If you have followed my blog the over the past  week, you are now at the end of my journey through East Africa.

Leaving Africa I headed back to the UK where I live with a renewed sense of I MUST DO MORE TO HELP GET THESE WOMEN HANDICRAFTS AND TEXTILES TO MARKET!

I had seen women in dire circumstances but doing whatever they could to help themselves out of poverty, without feeling sorry for themselves whatever neither did they ask for handouts of money. One by one they asked that we  share our skills with them so that they could improve their products and be able to compete in world markets, they asked for  fair access to world markets and skills to enable them to serve the sick in their communities!

I also felt that although money was important to kick start programmes it was not necessarily the only factor in efforts to end poverty for reasons of exclusion and practices such as those of Vulture Funds amongst other things. In my minds eye the answer lay in Trade as this is a more sustainable route out of poverty and yet Africa lags behind other continents in trade terms and international trade is very low.

It is largely agreed that the economies of countries cannot grow or be sustained on the basis of international loans or grants. This is certainly true for African women too. The governments/economies lending or giving the money do not have an infinite amount from which to lend/give indefinitely. As well as being unsustainable it is undignified.

Consideration should be given to the kind of trade that adds value at source wherever possible to enable governments to generate income through increased tax revenue. The process of value addition must encompass investments in human resources to ensure that women in particular have the right skills to lift their families out of poverty. There are more details about this on www.raisetrade.com

I hope that my recent blogs have given you the reader an insight of what life if like for folk on the ground and that it ahs demonstrated that resolving poverty in Africa is not simply about the money. I would be interested in others’ view points as well as experiences on issues relating to poverty in Africa

Yesterday  I introduced Flotea one of our textile producers .  Flotea had left me with so much to think about and I when went to sleep  that night I wondered what the next day would be like as I was due to meet Elihaika who is also a textile producer for Ethnic Supplies.

Elihaika (on the right)

Elihaika (on the right)

Elihaika set up her Textile business in 2004 and initially designed clothing for the local market. Like other textile producers in Tanzania, she wanted access to a much wider market so she joined local groups and through these she got into large exhibitions and managed to access markets in nearby countries.

Today she works with 500 other women and is the team leader of Hand Products Of Tanzania (HOT) a group made up of 35 female entrepreneurs from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Her role is to promote the work of the group and to ensure that they have access to public funding to enable them to participate in high profile events. Some of the group’s members such as Julia are semi or illiterate and rely on her for issues such as pricing

Julia

Julia

I told Elihaika about my conversation with Omari and asked about what life is like for women in Tanzania.

Elihaika: some are financially dependent some are not: where a woman has independent income she has control over it and it gives her spending power whilst those without financial independence are always asking their husbands for money and there is no guarantee that they will get it or that it will meet their needs. If a man is in charge of the money chances are arguments will arise, men don’t like it when women ask them for money and find this irritating and despise women that ask them for money constantly this in turn frustrates the woman as the woman as she doesn’t want to ask money but has no choice.

Are there Systems and processes in place to support women to become economically independent?

Elihaika: things are changing even in the rural areas, land is more accessible to women and the government is keen for women to own property. It is however up to the women to take advantage of the opportunities that have been provided. For instance family/marital property can pass to women banks have become accessible to women, micro finance is available too and if women take up these opportunities up then they can become financially independent. Women have a big role in economic development as they participate in production, create jobs and are responsible for children especially in the area of education. This (education) is important as it is the key role eradicating poverty.

With that in mind what are the challenges women in Tanzania face?

Elihaika:

  • Access to working capital is still an issue for women without formal education.
  • For those involved in textile production market access is  a problem
  • Access to overseas markets
  • help with designing of products that are suitable for foreign markets
  • African customs and culture, still place men on pedestals, where women are meant to be subservient, there are still areas that believe in certain jobs being unsuitable for girls
  • property rights for women are still restricted in some parts even with the government legislation -girls can’t inherit  property and confined to  a life of poverty
  • exclusion from education
  • lack of control on household income and have not say how this is spent

I gave some thought to these challenges and naively or not I concluded that with a great deal of WILL and commitment almost all of them can be eliminated. It also seemed to me that women must strive for financial independence and one way that we can all help  is to give women the tools they need to develop the skills that they require to take advantage of the initiatives created by governments and donors. But how do we get around the issue of market access especially access to overseas markets?

We probably can’t do much about the culture that places men on pedestals at the expense of women in Africa but if women gain financial independence an element of that culture may fade out on its own.

I left Tanzania the next day and head to Uganda. I will be writing about my experiences there in the next post. As usual it you have a view either way, I would love to hear from you.

This week I have been looking at the notion of money and poverty in Africa. The question I get asked often and one I would like to try and answer in this thread is  How do things work on the ground?.

I will approach it from the point of view of the women I work with and draw from my visit to Tanzania and Uganda in 2008.

Having left Omari I was collected from my hotel by Flotea one of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers. She was two hours late and I was unhappy about this until I heard her reasons.

Flotea

Flotea

Flotea is an amazing woman who left school at a very young age with no qualification to speak of this meant that she was excluded from formal employment and the only skills she had were embroidery skills.  she started out by making table linen and curtains for her own home, when her neighbours saw the quality of her work they asked if she could make home furnishings for them too and soon word had got out and she had a list of customers. She soon outgrew the space in her two room house, and had to extend it, as well as widening her range to include African tote bags Flotea’s idea has grown beyond her imagination and today she employees 30 women from the slums of Dar es Salaam. She shares what skills she has with women less fortunate than she is through workshops on textile production and design

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

After the initial pleasantries I asked her about her morning and it transpired that she wanted to expand her business so that she can take on more staff. In order to do so she wanted to move to larger premises built from scratch and for two years she had been trying to buy a piece of land for the new premises without much luck.

She had therefore decided to hand over the whole matter to a Solicitor and that meeting had over run and therefore she couldn’t get to me on time. I was truly shocked by what Flotea had just told me which seemed to validate part of what Omari had told me earlier that morning.

I could see clearly why it was important to have commercial systems streamlined and made more efficient to enable businesses to function more effectively. How on earth do you expand a business when acquiring a piece of  land for the new premises is a two year process and that is before the construction process begins? I told Flotea about my meeting with Omari and the general points we had covered especially the MONEY!

Flotea looked me in the eye and said “I pity any African who believes that some external person/outsider will come and resolve our problems, because I tell you what they will be waiting for a long time”

This is a strong statement and it raised another question in my mind. African women like Flotea are not expecting handouts and expect to work hard in order to get ahead all things being equal, so why do we in the West have this notion of giving more money?

As we continue the conversation about my morning Flotea is not very keen to be drawn on the issues of what happens to the AID money. She insists that the politicians have the answers to this question. She felt that institutions do not appear to have any interest in the small man on the street therefore she just minds her own business!

Flotea argued that the government merely plays lip service to women’s issues and that in fact unless women work together to share skills and resources they are unlikely to succeed. She told me that there are large numbers of women in Tanzania involved in textile production however there is no institution where these women can go and learn about textile and design. They instead rely on skills sharing where those who know teach those that do not. In her mind this is the one thing that would change life for most women especially the slum dwellers.

Other challenges included

  • Lack of IT and communication skills
  • Access to markets the lack of information means  they don’t always know what market demands are

I spent the rest of the afternoon and the best part of the evening with Flotea and her team and I taught them how to use email and PICASA Google’s photographs programme. this would enable them to share photos of their products with folk all over the world. Flotea appreciated this and as I left her she told me this is what we need people to come in and share what they know with us!

So there you have it folk, for women like Flotea, it really isn’t about the money! In the enxt post I will introduce another of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers whose view is somewaht different from that of Flotea. In the mean time if you have a view either way on any of the issues raised here please share it

In the last two posts, I wrote about some of the reasons why money isn’t the only missing link in the fight against poverty as well as   RAISE TRADE a new form of trading that brings various stakehaolder together with the view to promoting the notion of VALUE ADD. Over the next few days I will  explore the money issue further and I will present you with conversations that I had with people I work with in Africa.  

I begin with the question  IF IT REALLY ISN’T ABOUT THE MONEY  WHAT ELSE IS THERE?  I answered this question in part in the previous post I will therefore draw from my first conversation to explore it further.

You may recall Tony Blair’s 2005 Commission for Africa, (Blair’s Commission) one of the decisions that came out the commission was the establishment of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa or ICF. The ICF is charged with helping African countries to create a more attractive business environment and realise its potential as a global trading partner. It works to remove real and perceived obstacles to domestic and foreign investment by assisting Africans to prepare and promote the continent as an investment destination (source ICF 2003)

The ICF is based in Africa and in August 2008 I called in on the Chief Executive Omari Issa in Dar es Salaam Tanzania to find out more about their work.

 

I began by asking him about the money. I have heard it said that money is the number one priority and as such a lot of emphasis has been placed on making it easier for people in African and women for that matter to access finance/loans for business

 

Omari: I would argue that money is only part of the equation as we have discovered here at the Investment Climate Facility for Africa

That is interesting would you run me through the issues as you understand them?

Omari: Money is not the only constraint preventing folk from starting and running businesses and whilst access to finance is important it is not the primary factor If we consider the group of women you work with at Ethnic supplies,

1. Education, awareness and skills are the number one priorities that must be addressed to ensure economic success for small to medium business and these are mostly owned by women

2. When we break these down you will appreciate their importance. If you take an example of example one of your producers in Madagascar in order for them to generate an income from their baskets certain conditions must be in place

3. She needs to know where the market is and how she can access that market

4. Secondly she needs to develop her product to such a level as to be acceptable by that market,

5. then she needs to put together a business plan to demonstrates a bankable business

Would you care to elaborate on the last point please?

Omari: Well the banks here have a lot of money that they would like to lend people, I know as I used to work for such institutions. However the banks need reassurance that the person to whom they are lending the money will be able to repay it and the only way they can know is through a business plan. Women also need to demonstrate that they can handle balance sheets and this is a question of skills. An important factor is the environment in which businesses are run and that is where ICF comes in

How so?

 Omari: The environment in which to run a business is important as is money. The environment covers issues such as Customs and Exercise, access to Legal systems that expedites commercial disputes, property ownership, political stability, speedy Company registration even issues such as power outage

Why is power outage such an issue?

Omari: Imagine a Woman who owns a hairdressing saloon but can’t afford a generator if there was a power outage on a Saturday which is ideally her busiest day of the week for her how much business would she lose? Most of the large corporations have access to generators and are therefore not necessarily affected by power outages and as it happens this was the case when I went to a barbers last Saturday  (22.8.08) instead of going elsewhere I was happy to have my hair cut the traditional way with scissors otherwise the barber would have lost my business

 

 How does easy and fast business registration help?

 

Omari: It is important that the setting up of and running of businesses is streamlined, barriers to importing and exporting of goods is made easier by clear and easy to understand customs and exercise regulation? The efficient Customs and Exercise practice and speedy business registration are necessary but are these need to matched up with skilled people on the ground If you can step back and consider a woman who has to travel at least 6 to 8 hours to register a business, by the time she arrives to the Company House office chance are that they will have closed for the day upon her arrival or as is currently the case in most African countries she has to see several people in order to complete the registration process. If that process were to take 8 months how much money would she have lost in bus fares?

 

He did have a point and I know and work with such a woman, a Masaai woman named Julia a widow who was expelled from her village but has 12 Aids orphans to raise and does so by making and selling beads.

 

Thinking about women in particular are there key issues that prevent them from achieving economic independence?

Omari: women work harder than men and are willing to work together. In fact women’s co-operatives are more successful than men’s. By addressing the issues discussed here it becomes easier to run successful enterprises especially smaller ones owned by women.

It is all very well working to improve the investment Climate in Africa, but what about people like Julia. How does she benefit? She only speaks Swahili and has to rely on people who can speak English and live in the city to access buyers of handicrafts such as Ethnic Supplies. For instance she missed out on an order earlier in the year because the head of the co-o-op she belongs to failed to get to her.

 

Omari: that is where good management come in and this come from good education skills and awareness

 

As I left Omari, I felt that we had had a good conversation and I had a clearer understanding of what ICF is trying to achieve. But it seemed to me that whilst the folk at ICF are doing their best to improve the business environment it will be sometime before this is felt at the bottom of the African society, I wondered too  how soon the benefits of this system could be felt by women like Julia.

I also reflected on two conversations I had had with two female African High Commissioners in London. One of them is a strong advocate for Micro finance. I told her that I thought Micro finance was a good idea however that women that are lent this money need access to a much wider market to enable them to repay the loans. In addition that I was aware in some rural areas especially, these women had become victims of loan sharks. She was of the opinion that a much wider market isn’t necessary as people can do business locally and succeed.

The conversation I had with the second High Commissioner concerned Micro loans given by an organisation called HABITAT FOR HUMANITY. The basis of their work is decent shelter for all and they are very active in this particular High Commissioner’s country. Typically money will be give for the purchase of a piece of land on which the recipient can build a basic two room house. She was of the view that whilst people need decent places to live without jobs they will never be in a position to repay such loans. Do you see a chicken and egg situation in the two conversations?

In the next post I will write about  the person I met after I left Omari. She unknowingly validated everything Omari told me.

If you have a view about any of the issues raised here or simply want to join the conversation, please do so!