stagnating economic growth and deteriorating security resulted in poverty hitting record-breaking heights. The high poverty rate is especially dire for Afghan women. However, e-commerce is providing Afghan women entrepreneurs the opportunity to join the global market and push their communities out of poverty.

History of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Women suffered deeply during Afghanistan’s almost 40-year war. They ferociously and tirelessly fought for gender equality. During the Taliban regime from 1906 to 2001, women were denied access to basic rights such as education, employment, freedom of movement and healthcare. Essentially, women were either invisible in public life or subjected to continuous violence. After 2001, female activists achieved significant legislative progress. However, the patriarchal structures, religious fundamentalism, the Taliban’s remaining rhetoric and the all-prevailing insecurity of the nation still shape the country and hinder the progress toward equality.

The Successes of Online Commerce

Despite poverty, corruption and political instability, Afghan women all over the country found a way to break away from their conservative society through digital advancements. One of the ways women entered into the world of business was through the Afghan e-commerce site Click.af. Founded in 2016 by Masiullah Stanikzai, Click.af provides Afghans access to a domestic online market. The site started shipping globally last year. The main reason behind the expansion was to connect local designers and artisans to a larger base of consumers around the world. It also promoted Afghan-made products. When sellers register on Click.af, they can find technology, tools and infrastructure to help them grow and succeed. The elements include customer management, marketing and sales tools to manage consumers while showing their presence online and boost sales.

Real Stories of Female-run Businesses

Click.af inspires young women to be entrepreneurs. Currently, the e-commerce platform has enabled 45 Afghan women entrepreneurs to launch their own small businesses. One of these women is 25-year-old Maryam Yousufi, who launched the fashion line called Machum. Yousufi’s brand focuses on designing clothes that fuse Western style with traditional Afghan designs. Yousufi’s dream was to see her products reach global markets. She believes online platforms can give others a chance to try entrepreneurship and overcome conservative attitudes toward women. Through Click.af she was able to receive a credit to start a business.

Women entrepreneurs, especially those in the sector of social entrepreneurship, often disrupt patterns of gender inequality. They reshape dominant expectations, norms and stigmas. According to the World Economic Forum, Yousufi couldn’t even dare to believe that one day she would be able to sew clothes. Yousufi is now designing and selling clothes. According to Yousufi, the opportunity she found through e-commerce allowed her to make decisions in a country where others usually made decisions for her. Click.af is about selling and connecting, but it also shows Afghan women entrepreneurs that they have the right to choose a path for themselves.

Advances for Women Entrepreneurs

E-commerce is a powerful tool that is capable of bringing great benefits to female entrepreneurs. It challenges the old barriers of geographic isolation and restricted access to information and financing. Thanks to the expansion of e-commerce, people in Afghanistan today can shop with full information. They now have the knowledge of the pros and cons of the products instead of relying on word-to-mouth. E-commerce platforms, including Click.af, have also made it possible for shops to open 24/7. This resulted in a meaningful increase in sales for local sellers. More importantly, e-commerce is a necessity in Afghanistan since COVID-19 reached the country and mobility was consequently limited. During the lockdown, while most physical stores and public companies closed, online retailers were able to operate without violating social distance regulations.

Looking Forward

Although e-commerce ventures in Afghanistan still struggle to flourish due to issues such as security issues, capital investments and online payments, there is no doubt that online shopping will exponentially increase its presence in the next few years. Platforms similar to Click.af provide an important opportunity for Afghanistan’s war-torn economy, and more specifically, it demonstrates how empowering female social entrepreneurs is key for the country’s economic recovery. Click.af has been able to reframe the definition of success in a more inclusive manner, which includes and celebrates Afghan women who, against all odds, are taking a chance and jumping into entrepreneurship.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno

Photo: Flickr 

Poverty Alleviation and Entrepreneurship
Research shows supporting entrepreneurship in low-income countries may be one of the most effective ways to permanently reduce global poverty. Despite this, this method of poverty reduction has often been overlooked. This is due to the fact that there has been limited information on its positive impact. However, with more information compiled, individuals in positions of power have sought to make it a focus of poverty reduction. The Global Partnership for Poverty and Entrepreneurship (GPPE) is an organization that has collected a plethora of this data. The resources on the GPPE website provide countless examples of poverty alleviation and entrepreneurship.

The Global Partnership for Poverty and Entrepreneurship

Established in November 2019, the GPPE officially launched in May 2020. This partnership was created by the University of Notre Dame with the intent of building up a research base that can help with future initiatives in supporting low-income individuals with entrepreneurial pursuits throughout the world. In an interview with Dr. Michael Morris, the head of this start-up, the three main objectives of this organization became clear. The first objective was to gather information on entrepreneurial startups in poor communities throughout the world. The second objective was to teach individuals about compiled information within poor communities in order to allow for community uplift. The third objective was to reach out to academics who have an influence on getting more research done on these topics and easily spread techniques to those within their academic influences.

Overall, the GPPE wants to get more people on the ground within impoverished communities. These people would support the poor with their entrepreneurial endeavors. The GPPE is currently setting up example programs within the United States. The purpose of these programs is to prove resources in various areas can be useful in supporting low-income individuals. Within South Bend, Indiana one of these example programs is the Urban Poverty and Business Initiative. This initiative uses resources from the Notre Dame community, especially from the students, to help poor individuals set up entrepreneurial endeavors. Students have helped create social media platforms and helped with marketing for the impoverished in the South Bend community. This is just one idea countries around the world can use to help reduce global poverty.

Entrepreneurship Among the Youth in Swaziland

A study on the youth in Swaziland has provided important information on where certain entrepreneurial systems are lacking within Africa. Other countries can use this study as a resource to help enact systems for poverty alleviation through entrepreneurship. Inadequate work experience provided within universities, a lack of youth voice in entrepreneurial policies and weak business environments are all factors that have driven the youth within Swaziland to have poor entrepreneurial experiences in the past. Organizations like the Youth Enterprise Fund, created in 2009 in Swaziland, have struggled to support new entrepreneurs.

Models have, however, been created in order to show the effects of government intervention when it comes to reducing obstacles that hinder the growth of young entrepreneurs, which can be extremely useful. Examples of influential government intervention include granting youth greater access to capital and giving them business training. Business training in particular has shown to make an enormous difference among the youth of Swaziland with regards to sales. A mixture of giving the youth in Africa more educational resources and professional connections has proven to greatly improve their entrepreneurial success and thus help them rise out of poverty.

Poverty-Reducing Work of Women in Bangladesh

In many low-income countries, the workforce does not utilize women as often as men. This can cause the viewpoint of women being financially burdening. Creating entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for women positively impacts their livelihoods. This is especially true for women living in rural areas. Within Bangladesh, a company called Hathay Bunano has given women both jobs and resources to build enterprises on their own. What this establishment has found is that not utilizing women is a huge waste of production resources. This includes supporting more women artisans through developing pride in the ownership of a product.

Hathay Bunano has worked to employ women who are at the most disadvantaged positions within Bangladesh. The organization has shown that simply giving these women jobs boosts their self-confidence in order to create better lives for themselves. Hathay Bunano is a company that produces hand-knit toys which is important in the context of proving that handicraft businesses can thrive in a competitive economic market. Overall, evidence shows providing grounding for poor women to start businesses that can be supported by their skill levels is plausible.

In conclusion, information that the GPPE has compiled, including the two studies mentioned above, shows poverty alleviation and entrepreneurship can go hand in hand. Working to inform more individuals on how communities can support the poor in their creation of businesses and entrepreneurship will transform low-income countries’ economies and the lives of the poor within them.

– Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr

Women-Led Tech Startups in Africa
Currently, only 28% of women worldwide pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. This gap is a result of women dropping out of STEM courses based on social, cultural and gender norms. Around the world, girls face limited educational pathways and resources within STEM subjects. To address the barriers in STEM education and the tech industry, many women-led tech startups in Africa are encouraging women to pursue tech careers.

The Rise in Women-Led Businesses in Africa

According to the United Nations Africa Renewal Magazine, “sub-Saharan Africa boasts the world’s highest rate of women entrepreneurs, at 27%.” As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) to improve clean water and sanitation, it is expected that 2.5 million engineer and technician jobs will be created in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, women will have opportunities to pursue a career in tech. There will also be a market space for women-led tech startups in Africa.

To encourage women to enter the tech industry in Africa, African women have started initiatives that promote and invest in women interested in the tech field. For Example, African Women in Technology, FirstCheck Africa, #HerFutureAfrica and Women in Tech Africa are all notable initiatives led by African Women. Highlighted below are five inspiring women who have contributed to the rise of women in the male-dominated tech field.

5 Women Leading the Emergence of Women-Led Tech Startups in Africa

  1. Nthabiseng Mosia from South Africa: Mosia is an entrepreneur and the co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Easy Solar. Easy Solar, based in West Africa, is an off-grid solar distribution company. It supplies electricity to communities with little or no access to the grid. As a result of Mosia’s company, more than 350,000 residents of Sierra Leone’s communities have access to affordable energy.
  2. Rachel Sibande from Malawi: As well as a social entrepreneur working in technology and energy, Sibande is a computer scientist. She is the founder of mHub, a technology hub for innovators and entrepreneurs. Offering access to financial and investment support across five countries, mHub is a key resource for women-led tech startups in Africa. From 2018 to 2019, mHub financed $800,000 to youth and women entrepreneurs, which created 304 jobs. In addition, Sibande has established the Girls Coding Club, Children’s Coding Club, a Robotics Club and Machine Learning community camps. These clubs encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in tech.
  3. Farida Bedwei from Ghana: Bedwei is a software engineer and disabilities rights advocate. She is the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of software company Logiciel. Logiciel develops technology solutions and provides micro-banking systems for more than 600 financial institutions. She was named one the most influential women in business in Ghana and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2016.
  4. Jumoke Dada from Nigeria: Dada is a tech consultant and the founder of Tech Women Network, which provides a platform for women in technology to showcase their skills. Dada is involved with HUE Tech Summit, an event for women of color in tech as well as Techies Who Brunch, which helps women connect in the industry. Her efforts contribute to upskilling women interested in tech, making Dada is a leader and advocate for women in the tech industry.
  5. Rebecca Enonchong from Cameroon: Enonchong is an advocate for technology entrepreneurship and innovation. She is the Chair of ActivSpaces, the African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AppsTech. ActivSpaces is a tech hub in Cameroon that promotes and supports young people to have successful careers. AppsTech provides tools for tech entrepreneurs to grow their enterprises such as license sales, implementation and training services. With available sources like AppsTech, Enonchong’s efforts are important in the emergence and growth of women-led tech startups in Africa.

These five women are making a significant difference in Africa and paving the way for more female entrepreneurs, especially in the tech industry. With these innovative efforts, the number of women-led startups in Africa will hopefully continue to increase.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

Blockchain in Southeast Asia
Early 2021 saw the formation of a new partnership between the San Diego-based blockchain platform, Solana, and the Vietnam-based investment firm, Coin98 Ventures. Together, they plan to provide a grant of $100,000 and technical, marketing and community support for Southeast Asian startups via the Solana platform. In total, the development fund will be worth $5 million. Solana’s development fund is among a trend of growing interest from private companies along with increasing government support across the region, now seeing supporting blockchain technology as a practical part of a development strategy. As a result, blockchain in Southeast Asia is increasing.

What is a Blockchain?

At its core, blockchain is an innovative database. Unlike the traditional form of storing data in a table format, blockchain operates as its name suggests: as a chain of blocks. Each block contains data, and each new inputted information adds a new block to the chain. When a new block is added, it undergoes time-stamping and encryption.

Essentially, blockchain software provides a secure and decentralized form of storing data, particularly financial data. The software operates on an algorithm to automatically record and encrypt transactions without a third party’s costly support. As a result, blockchain decentralizes financial transactions while also making them cheaper.

Blockchain: An Expanding Market

The blockchain market comprises one of the fastest-growing in the world. In 2020, the market size was $3 billion. The Markets and Markets firm predicts it to reach $39.7 billion by 2025. Moreover, its Compound Annual Growth Rate is a stunning 67.3%.

One can partly explain this growth rate by increasing access to the internet and e-commerce in the world. Access to the internet has increased rapidly. In 2000, about 413 million people had an internet connection; by 2016, this number jumped to 3.4 billion.

The Benefits of Blockchain

Billions of people still experience exclusion from financial tools and cannot use anything other than physical cash for transactions. As of 2017, 1.7 billion people across the globe remained unbanked. However, by sidestepping financial institutions, blockchain decentralizes banking and opens up possibilities for many locked out of traditional financial tools such as transferring and storing digital currency and investing.

Cutting out the middleman reduces the fees involved in transactions, which often run high. This is particularly important for migrant workers who pay high transaction rates to transfer money back home to their families. For example, in 2018, Western Union reported a $5.5 billion profit in fees from the money transfers in the same year.

Additionally, blockchain reduces the cost of doing business. It cuts overhead costs by lowering transaction fees, upgrading analytical tools to understand the market/customer needs and protecting and storing data more efficiently. For instance, by the year 2024, expectations have determined that blockchain will save the food industry $31 billion. And in early 2020, Cargill and Agrocorp and partners used a blockchain platform to shorten a U.S.-Indonesia wheat transaction from a month to a mere five days.

Blockchain in Southeast Asia

Perhaps more than any other region, Southeast Asia can benefit most from blockchain’s developmental potential. As a region, it has a high internet penetration rate of 58%. Moreover, it is an underbanked region with a shocking 73% of its population still unbanked in 2017. Additionally, Southeast Asia has a large migrant worker population around the globe who would benefit from blockchain. In 2017, the International Labor Organization estimated that of the migrant worker population, 20.2 million originate from Southeast Asia. Finally, as a manufacturing hub with a large e-commerce presence, blockchain technology plays an essential role in facilitating online shopping and supply-chain tracking and data storage.

Appropriately, Southeast Asian governments have supported this nascent technology. For starters, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has embraced the technology in its Economic Community 2025 Strategic Action Plan for Financial Integration. The organization claims that it will “promote innovative financial inclusion via digital platforms.”

Likewise, countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines have invested in blockchain education programs to promote its development. Singapore, for instance, launched a $9 million program, the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Program, to facilitate and research blockchain applications. Vietnam, for its part, has transitioned the storage of government education records to blockchain technology and has plans to use block-chain infrastructure to transition Ho Chi Minh city to a smart city.

Southeast Asian Blockchain Companies

Through this support, hundreds of blockchain start-ups are rapidly growing across the region, utilizing blockchain in diverse ways that cut across different sectors. Some of the significant blockchain companies that illustrate its diversity are:

  • Electrify (Singapore): Founded in 2017 to introduce “trans-active energy platforms that will democratize access to clean energy across the Asia Pacific.”
  • Pundi-X (Indonesia): Partners with retailers worldwide to install its XPOS – a blockchain-powered point-of-sale device that allows retailers to accept cryptocurrency.
  • LuxTag (Malaysia): Utilizes blockchain to verify the authenticity of luxury items.
  • HARA (Indonesia): Founded in 2015, it relies on its blockchain software to provide data exchange for the food and agriculture sectors.

Blockchain’s potential as a developmental force is palpable. The growing blockchain market in Southeast Asia is vital for development in the region. It gives many people access to financial tools who otherwise would not have it while also easing business flow across industries. These factors have propelled blockchain in Southeast Asia as a critical tool in its development.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Refugee Soap Maker
Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. The country has over 495,000 refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and violence from Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. The majority of these refugees are located in camps in Dadaab in the southeast of Kenya, Kakuma in the northwest as well as Nairobi. In what some have referred to as “the forgotten crisis,” many of Kenya’s refugees have spent generations living in camps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation has become an issue among the refugee population in Kenya, Luckily, a refugee soap maker has emerged to aid with that challenge.

The Situation

The three Dadaab camps, which some originally expected to hold only 90,000, are now home to over 300,000 refugees. Similarly, the Kakuma camp is home to nearly 200,000 people. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the close quarters and less-than-ideal sanitation standards can be dangerous. Like many others around the world, those in Kakuma have been stocking up on everything from food to sanitation supplies.

A Clean, Helping Hand

Innocent Havyarimana is a refugee soap maker in Kenya. Through his business, he helps to combat COVID-19 at the local level of the Kakuma camp. A former chemistry student from Burundi, Havyarimana fled the country in 2013. Upon arriving in Kakuma, he began to look for a way to support himself. In his search, he noticed that the region did not have a factory to produce soap. Afterward, inspiration struck.

Havyarimana garnered information from the web and took a course on soap making which the World Lutheran Federation aid agency offered. With a loan from a former classmate in Burundi, he was able to begin his soap-making business, Glap Industries, short for God Loves All People. The refugee soap maker then received grants from relief agencies including, UNHCR and NGOs, such as the African Entrepreneur Collective.

Glap Industries supplies soap to local institutions and relief agencies outside of the camp. The business additionally provides classes for refugees on making cleaning products. The company also serves as a way to provide jobs for refugees. A total of 42 employees currently work for Glap industries, the majority of them refugees themselves.

Glap Industries Adapts to COVID-19

With a spike in the need for sanitation products, the refugee soap maker had to increase its production by 75%. Further, Havyarimana started making hand sanitizer with aloe vera in addition to his soap products. The soap maker wanted to ensure access to sanitary supplies, especially for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the disabled and the elderly. To accomplish this, he significantly lowered his prices and began producing smaller, more affordable sizes. Glap Industries offers soap in 100 milliliter to 1-liter containers, the smallest costing only 50 cents. “I lowered prices, as it was more important to protect people than to think of profit,” says Havyarimana.

The Bigger Impact

Businesses and entrepreneurship are a vital part of the economy of Kakuma. According to a 2018 World Bank study, the 2,000 businesses operating in Kakuma bring more than $50 million annually to the local economy. Eujin Byun of the UNHCR in Kenya says that “the refugees are playing a pivotal role in helping contain the spread of COVID-19 in Kakuma.” UNHCR has been working with the government to improve the capabilities of local health facilities to treat patients. Another aim is to spread necessary information concerning the virus, such as the importance of handwashing.

As a refugee soap maker, Innocent Havyarimana encourages other refugees to take precautions against the virus. However, his role stems far beyond fellow refugees. Havyarimana shares the importance of sanitization in stopping the spread of the coronavirus through Kakuma, and subsequently the rest of Kenya. His outreach and business help to minimize the spread of COVID-19 for those all throughout Kenya.

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Flickr

Silk InvestSilk Invest is a private equity firm founded in 2008 that invests in emerging markets that demonstrate the potential for long-term economic growth. The largest private equity fund managed by the firm is called The Silk Africa Food Fund. Investments made from this fund target companies involved in food processing and distribution throughout Africa.

The Silk Africa Food Fund

The fund was started in June 2012 and focuses primarily on businesses that distribute food to African consumers. Countries that attract investment the most are those which are institutionally and politically stable enough to support long-term economic growth. Silk Invest is distinct from many other foreign investment funds that support the effort to reduce hunger in Africa in that it does not target agriculture but rather the distribution of food to consumers.

The three largest investments the fund is involved with are Nigeria’s Sundry Foods Limited, Ethiopia’s Nas Foods Plc and Egypt’s El Rashidy El Asly. Of these three, Nigeria’s Sundry has seen the most significant success and expansion following its partnership with Silk Invest.

The Success of Sundry Foods Limited

The company runs the popular restaurant chain, Kilimanjaro, as well as bakery and food catering services throughout the country. When Silk Invest first gave funds to Sundry in 2012, the company had seven restaurants open and a revenue base of around $3.4 million. In 2020, just eight years later, Sundry has 40 restaurants and a revenue base of around $34 million. The entrepreneurial effort of the company’s founder, Ebele Enunwa, has been instrumental in this progress.

Sundry is a company firmly rooted in supporting its fellow local businesses. Instead of setting up in the more commercial capital of Lagos, Enunwa established headquarters in Port Harcourt where he is a local entrepreneur. Its management team consists of local hires and its supply chain uses locally sourced raw materials, including chicken and rice from rural areas.

Sundry’s Impact and Potential

Sundry Foods Limited represents an example of the enormous potential which exists for businesses in developing nations when the proper investment is made. By providing capital to Sundry, Silk Invest gave the company the tools it needed to expand its operation. By doing so, Sundry has not only offered an improved service to consumers throughout Nigeria but has also stimulated its broader community’s own economy by maintaining a steady and even increasing demand for local products.

The impact made by Sundry’s growth is palpable. Over the last 10 years, the company has created over 2,000 jobs. Silk Invest’s Africa Food Fund is hugely impactful in the effort to reduce poverty in developing nations not only because of the direct benefit the invested capital provides to individual businesses but also because of the economic growth created in broader communities as an indirect result.

The Importance of Investing in Africa

This impressive progress was all stimulated by a $2.4 million investment. The high return for Silk Invest demonstrates that funding businesses in developing countries is not only beneficial to the growth and development of those businesses but is also a practical and sound investment for the firms offering the capital.

Investing in the effort to reduce world hunger presents impactful and beneficial opportunities for all parties involved. By establishing the Africa Food Fund, Silk Invest has committed itself to this effort while simultaneously supporting developing economies.

– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Impact Investing in RwandaImpact investing is a growing industry with huge potential for combatting poverty around the world. The practice consists of firms and individuals directing capital to businesses and enterprises that have the capacity to generate social or environmental benefits. Traditional businesses tend to avoid such investments due to the high level of risk, low liquidity and general difficulty to exit if returns are not satisfactory. Most impact investing is done by particularly adventurous capitalists as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that aim to create social change. Impact investing in Rwanda, in particular, has yielded positive results.

AgDevCo

AgDevCo is an example of a social impact investing firm that aims to invest with the intention of reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in developing regions. Based in the United Kingdom, AgDevCo was incorporated in 2009 and has engaged in numerous projects since.

The firm’s specific area of investment is in African agriculture, where it believes that impactful investments have the potential to be a significant force in reducing poverty. The firm is currently investing in eight different African countries. Its portfolio includes $135 million worth of funds in 50 different companies. These investments have engaged more than 526,000 customers and have created or sustained more than 15,000 different jobs.

Uzima Chicken Limited

One of its investment projects is a partnership with the East African poultry company, Uzima Chicken Limited. Uzima Chicken produces and distributes the Sasso breed of chickens. Sasso chickens are resistant to disease and can feed through scavenging. These beneficial traits make Sasso chickens particularly useful in the struggle to reduce poverty in East Africa.

In 2017, AgDevCo invested $3 million to support Uzima’s establishment in Rwanda. As a result of the investment, Uzima gained funds necessary for rapid operational growth as a domestic producer of poultry. This is in line with the government of Rwanda’s strategy to achieve poultry self-sufficiency in two to three years. Uzima has also been able to expand into Uganda, where its business is rapidly scaling upwards.

The Uzima Business Model

The Uzima model of business involves the employment of company agents who raise the chicks for six to eight weeks before selling them to low-income households in rural areas. Such a model provides benefits to farmers, who can increase income through the sale of the more valuable Sasso chickens, as well as the agents.

Agents typically make a 25% profit from selling chickens. A survey of Uzima agents found that, on average, 27% of household income came from selling Sasso chickens. By providing a reliable source of extra income for employed agents, Uzima helps to alleviate the burdens of poverty for these people. As of 2017, the efforts had created 150 new jobs, 40% of which are held by women. Rwandan women have benefitted significantly from Uzima’s employment with 64% of women agents reporting that the income they earned from selling Sasso chickens led to a positive change in the decision-making power they had in their households.

Impact Investments for Poverty Reduction

Uzima’s Sasso chickens grow faster, live longer, produce more eggs and have higher market prices. They are disease-resistant and thrive in local, rural conditions. Out of all the customers buying these chickens, 54% live below the $2.50 poverty line. AgDevCo investment gave Uzima the capital necessary for operational expansion, and as a result, a greater quantity of impoverished people in East Africa could buy superior chickens and increase income. Uzima’s business also has clear potential for women’s empowerment, making it a great tool in the effort to reduce poverty and inequality in the region.

The impact investments made by firms like AgDevCo have clearly measurable impacts in impoverished regions, particularly noting the success of impact investing in Rwanda. This makes impact investment firms an important part of the global effort to reduce all poverty.

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Female entrepreneurs in AfghanistanIt is no secret that women’s rights in Afghanistan have been suffering due to decades of war and Taliban rule in the country. Afghan women have been denied employment, education, healthcare and basic freedoms for years and were punished violently by the Taliban for attempting to find work or go to school. Years after Taliban rule, women are picking up the pieces of a broken society that drove them and many other Afghans into severe poverty. Organizations such as the Women’s Economic Empowerment Rural Development Project (WEERDP) and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), both funded and backed by the World Bank, set up savings and loan associations in different communities to allow Afghan women to start their own business. Female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan have the potential to help the economy and poverty within the country.

Women’s Empowerment Projects of the World Bank

International Aid to Afghanistan is essential for empowering its women and bringing communities out of poverty. The World Bank has a variety of programs dedicated to poverty eradication. It implemented the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project to support Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA). VLSAs operate as a community bank that gives out micro-loans to women to create employment opportunities to sustain economic growth. Examples of businesses that have been started are hair salons, tailor shops and bakeries.

While the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program closed down in 2018, it was replaced by the WEERDP and continues to be backed by the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) to ensure steady funding.

VSLA’s are funded by the World Bank and the IDA to ensure sustainable financial institutions are available in Afghanistan, with the hope that they will partner with larger commercial banks in the future.

Benefits of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

There are roughly 275,684 Afghan women beneficiaries of the WEERDP.  Many of them have had access to financial services for the first time with the program. Many others have taken loans, learned how to repay them and have begun saving for the future. These are valuable life skills for women who were not able to enter the workforce or gain an education in the past.

With the increase of women-run businesses in Afghanistan’s rural communities, VSLA’s can begin to partner with larger banks to begin serving bigger loans to women after seeing the success of the businesses that started with micro-loans. The support of financial institutions is important to give women the confidence to become entrepreneurs, especially in a country where the percentage of women in the workforce has been statistically low. Skills like leadership, management and problem-solving are derived from starting a business and they can be spread throughout communities to strengthen the role of women in the economy.

Skills can even be passed down through generations. Building a structure with programs like the WEERDP is vital for long-term economic growth and success because it can open doors for creativity and innovation for an economy that would benefit.

The Future of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Increasing the number of women entrepreneurs with savvy financial skills can benefit the communities of Afghanistan in many ways. Successful women can begin to venture out into local politics and healthcare fields to build on their skills while sharing their talents with the community. Women have important input on what types of businesses are needed for their community and can reduce poverty in specialized ways.

Afghan women make up roughly half of the nation’s population, so their representation is needed to drive economic and societal progress. Having women be visible in the business sector can allow for gender equality to improve in Afghanistan over time, improving the development of the nation as a whole.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr