How Fashion Can Empower Impoverished Communities
Behind every piece of clothing is a story. This story reflects not only people’s functional needs but also the craftsmanship and cultural influences that brought an idea from the design sketch to the final product. Fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities both through what it can do and how manufacturers produce it.

Empowerment Through Fashion

This empowerment comes in primarily two forms. Fashion can provide communities with the freedom and resources to engage with and express themselves and their own culture. It can also fulfill functional purposes and help displaced or disadvantaged communities become self-sufficient and monetarily independent.

In a conversation with The Borgen Project, Christopher Aaron, a recent graduate from the AAS program in Fashion Design at Parson’s School of Design, underscored the need for brands to respect the ecosystem and cultural identity of the people they are trying to empower.

Another problem, which Aaron highlights, is that since many artisans channel their own and their community’s unique history into their craft, incorporating their artisanal style or cultural symbols into a mass-produced good may commercialize rather than empower their work. Wanting to help indigenous and impoverished communities through fashion is no doubt commendable, but fashion brands should help in a way that does not appropriate, exploit or dilute local cultures.

Two brands that exemplify how fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities are ADIFF and Artisan Global. Rather than exploiting cultures to further their own ambitions, they enable these communities to take ownership of their own heritage in both an artistic and a material sense.

ADIFF – Empowerment through Functional and Sustainable Fashion

ADIFF is a sustainable fashion brand with the mission to “empower marginalized communities and fight climate change through fashion.” It aims to do so by designing clothes with a functional benefit to refugees and by employing refugees themselves in the production process. It also tries to rely on upcycling, the practice of using traditional waste materials to create clothing and accessories.

Angela Luna and Loulwa Al Saad founded the label in 2016, building on Luna’s senior collection at Parson’s School of Design in New York. According to Luna, the hardships of the European migrant crisis moved her. Thus, she sought a way to use design to fulfill a functional need. Her answer was transformative clothing. She designed jackets that could turn into tents or sleeping bags and tops that facilitated carrying a child. Luna also designed two-sided garments that could make the wearer more or less visible.

Since then, ADIFF has moved beyond assistance through design-based problem-solving. It now employs many resettled refugee tailors from Afghanistan in its manufacturing facility in Athens, Greece. With its buy-one-give-one model, it has donated 1,000 jackets to the homeless and refugees globally since 2017.

In January 2021, ADIFF also published a collection of DIY instructions for recycling old garments or household goods into new clothing. The “Open Source Fashion Cookbook” hopes to reduce the amount of fabric waste by teaching people how to, for example, make a jacket from two woven blankets or a shirt dress from two old button-down shirts. ADIFF is working toward sustainability, redefining the relationship between fashion and the public.

Artisan Global – Facilitating Artistic Authenticity and Commercial Independence

Artisan Global is a nonprofit organization in South Carolina, aiming to promote “sustainable job strategies and workplaces for those living in extreme poverty in war-torn countries.” In 2020, it opened the Artisan Center in Uganda, providing the infrastructure to facilitate fashion-related design innovation. The Ugandan artists and artisans themselves bring the ideas and vision for a piece or product. Artisan Global helps with the creation, sales and sustainability of its production.

Intermittent conflict in and around Uganda has displaced some communities and posed a developmental challenge to others. Most recently, the South Sudanese civil war (2013 to 2015) and the Kasese clashes (2016) have destabilized the region. Artisan Global currently works with people who Joseph Kony’s rebel army kidnapped as children.

That said, Uganda has also experienced much progress in reducing its poverty rate. From 1993 to 2017, the poverty rate declined from 53% to 21%. While the multidimensional poverty rate remains much higher at approximately 56% in children, these figures represent an impressive improvement.

The Many Faces of Fashion

Fashion can empower indigenous and impoverished communities. For Aaron, a designer at the budding stage of his fashion career, brands and organizations like ADIFF and Artisan Global demonstrate that function and social justice are not mutually exclusive. Designers and consumers do not just care about what the products are, but also how manufacturers make them and what they represent. Of course, there is often still a financial sacrifice, both for those who make and for those who buy clothing, that comes with choosing to empower disadvantaged communities over catering to the mass market. But, as ADIFF and Artisan Global show, this trade-off is not as pronounced as it may seem.

Fashion poses opportunities and risks for the empowerment of local communities. The key to functional and sustainable fashion as a tool for empowerment lies not with any one thing. Instead, it lies in combining the goal-oriented resourcefulness of an engineer with the boldness and cultural empathy of an artist.

– Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Unsplash

Gender Inequality in TaiwanLocated in East Asia, Taiwan is a part of the Republic of China. The government has taken steps to improve gender inequality in Taiwan, but like other countries, it has made slow progress in increasing women’s participation in the labor force. From 1978 to 2015, the percentage of working women over the age of 15 increased from 38% to 51%. According to recent research, digital media has the power to fuel efforts to close the gap between men and women.

Gender Inequality in Taiwan

Historically, women in Taiwan were taught that they must obey their fathers, husbands and sons and depend on men. This traditional view incited women to form organizations that promoted gender equality. After World War II, the “Civil Code of the Republic of China” was applied to Taiwan. This code gave women the right to work, participate in politics and vote. Unfortunately, the gender pay gap remains an issue. In 2016, female workers in Taiwan made 14.6% less than their male co-workers.

The country has made progress, however. Today, Taiwan’s government has taken pride in increasing gender equality with a female head of state, President Tsai Ing-wen. Additionally, in the 2016 election, women made up 38% of the lawmakers voted into government positions. Voting in a significant percentage of female lawmakers opens opportunities for the Taiwanese government to fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. Some other ways to decrease gender inequality in Taiwan include supporting working mothers, establishing equal worker rights and offering fair access to education, business training and loans.

How Media Empowers Women

“Digital Media: Empowerment and Equality” is a study on how digital platforms empower female users and reduce gender inequality in Taiwan. The research discovered that digital technology gives women the power to spread awareness, as well as market and network. While the platforms offer opportunities, women would benefit even more if they have access to education to help them be successful on social media. For example, the Taiwan Women Up program has helped middle-aged and older women learn information and communication technology to support their organizations and empower themselves.

Furthermore, social media has the power to increase female empowerment through political involvement. Hashtag activism gives women the ability to make a public issue a global issue and pressure lawmakers. Social media also offers a platform for gendered violence stories and holds communities in multiple countries accountable for gender equality. Unfortunately, women sometimes have barriers to using this powerful tool, including limited access to technology, language barriers and censorship.

Need For Digital Education

Accenture found that digital fluency helps countries grow closer to equality in the workplace. The Digital Fluency Model reveals that countries with better digital fluency rates among women have higher rates of gender equality in the workplace. Women with better digital fluency also have more employment opportunities and flexibility. They can work from home and use technology to access more job opportunities.

Achieving gender equality is a challenge around the world, but Taiwan’s efforts to close the gap between men and women push the country in the right direction while adapting to the digital world.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Theresa Kachindamoto’s Activism
Malawi operates under a democratic chiefdom system, which has been in existence for hundreds of years. Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings and the mother of five children. She works as a tribal Malawian chief in the district of Dedza. This district consists of nearly 900,000 people and 551 headmen. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children stems from the cultural practice of child marriages.

Kachindamoto has been working to annul child marriages and ensure that the female victims of it can receive an education. In Malawi, one in two girls will marry before 18, preventing them from completing their education. Kachindamoto uses her voice to explain the practicality of arranged marriages with healthy boundaries. She also advocates for safe environments for the betterment of all parties involved. Here is some information about Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children.

Empowerment of Children

Some call Theresa Kachindamoto the terminator of child marriages. In fact, she has annulled over 1,000 marriages and immediately aided in getting individuals back to school afterward. Kachindamoto has said she will be chief until she dies, giving the children of Malawi a solid and long-term advocate. She is accomplishing change through the creation of a reliable support network to alter traditions.

U.N. Women has been a big supporter of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children and how she brings attention to the issue of child marriages.

Many young women end up having to enter child marriages since their families are in poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs. Benedeta Matinson talked about marriage and finishing school in a U.N. Women video before she received employment. She conveyed information about experiencing marriage and pregnancy at the age of 15. Benedeta stated that marriage not a suitable solution for the lack of basic necessities.

The Problem

Malawi is the sixth most impoverished country in the world. Girls who marry before the age of 18 make up 18% of the country. Kachindamoto has expressed that motherhood and wifehood often take precedence over girls’ education. Thus, the chief is working towards altering traditions. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children empowers young women. It grants the girls understanding of their value and what they deserve. This includes quality education before marriage arrangements.

Child marriages lead the way to more significant problems. An example of a problem is sexual initiation camps. These are places where young women learn how to sexually please men and understand their “duties” as wives. The tradition translates as “kukasa fumbi,” which basically means sexual cleansing. Girls either graduate the program by having relations with their instructor or go home virgins. Meanwhile, if they return home as virgins, their parents force them to lose their virginities to local men. This cultural practice makes girls more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV. In fact, statistically, every one in 10 Malawians becomes ill with HIV/AIDS.

With the teen pregnancy rate rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.2% of girls ages 15 to 19 are mothers. In addition, 63.5% of girls are mothers-to-be.

The Importance of Education

As part of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children, she created and signed an agreement for her district to end child marriage along with sexual initiation camps. This was the result of conversing with 50 sub-chiefs who gave Kachindamoto significant pushback. In response, she firmly said, “these girls will go back to school” and the other tribal members slowly worked towards sticking to the new law. In her reign, Kachindamoto raised the age of consent for marriage from 15 years old to 18 years old.

The Mpapa mothers’ group is an organization that seeks out victims of child marriages. Members go door to door in search of those who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, and they attempt to return the girls to school. Mpapa Primary School is a school that the girls then attend, where drop-out rates were at 6% in 2020 and attendance was at 87%. Nationally, only 51% of girls finish primary school.

The Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE) trains the Mpapa mothers’ group. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency supports the group as well. The group encourages to complete education by mentoring teens on pregnancy issues, marriage and their rights as women.

A 15-year-old girl and Mpapa Primary School attendee, Aisha Kayima, benefited from mentoring sessions two times a month. The mothers’ group has taught Kayima to be better informed about her choices so that she can have a quality future.

Looking Ahead

Putting a stop to child marriages can change the economic status of young girls while ensuring entire communities’ safety by inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children also helps reconnect girls with their warranted educational paths. In Kachindamoto’s words, “If you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future.”

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Government
Worldwide, more people have access to mobile phones than to proper sanitation. As crazy as it sounds, mobile phone access can be advantageous. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that out of the 7 billion people on earth, around 6.5 billion have access to a mobile phone. As of 2018, 100% of the population in low- and middle-income countries had access to mobile phones, whereas 55% of the population in low-income countries owned a mobile phone. The pervasiveness of mobile technology can help build expansive government networks. Mobile Government (mGov) could provide citizens and businesses with extended benefits and stir up overall economic growth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several countries with pre-established digital governments have launched public services that people can access via mobile phones. The introduction of these online services could be a blessing for developing countries, where the communication between the government and the residents is almost nonexistent.

What is a Mobile Government (mGov)?

Mobile Government is a government-led platform that uses mobile technology to increase active participation in government operations while offering several government services and applications that individuals can access electronically. It provides quick and easy access to integrated data and location-based services and helps to empower citizens. Here are different ways Mobile Government can make a positive impact.

Increased Financial Inclusion

As per World Bank reports, by 2018, the number of people holding bank accounts shrank from 2.5 billion to 1.2 billion in just seven years. As a result, less than 50% of the adult population did not have a link to traditional banking systems. Therefore, to increase the financial inclusion of the citizens, governments all across the globe are undertaking initiatives to encourage and support the development of financial technologies.

In India, Jio, an Indian telecommunications company, in collaboration with the government, stirred a socio-economic revolution by providing subsidized 4G service to more than 200 million subscribers in under two years. Likewise, the mobile currency has transformed the Kenyan economy. More than three-fourths of the population have gained access to mobile wallets (M-Pesa) and can participate in financial transactions.

Similarly, online services can be useful in distributing money among the poor since only a small fraction have operational bank accounts. About 1.2 billion users across 95 countries use mobile money. Many countries use mobile payment services to provide monetary assistance through Government-to-person (G2P) payment systems.

In Bangladesh, the government is providing 5 million families with economic support by transferring money online, ensuring that families have a stable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The usage of mobile has helped reduce corruption dramatically, improve access to financial services and boost participation in economic activities.

Better Access to Essential Services

Mobiles have made access to health, education, agriculture and other services trouble-free for the general public. In the same way, mobile phones are going toward addressing serious health problems. Increased communication can bring awareness about safe drinking water, birth control, maternal health and malnutrition amongst many others.

Globally, 774 million people are unable to read or write. Out of that group, 123 million are youth. One can frequently trace illiteracy to a lack of books. Studies have revealed a positive correlation between high illiteracy rates and a shortage of books. The majority of people in sub-Saharan African do not have access to books and the schools in the region rarely do anything about it. As a solution, several developing countries have replaced physical texts with online books, allowing a larger proportion to access books. For instance, educators in schools in countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and Pakistan read stories to the children from mobile phones.

Mobile phones can also combat dengue fever in Pakistan. Sanitary workers use smartphones to send geo-tagged images of swamps to the central health experts. Afterward, health experts monitor the images.

The agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Uganda also utilizes mobile phones in a significant way. It employs mobile phones to deliver early alerts on droughts, food shortages, pests and weather-related calamities.

Enables Social Accountability

The governments in developing countries are using mobile technology to promote the use of SMS texts to enhance social accountability among the citizens. A study that took place in 46 African countries unearthed a correlation between high mobile penetration and low corruption rates.

In several developing countries, citizens receive encouragement to notify their governments of any matters that require addressing. In Pakistan, the Director-General of the Passport Office sends a message to the visitors inquiring about any bribery encounters or any other issues.

Mobile Government can be a powerful tool, useful in extending access to existing services, developing further innovative, inclusive services and increasing citizen participation in all realms of the public sector. Mobiles can dynamically foster civic engagement, facilitate transparent democracy, reform the outdated educational systems and create advanced healthcare infrastructure in developing countries. The use of mobile technology can tackle the growing digital divide between low-income and high-income countries. Hopefully, this will uplift the economies and literacy rates in developing countries.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
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

How the Disha Project Empowers Women in IndiaIn India—a country surging with sustained economic growth—more than two-thirds of women don’t have a profession or are outside of the workforce. This level of engagement also varies between rural and urban areas due to a divide in, among other things, access to training and schooling. Despite the growth in the past few decades in terms of education rates, as well as a similarly important decline in birth rates, women in rural India are still not as able to pursue or secure a job as their male counterparts. The Disha Project was an international effort that acted as a catalyst for improvement and provided diverse resources and plans to empower underprivileged Indian women across the nation.

The Disha Project’s Mission

The Disha Project was set out to be a three-year united effort between the United Nations Development Programme, the India Development Foundation and the IKEA Foundation. The three groups, together with their networks of experience and assets, came together to provide women in India with opportunities for income growth and management. Skills training remained the primary tool of the Disha Project and teaching women essential skills alongside separate enterprise teachings, participants were able to gain valuable and diverse knowledge that set them apart from other job seekers.

The original goals of the project included a target goal of a million women in India being introduced and linked to a growing chain of economically independent job seekers and makers. Beyond applying skills that would greatly increase the possibilities for job acquisition, the Disha Project also marked replicability and scalability as its goals, which explained the strong focus on self-sustained community growth.

The Models Used

To fulfill the intentions the Disha Project laid out for itself, planning and execution were paramount. Clement Chauvent led the Disha Project and served as the United Nations Development Programme’s chief of skills and business development. In his capacity as Disha Project’s head, he outlined four principal models by which the project would take shape. Clement detailed how model one is primarily educational, providing advice and direction for female job seekers. By surmounting this first barrier to self-sustainable economic growth, the program’s participants can begin to pursue their own aspirations much more aggressively.

The second and third models rely on the market and social networks, leading women seeking to fill these roles to established needs in professions. Additionally, by connecting mentors and those with guidance to women who wish to start with “micro-entrepreneurship,” the UNDP initiative directly provides resources and support. The final and fourth model is that of production and economic efficiency. This model seeks to unite women in India to make sure those producing salable products and practicing profitable skills can expand their reach and value as a part of the system.

Meaningful Success

For the Disha Project, countless personal stories of women in rural India initiating businesses, gaining greater social power and supporting their households and communities financially stand as testimony of success. On a larger scale, Chauvet reports, “With the support of IKEA Foundation, since 2015, 800,594 women in Delhi NCR, Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have been enabled with employable skills.” These women in India also act as a greater example of societal change. Due to the sheer scale of the Disha Project’s impact, small systematic changes, carved in the footholds of agricultural villages and towns, will slowly become more noticeable. Each woman among the almost 900,000 participants carries within herself the tools to inform her family, engage her neighborhood and teach other women in the community. Through the efforts of organizations like the Disha Project, women are becoming more empowered worldwide, which contributes to a more secure financial future for all and paves a way forward to a world that is more equally accessible, regardless of sex.

—Alan Mathew

Photo: Flickr

Livelihoods in Brunei are ImprovingBrunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Some statistics about the country still remain unknown like the percentage of Bruneians that live in poverty. This is due to the fact that Brunei still does not have a poverty line as of 2018. However, one can use other means to measure Brunei’s poverty. Additionally, other data can help ascertain whether or not livelihoods in Brunei are improving their unquantified impoverished situations.

One way to look at this is the Economic Freedom Index Score (EFIS). One can think of this as Bruneians’ freedom of choice as well as their ability to acquire and use goods. Brunei’s EFIS is 66.6, and it ranks 61 out of 180 countries. Singapore, the top country, comes in at 89.4, making it the world’s most free economy in the 2020 Index. Then there is North Korea, the bottom country, which has a score of 4.2. Despite Brunei’s moderate EFIS score, the country is working to boost that number. Here are three ways livelihoods in Brunei are improving.

1. Self-Empowerment Initiatives

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah says Brunei has drafted “self-empowerment initiatives” to create more job and entrepreneurship freedoms. Oil and gas production supply 90% of government revenue and 90% of exports. However, these industries have limited job opportunities.

Now, the country strives for economic diversification to reduce reliance on oil and gas. To support these endeavors, the administration will simplify the processes to start a business and develop business regulations. The most significant changes were amending certain laws allowing businesses and investors to operate without a license and reducing the wait times for a business to open.

2. Employment

Unemployment rates — regardless of education level — are high. Although, Bruneians with a vocational background have the highest rates of unemployment. The youth are also at risk of higher rates of unemployment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the unemployment rate among young Brunei increased from 25.3% to 28.9% in 2019 — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the highest percentage.

A suggestion from the IMF is to invest in technology and digitalization to capitalize on the tech-savvy generation. Also, the Manpower Planning Council is setting up a labor-management information system to lower unemployment among college graduates. This will be a cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and education institutions to ensure the turnout of employable graduates.

3. Welfare

The Sultan also says that people’s welfare is of utmost importance. This assertion stems from taqwa, the basic Islamic principle of God-consciousness together with brotherhood, equality, fairness and justice. This concept is the basis of true Islamic societies.

With this in mind, livelihoods in Brunei are improving by adjusting the financial aid requirements. This effort attempts to lift benefit recipients out of poverty and continue to provide assistance to citizens who need it. With these new rules, the government will be able to map welfare recipients and learn where there is a need to advance workforce skills and job opportunities. The implementation of this new system is more important than ever before due to COVID-19 and an expected increase of benefit recipients. Now, however, Brunei authorities can better prepare themselves to leave no one behind, per taqwa.

Overall, livelihoods in Brunei are improving. The administration has focused itself on economic diversification to be less reliant on oil and gas. The unemployment rate has increased, but the country is undergoing steps to combat that with education and jobs. Also, Brunei is updating welfare programs to include further applicant information. This will assist in financial help as well as learning where education or job options are a factor in poverty.

These changes could create a cycle of prosperity and bring more Bruneians out of poverty. However, Brunei needs to create a poverty line. That way, it can more accurately assess its poverty situation and how much progress it still needs.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr

 Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is a NGO based in Kenya that works to empower young Africans. They provide people with the skills necessary to become innovative and ethical leaders of Africa. The group created several leadership programs and research programs to renovate Africa. Their new program, LEAP, is a mobile phone training platform designed to train employees and students about health precautions and safety outside of the classroom setting.

Who is Amref Health Africa?

Amref Health Africa is an African led organization that works to train African workers. The NGO works to improve health care from the people in Africa while also strengthening health care systems. They partner with different organizations around the world to promote power and unity. Amref Health Africa currently collaborates with 22 global offices and 35 different programs in Africa to bolster health care efforts.

Through Amref Health Africa’s partnership with Accenture, Kentan Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Safaricom and Mezzanine, LEAP — the mobile health learning application — was created. The application has allowed health care workers and students to work effectively outside of a classroom setting.

LEAP during the Pandemic

Recently, LEAP users employ the site to train in order to craft a COVID-19 response. The program instructs community health workers on how to raise awareness about the virus. LEAP also provides information on the best precaution methods for the community. Thanks to LEAP, health care workers have learned to take the necessary steps to promote safety and awareness in Africa. So far, over 78,000 community health workers and health workers have been trained and are using their education to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, LEAP launched a two-month campaign in Kenya. Through the campaign,  health care workers were trained to identify, isolate and refer suspected COVID-19 cases. Participants were also taught how to identify high-risk areas and suppress the transmission of the disease.

Results

The app allows customization of the training content to fit the needs of the audience. It takes into consideration the skill level of the people using the app and modifications can be made to the language and audio section depending on user preference. LEAP allows personalization to ensure that the user has the best results with the program.

LEAP has strengthened the health care system in Africa by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The mobile training app also diminished the spread of misinformation on the virus. LEAP has provided Africa with the knowledge necessary to arm and defend themselves against COVID-19.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr