Carol and Isatou, with an expanding group of interested donors and well-wishers across multiple continents, discussed how they could create a successful model that would provide sustainable income generation to the women in the villages. They came up with a goal of “four village in five years with sustainable income generation". A lot of factors went into the goal, model design, and choice of projects, Some of the key factors were:
- Gambian Women prefer to work collectively in groups vs. on their own. We conducted “Day in the life exercises" to get our western donors comfortable that the western entrepreneurial/individualistic model is difficult to replicate in The Gambia. All projects are group-centric.
- Build on our base relationships – we had previously cultivated in the village.
- Build on our base technologies and supply chains – Start on project we had a reputation for – solar energy.
- Be realistic about culture, religious, intergenerational expectations, and pay close attention to where and how decisions are made. This included the role of decision making in non-western styles (secular vs religious; traditional male/female, etc).
Although we intentional founded this as a women's centric enterprise, we frequently needed permission (or non-objections) from powerful male leaders in the community.
- Development isn't a “donation away". Projects and People (including Isatou) need a multi year commitment. A five year commitment appeared to be appropriate from nearly every project/person.
- Buy locally. Buy appropriate. Although we were occasionally offered “free" equipment in the US or EU – Without local support for items like milling machines or solar panels- there is no one responsible for maintenance etc.
- Start small and build.
- Build the status of your people. Status matters. Work to gain International recognition for Isatou to help her influence key stakeholders in The Gambia as well as the US.
- Be over formal. Establish MOU's with each village to be clear on expectations.
- Always have a good supply of Kola nuts for sustaining ongoing village relationships!
Sustainable Income Generating Project; Step 1
In 2009, after consultation with the various women’s groups. GWI purchased 4 solar food dryers made in The Gambia for the women’s groups in the village of Njau, Somita, Bwiam and Sifoe. By drying fruit and Vegetables, the women generate income by selling the dried goods, improve the nutrition of the community beyond the growing season, and care for the environment by reducing the deforestation rampant in The Gambia. They also learn basic business skills.
Sustainable Income Generating; Step 2
After successful completion of step one the women were increasingly interesting additional ways to increase their income levels and put into practice their new business skills. Isatou and Carol sat down with each Women’s Cooperative and discussed the types of projects that would meet their sustainable income generation needs.
One village decided on a coos (a form of millet) milling machine, another on a rice milling machine, another on a rice milling machine, another a bakery, and the fourth Banjulunding (a new GWI village site) a soap manufacturing operation. One village, Bwiam could not organize themselves or agree on a project, so after many attempts to bring these women to together to reach consensus, they were dropped from our program. GWI believes that dropping and/or adding based continued interests and behaviours is a beneficial part of the learning and evolving process for all concerned.
In every project, the women contributed to these projects and we now have all four projects in operation. As part of this effort, we held additional in each village on pricing, labelling, product diversification, health, nutrition and cleanliness. Although modest by western standards, moving is now being earned from the projects. Profits are put into the collective bank and the women use profit for additional smaller and more individual efforts to increase their income generation. This has included financing small micro loans for individuals/groups within the large women’s group to set up their own small business, purchasing goats for the women with the intent that next year the kids will be given to other women in the village. Some village have used this profit to hire tailors from the capital to help improve their sewing skills and are now making computer bags for the students at The Gambia Technical Training Institute. Solar cooking units and use of energy efficient cooking stoves have also been purchased with profits from the initial investment.
Perhaps most importantly, the women have been trained in income generation, leadership and decision-making skills, with the goal of improving standard of living and health.
Sustainable Income Generating Project Assessment of Project: Step 3
Each project has been assessed to ensure that the original objectives are being met. For example: data is collected from each of the machines to determine the price charged for milling; the costs for maintenance and fuel, and the monthly profit generated. Calculating profit margins and analysing profit loss statements are new skills that the women have had to learn. They have positively embraced the challenge and with Isatou’s guidance, we are seeing great progress.
General Project Outcomes:
- Increased income in the villages, which individual women tend to use for buying children’s clothes, education and improved nutrition.
- Increased empowerment of women to make & control money and make decisions for their family.
- Increased participation of women in the decision making at the village community development level. Women with increasing resources shift traditional power equations and create options for them.
- Greater collaboration with other NGO’s. For example, Sifoe, the village with the rice-milling machine has received money for a aquaculture project from Concern Universal. The women now have more time to grow crops and vegetables as they no longer need to pound the rice by hand.
- Increased self esteem and cooperation among the village community.
- Modelling a new and empowered lifestyle for the next generation of women.
- Sustainable income generation for which the women have ownership. They are learning to help themselves grow and be accountable for their own success, not just reciving money for projects that fail and den.
- Isatou was presented with the “World of Difference" award from The International Alliance of Women (TIAW) in Washington DC on October 18th 2012. The TIAW World of Difference 100 Award recognizes amazing individuals whose efforts have advanced the economic empowerment of women locally, regionally or worldwide they are well known or “unsung heroines".
- Isatou has been invited by Plan International USA to participate in th CEDPA global women in Management workshop in Cape Town South Africa in 2015.
- Isatou received a UNDPGEF grant to expand the project capacity in The Gambia.
- Isatou received a grant from Concern Universal in 2015 for a project duration of 2 years. GWI in partnership with Concern Universal Gambia is implementing a two year project dubbed “The Promotion of Women’s Equity of Access to Resources Through Marketing Federations" funded by the European Union. As part of the activity for the first regional namely Lower Saloum, Upper Saloum, Nianija, Niani and Sami respectively to expand the model of GWI.
- The children’s book “One Plastic Bag", another Miranda Paul, the story of Isatou Ceesay has been published in the USA and is in it’s second printing.
In 2014 we meet our goal with four villages in five years to sustainable income generation.
Isatou, with the funding she has received and the succession plan she has in place to train more women, hopes to expand the model to 40 villages in The Gambia.
Carol would like to expand the pilot, using the GWI model and help other Women in Africa and around the world.