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EnterpriseFor Sharon Njavika, the idea of starting her own business began while she was studying abroad in Staffordshire, England. How We Made it in Africa notes that Njavika was one of the only black females in the city and therefore had limited to access to hair and skincare products that fit her needs.

She would have to travel to the next town over to get her hair chemically straightened and recalls becoming frustrated with the constant upkeep of her looks, which she believed were necessary in order to fit in with her surrounding culture.

Njavika told How We Made it in Africa, “one time my friend was doing my hair and I got a bad wound from the chemical relaxer. It was a big flesh wound, and the experience was traumatic.” After this incident, Njavika ditched the chemicals and started looking for a more natural way to manage her hair.

As an HCD (Health, Community and Development) graduate, Njavika utilized her practice of health and well-being to create her own social enterprise, AJANI handmade. Journalist Banke Falade recognizes that AJANI handmade markets natural hair products specifically for black hair as well as general natural hair care.

Njavika writes, “The business model is grounded in perpetuating messages and images of worth, beauty, agency and capacity by and for African women. Through participating in and facilitating conversations online and otherwise, we aim to address the sometimes ignored, often dynamic, social narratives that affect young African women.”

Njavika’s business is based in Kenya, where a growing number of women are embracing the natural look.

However, Njavika social enterprise faces some challenges, such as limited access to financing, raw materials and high quality packing materials. The young entrepreneur also keeps a full-time job in order to cover her personal expenses and fund the growing business.

An African blog writer commented, “she has such a passion and drive for this new company that I can only see it developing, growing and thriving in the months and years to come. I think the aspect that most caught my attention is the fact that AJANI Handmade is much more than just selling beauty/care products. They focus on self-love, confidence, well-being and supporting black women.”

Njavika focuses on perpetuating messages of beauty and self-worth, demonstrating the principles that drive her social enterprise, AJANI handmade.

Megan Hadley

Garment IndustryThe fashion tastes of consumers in advanced nations can have serious impacts on the well-being of workers that manufacture clothing products in developing nations.

Not only are these workers often paid unfair wages, but they also often suffer from extremely unsafe working conditions. In 2013, for instance, the collapse of a poorly-built factory in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 people, according to The Guardian.

Garment Industry in Bangladesh

Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, is highly dependent on the garment industry. This means that companies who fail to treat workers respectfully can defend themselves against critics by claiming they provide jobs to people who would not otherwise be able to work.

There is some sense to such a claim. According to The Guardian, 80 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP relies on the ready-made garment industry.

Nevertheless, it is certainly possible for garment companies to do more, both to protect workers as well as to support support development of the economies and societies in which those workers live.

People Tree: A Company Making Changes

One company that has proven to be true is People Tree, a London and Tokyo-based brand that aims to be 100 percent Fair Trade throughout its supply chain.

People Tree has attracted the attention of The Guardian, The Telegraph and other prominent publications for its commitment to Fair Trade policy.

In 2013, it became the first clothing company in the world to receive the product mark of the World Fair Trade Organization.

On its website, People Tree states that “people and the planet are central to everything we do.”

Central to its business model is what the People Tree calls “Slow Fashion,” which is a philosophy that rebels against the high-speed mode of trade that is standard in the fashion industry. It is that rushed mentality that leads to socially and environmentally hazardous practices.

As People Tree’s website defines it, “Slow Fashion means standing up against exploitation, family separation, slum cities and pollution—all the things that make fast fashion so successful.”

With regard to the environment, People Tree engages in a number of sustainable practices ranging from the use of certified organic cotton to dyeing with safe and azo-free chemicals. Products are sourced locally and from recycled material when possible. Once the products are made, People Tree prioritizes shipping by sea over shipping by air, thereby reducing the company’s impact on global warming.

Perhaps most importantly, People Tree’s fabric is woven by hand. Specifically, by the hands of real people whom the company strives to pay well and treat with dignity.

Indeed, one of the reasons People Tree cares so much about environmental friendliness is that it understands the effect pollution has on the environments in which their workers live. Environmentally conscious practices lead to sustainable development and happier workers, which in turn lead to higher productivity and more business, according to the company.

People Tree makes 50 percent advance payments on orders so that farmers and producers can more easily finance Fair Trade. And it manages its Collections so that workers will have enough time to produce garments by hand without being crunched, which the company says “is rare in the fashion industry.”

Setting the Stage for Sustainable Fashion

People Tree goes beyond paying fair wages and maintaining safe conditions, however. In some communities, it provides clean water and offers free education to poor families. In many cases, People Tree partners with organizations that empower disadvantaged workers, such as women and the physically disabled.

A new precedent has been established for the garment industry, as social business and corporate responsibility become increasingly popular in other industries. People Tree’s success demonstrates the potential for companies to think beyond profit and consider the wider impact business can have on impoverished communities in developing countries.

Joe D’Amore

Sources: Telegraph 1, Telegraph 2, People Tree, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: Flickr

trash in NairobiDavid Kimani is a Kenyan man who grew up across the street from the largest landfill in the country. Being raised in the slums of Nairobi, Kimani dropped out after primary school.

Kimani, now a father of three, currently owns and operates a garbage recycling company, according to the Xinhua News Agency. He now earns about $30 a day selling recyclable trash in Nairobi. He has also hired five young people from similar backgrounds who face socioeconomic struggles.

Despite pressure from friends and family to pursue education, Kimani wanted to start a business. “I had done my own research and consulted widely with established players who convinced me that waste recycling promised returns. An older relative had earlier bought a car from the proceeds of garbage collection,” Kimani said.

According to UNICEF, approximately two-thirds of the population of Nairobi lives in informal settlements where they face issues of overcrowding, lack of health and educational resources, poor sanitation and social exclusion. According to ISID, only 12 percent of the households in the Nairobi slums have access to piped water.

Youth living in slums across Africa are less likely to attend school than children living in non-slum areas, according to the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID).

The Nairobi county governor, Evans Kidero, honored Kimani’s young workers by agreeing to a government-funded contract that will help to clear trash in Nairobi out of residential areas.

He stated, “We will be spending 10,000 dollars every day for the next 45 days to ensure that Nairobi is restored to its former status as a green capital. Private contractors will partner with the National Youth Service to alleviate the garbage menace.” In addition, Kidero intends to form an incentives plan to encourage the youth to become full-time garbage collectors.

Caleb Kidali, a youth mentor for low-income children in Nairobi, noted the positive changes that employers can make to help youth from poor backgrounds afford to move out of the slums. “During its formative stages, garbage collection was like a hobby for bored youth until it evolved into a money minting exercise,” Kidali said.

Other companies, like Taka ni Pato (Trash is Cash), have started to hire young people to give them an employment and income opportunity and to enhance their communities by creating cleaner living spaces. In fact, Taka ni Pato has hired more than 100 young people to collect trash in Nairobi, benefiting the young people directly and the community as a whole.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: Global Giving, Institute for the Study of International Development, UNICEF, Xinhua
Photo: Google Images

mozambikes
Mozambique entrepreneurs have created the award-winning social enterprise Mozambikes builds low-cost bicycles to improve the livelihoods of thousands of people in Mozambique. Affordable and efficient bicycle transportation can greatly impact the pace of development in a country with 54 percent of citizens living below the poverty line, especially in rural areas.

In addition to bringing economic opportunities, Mozambikes is committed to improving the lives of 50,000 Mozambicans by 2018. The company and affiliated non-profit Mozambikes Social Development intends to reach this goal through the sale and donation of affordable branded bicycles.

Mozambikes’ unique branding strategy has created three avenues of distribution. The first allows customers to brand and purchase bicycles for their own business needs, such as employee incentive programs. Other customers choose to brand bicycles sold to low-income markets.

Branding customers allow Mozambikes to sell the bicycles at a subsidized rate. For advertisers, it is an opportunity to tap into remote rural markets. Bicycles can also be donated through Mozambikes Social Development for about $100.

These bicycles are purchased at cost from Mozambikes and donated to those who still cannot afford a bicycle. Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Lauren Thomas said in an article published on The Guardian, “A bicycle may seem like such a small item to many, but it is quite literally life-changing in rural Africa.” Mozambique_entrepreneurs

The bicycles are specifically designed for use on the bumpy roads in Mozambique with large luggage racks for transporting goods. The design also accommodates traditional skirts with a diagonal crossbar. Local technicians assemble the bicycles and after-market maintenance has created a demand for more bicycle technicians.

In comparison with regional competitors, Mozambikes’ product is better quality and more affordable. The company hopes to improve the bicycle industry of Mozambique through these innovations.

Bicycles can have a significant impact in low-income communities and aid development. In Mozambique, two-thirds of people walk more than an hour to the closest health center. Bicycles provide increased access to education, health care and are a clean energy solution.

In five years, Mozambikes has sold or donated over 7,000 bicycles and plans to increase that number to 125,000 by 2020. In rural Africa, a bicycle is generally considered a household items aiding not only individuals but also entire families.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Mozambicans rely on income from what they can produce, largely through subsistence farming. Transportation is essential in this informal economy. Fetching water, maintaining crops and getting products to market are all made easier with access to bicycles.

As a Mozambique business, Mozambikes employs about 12 workers and pay salaries above minimum wage. The company also strives to empower women, provide training for bike technicians, and educate cyclists about safety.

Mozambikes hopes to benefit a million Mozambicans through low-cost, efficient transportation. Each bicycle improves another Mozambican’s livelihood.

Thomas affirms the company’s long-term vision: “Some people come and go, but we are really committed to making this an ongoing, sustainable business, and there is still so much more we can do.”

Cara Kuhlman

Sources: The Guardian, How We Made It In Africa, Mail & Guardian, Mozambikes, Mozambikes YouTube Channel
Photo: Wikimedia, Flickr

She Leads Africa: Supporting African Women in Business
South Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world; however, the majority of the female-led startups are small-sized, individual-owned business. In order to foster female-led high-growth startups, She Leads Africa (SLA) provides African female entrepreneurs with the knowledge, financing and networks.

In Africa, female entrepreneurs face four major barriers to their success in entrepreneurship: unequal access to education, limited access to financing, constricted traditional stereotypes, and limited access to networks. SLA supports female entrepreneurs through hosting annual business pitch competition and building a community for female entrepreneurs.

Women in Africa don’t have equal chances to get an education since the primary level, which makes them lack business knowledge and work experience to create high-profit companies. Since 2014, SLA has hosted an annual pitch competition to identify the most promising African female entrepreneurs.

The finalists can get six-week training and business plan development with experienced mentors, who are from premier consulting, finance and venture capital companies. Moreover, SLA also creates an online platform for potential female entrepreneurs to share their business knowledge.

The unequal treatment does not only show in education but also in financial access. According to the report by SLA, women face fewer options, higher interest rates, and shorter terms when they look for loans. Thus, SLA’s pitch competition offers winners more than $55,000 in cash and kind prizes, including legal services and office supplies.

Besides the support in financing, SLA creates valuable networking chances for female entrepreneurs. By now, more than 380 entrepreneurs from more than 27 countries apply for a coveted finalist spot. The pitch competition has been a platform for African female entrepreneurs to network with other entrepreneurs and look for investors and mentors.

In a male-dominated society, women are always valued by their domestic contributions. However, with the popularity of SLA pitch competition, people raise the awareness of female entrepreneurship. In the 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase, six finalists were selected. On the final pitch competition, they will compete for a $10,000 prize and access directly to investors and international media attention.

“We are excited about our second cohort of young African female entrepreneurs for mentoring, training and investment and if I must say so myself, they are quite dope,” said Afua Osel, co-founder of SLA.

SLA emphasizes the role of the female in economic development. According to its Press kit, SLA is “a social enterprise dedicated to ensuring that women are not left out of Africa’s Growth Story.” Starting from a feminist concept, by offering them training and business development, providing financial support, enlarging their social network and rise social approval, SLA is the forefront of supporting African women in business.

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Black Enterprise, SLA 1, SLA 2, SLA 3
Photo: Flickr

japan
Japan is rethinking its higher education programs, forgoing liberal arts subjects in cooperation with a business-first society keen on better-skilled graduates.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aspiration is to change Japan’s government-sanctioned universities into global frontrunners in scientific exploration or vocational training schools. Abe has called on Japan’s higher educational programs to “redefine their missions” and transform their expected criteria.

The 86 Japanese public universities were instructed by the ministry of education to send their plans to restructure their educational format by the end of June to continue receiving their funds contributed by the government.

In accordance with this decision for adjustment, many of the country’s companies have altered their training programs, counting on universities to train more for business skills. The expectation for young professionals with teamwork, managerial and social abilities is higher than ever in Japan.

This change is inspired by Abe’s decision to rejuvenate the country to become a world leader. The Prime Minister wants universities to include innovative schooling techniques that are more demanding of students for the betterment of the Japanese economy.

Despite Abe’s assurance of this success, many feel as though exempting liberal arts subjects will be detrimental to the experience and value of learning in higher education. This debate started long before Japan’s educational reformation, earning a lasting presence in the United States’ arguments over education. Nevertheless, Japan’s critics are worried about the quality of educational instruction because of the miscommunication between expectations of Japanese employers.

The Dean of Temple University’s Japan campus, Bruce Stronach, said that society needs people who contribute to all aspects of humanity, including social issues.

“That’s why those traditional fields like arts, literature, history and social sciences are also—and will always be—important,” Stronach said.

Despite Stronach’s negative reaction to these changes, not all Japanese educators are displeased with Abe’s declarations.

Katsushi Nishimura, a law professor at Ehime University in Japan, said that students need to learn how to work according to society’s expectations.

“We also need to come out of the ivory tower and listen to the real world,” he said.

According to Nishimura, the university’s funding for the humanities and education departments’ courses will be cut and given to an improved business training plan created by a board of business and academic leaders. Originally, according to Nishimura, the teaching staff was in charge of altering education courses.

In addition, Nishimura said that the new programs will highlight training for local industries such as tourism and fisheries.

Like Nishimura, Japanese educators will likely abide by Abe’s decisions. Education in Japan fueled the country’s rapid economic growth and is one of the driving forces toward the production of high technology.

No doubt, even without liberal arts courses, Japan will continue to be a large contributor to the international economy.

Fallon Lineberger

Sources: Ehime, OECD Observer, The Australian, Wall Street Journal
Photo: GaiginPot

The BOMA Project Mentors Kenyans in Running Successful Businesses

The BOMA Project works with women living in Kenya and other arid and drought-prone regions in helping them receive the resources, training and funds they need to start up their own businesses. Another aspect of the BOMA Project also helps Kenyan women pay for school, food and healthcare. Since 2009, 8,481 women have enrolled with the BOMA Project to successfully launch 2,651 businesses. In total, women who have enrolled with the BOMA Project have been able to provide care for over 42,250 dependent children.

The BOMA Project was started by Kathleen Colson after she was invited by a local elected official, with whom she attended Saint Lawrence University, to visit Northern Kenya. After many years of working as president of African Safari Planners and leading many excursions through Africa, she came to the conclusion something needed to be done to help those affected by drought.

When drought strikes, livestock die in herds, leaving families with no source of income, which in turn hinders them from being able to buy the food and supplies that they need to survive. After drought occurs, the men of the family leave the women and children at home to go find suitable grazing land. Oftentimes, women are left with no means for food or aid for up to six months. The BOMA Project works to train these women to find other sources of income from starting up their own businesses.

During her many trips to Northern Kenya, Colson met with village elders, faith leaders, local residents and community development workers to gain a true understanding of life in Kenya. While she spent lots of her time there listening to these people, she also focused on hearing what the women of Kenya had to say about life there. Her compassion was piqued by the struggles, challenges and failing solutions about which the Kenyan women spoke.

Colson and Kura Omar, her guide and translator, concluded training women to start and maintain their own businesses would help best alleviate poverty during droughts. Through the BOMA Project, they enacted the Rural Entrepreneur Aspect Project (REAP), which provides women with a two-year poverty graduation program that gives them a cash grant, training in the business and sustainability field and training from local mentors.

Once the businesses are earning profits, usually after six months, members of REAP work with BOMA representatives in establishing savings accounts to prepare for droughts in the future. The BOMA Project has successfully helped over 50,000 women and children in surviving drought season. By 2018, the BOMA Project hopes to double that to over 100,000.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: BOMA Project, Aid for Africa, Dining for Women
Photo: BOMANomad

Corporate_Philanthropy_AwardsWhen businesses promote the welfare of others by donating some of their profits or resources, they are participating in corporate philanthropy. This philanthropy can be in the form of financial contributions, use of facilities, services, time or advertising support. Corporations often also set up employee volunteer groups and create matching programs. Some companies manage their own philanthropy, while others organize theirs through company foundations.

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) is an international group of business executives focusing on increasing levels of corporate philanthropy. The committee is comprised of over 150 CEOS from large-scale companies across industries that account for almost half of the reported corporate philanthropy in the United States.

Since 2000, CECP has honored two companies annually that stand out most in their Corporate Philanthropy Awards, according to its four Standards of Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy: CEO leadership, innovation, dedication to measurement and partnership. The committee identifies winners for the Chairman’s Award for companies with revenues of $20 billion and more and the President’s Award for companies under that threshold. These Excellence Awards are the widely-recognized form of honor for corporate giving. Every year, the committee collects an independent jury from various disciplines to decide the recipients of the awards. The jurors base their discussions off of companies’ applications.

The Washington Business Journal, Nashville Business Journal and Philadelphia Business Journal also hold annual Corporate Giving Awards Ceremonies on a smaller scale.

At the CECP Board of Boards CEO event in February in New York City, the committee announced that the winners of the 2015 Excellence Awards are PepsiCo and PwC US.

PepsiCo received the Chairman’s Award for its prioritization of providing clean water in alleviating global poverty. CECP presented the award for the company’s support for The Water Cellars for Mothers project, which provides residents of the Guangxi Province of China with access to safe water. PepsiCo has committed to providing over 6 million people with access to clean water this year.

PwC was awarded the President’s Award for its $160 million “Earn Your Future” commitment to promote fiscally responsible behavior to students across the United States in order to better prepare students for the future. In its third year of implementation, this multi-year commitment has reached over 1.2 million students and educators and has provided more than 530,000 hours of service.

CECP announced that after 15 years of presenting Excellence Awards, it is changing the award system. The committee hopes to expand its reach in the coming year to be able to honor more corporations for their dedication and success in promoting philanthropy across the globe.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: 3BL Media, Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, Double the Donation
Photo: SmugMug

microfinance
Microfinance has become a popular economic strategy for those in the “bottom of the pyramid” hoping to obtain a better quality of life through entrepreneurship and investment in rural business. But microloans often trap loan recipients in cycles of indebtedness, thus exacerbating the poverty loan providers claim to strive to reduce.

The primary problem with microloans is that recipients often use them to purchase basic necessities, like food and clothing, rather than for entrepreneurial ventures or local investment. In South Africa, 94 percent of microloan funding goes to consumption, not investment. This leaves recipients without the means of generating the income to pay back the loans (or the artificially high interest rates that come with them), which necessitates taking out new loans to repay previous ones. Because of the poor economic conditions in impoverished regions, people often have no choice but to enter into this cycle of debt.

Even when microloans are used towards developing business, loan recipients often face obstacles that make realizing revenue difficult or impossible. “When micro-loans are used to fund new businesses, budding entrepreneurs tend to encounter a lack of consumer demand,” writes Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics. “After all, their potential customers are poor and low on cash, and what little money they do have gets spent on basic goods that tend already to be available. In this context, new businesses end up displacing already-existing ones, yielding no net increase in employment and incomes. And that’s the best of the likely outcomes.”

The worst, he writes, is similar to the outcome described above: borrowers end up failing and entering into cycles of indebtedness to pay off previous loans.

One challenge facing loan recipients is a lack of coherence among labor markets in developing regions. Enterprises launched by individuals have a high rate of failure due to a lack of business experience and resources with which to invest or pay back debts. Enterprises launched by communities, however, are much more likely to succeed, the result of collective utilization of resources and solidarity among workers.

An example is Bangladesh’s BRAC, the world’s largest development NGO. BRAC organizes poor communities using their own resources and enables them to create their own supply structures and manage their own industries. One of BRAC’s enterprises, Aarong, has grown into one of Bangladesh’s largest retailers and now earns annual revenues of over $60 million. Aarong’s supply-chain coherence and community support empowers rural artisans, allowing them to create and sell goods on a globally competitive level without having to launch individual initiatives by taking out high-risk loans.
Because NGOs like BRAC are largely self-funded, it is unlikely for them to establish a presence in every developing or impoverished region. This means that for rural workers to have a chance to succeed, local investment in small business needs to be accompanied by state assistance, strong subsidies and assistance for failed entrepreneurial endeavors.

One such example is affordable agriculture insurance, which has the potential to help rural farmers whose operations are threatened by conditions out of their control, like violent climates. Because agriculture is a main source of income for rural communities (over 2 billion people depend on “smallholder” farms for income), they often need to take out loans to maintain the resources to cultivate crops. Because agriculture is a high-variable venture, farmers are often left without the means of recovering lost investments. Insurance coverage for these farmers enables them to invest in riskier but more lucrative endeavors and makes it more likely for credit to be extended to them on more reasonable terms.

Business-friendly initiatives like agriculture insurance present opportunities for American companies to invest in developing regions while making it more likely for rural entrepreneurs to succeed. The more U.S. investors engage in activities such as these, the more likely it is for new markets to develop, and the more likely it will be for development aid to effectively improve business conditions in developing countries.

– Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian 1, Center for Financial Inclusion, The Guardian 2
Photo: The Guardian

female tech entrepreneurs
African women have historically been some of the most disadvantaged people because of social and political norms, but recent developments in the corporate and startup worlds in Africa have allowed women to conceive of unique ideas to combat gender inequality and promote employment for all in the technology industry. Here are six female tech entrepreneurs who are making a difference with their business ideas.

Judith Owigar

Owigar is the co-founder of JuaKali, an online platform similar to LinkedIn that connects blue collar workers in the informal sector to employment opportunities. JuaKali allows users to create online profiles to showcase their expertise and recommendations to find formal employment in Kenya through web and mobile platforms.

Owigar is also the founder of Akirachix, an association that provides professional development services to women interested in technology. The association offers networking, training and mentoring to women with the goal of reducing the gender gap in technology for women in Africa and the world.

Coudy Binta De

This 24-year-old Senegalese entrepreneur is one the rising stars of the Information Technology sector in West Africa. Coudy Binta De and three other women established the first technology hub run by and for women in Sacre Coeur. The hub, named Jijiguene Tech Hub (Jijiguene means women in Woluf), offers elementary training for computer literacy to advanced training like coding in HTML and CSS.

Jijiguene Tech Hub also offers professional development services, and both men and women are welcome to come in with entrepreneurial ideas. Men overwhelmingly dominate the IT sector in Africa, and women like De are working to increase employment opportunities and create favorable social norms for female entrepreneurs.

Jamila Abass, Linda Kwamboka and Susan Oguya

These three Kenyan women created MFarm, a mobile platform that connects farmers with consumers in urban and rural areas. MFarm uses software that provides producers and buyers with the latest retail information, and consumers can purchase produce directly from the farmers and vice versa.

Farmers can find local consumers while buyers can find the lowest price for food amongst farmers; every user connects via SMS. The company began in 2010 after winning the IPO48 competition and is now supported by partners Samsung and Tech for Trade, a U.K.-based charity.

Akaliza Keza Gara

A Kigali native of Rwanda, Akaliza Keza Gara is a 27-year-old entrepreneur in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) industry of Rwanda’s technology sector. She is the founder of Shaking Sun, a multimedia company that offers website development, graphic design and computer animation services.

Gara believes women should be producers of technology, not just consumers. As such, she actively works to advance the position of women in the Rwandan ICT industry. In 2012, Gara was one of four female Rwandan entrepreneurs honored by the International Telecommunication Union for contributions to the ICT sector.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: All Africa, BBC, Forbes, M Farm, Juakali
Photo: Africa Style Daily